The “Panorama Route” – an hour-long scenic drive featuring seemingly endless scenic lookouts – is an ideal place to spend a night to break up the 5-hour drive between Johannesburg and Kruger National Park.
We spent two nights on the Panorama Route: one near Graskop, the main town, and another an hour north. With this schedule we were afforded a full day to take in all the sights. Five minutes from Gaskop you’ll find our first stop – Zur Alten Mine. This place was amazing and for such a great value. For R500/night including tax ($45 CAD) we got a big log cabin with full kitchen, cozy living room and fireplace, and large bedroom. The German owners were easy to talk to and helpful and happy to make dinner reservations for us. Wifi costs R50 for your whole stay. The only “downside” is that there is no heating in the cabins, but it was fun for a night. There is a fireplace in the living room, small space heaters in the bedroom and bathroom, and big electric blankets in the bed. I would have happily stayed for a second night, but unfortunately they were fully booked.
For our second night we booked the Forever Blyde Canyon Resort (R800) on the Northern end of the Panorama Route, which allowed us a full day to drive the Route. I thought that this would probably be too much time, but it was barely enough.
We had a pancake breakfast at Harrie’s in Graskop, which was tasty and cheap. Apparently these crepe-style pancakes are the “it” thing in Graskop and the surrounding areas. They did not disappoint. We checked out of our hotel at 10am (standard check out time in SA) and went for a morning hike to Forest Falls, which was recommended by the owner of Zur Alten Mine. Like every stop on the Panorama Route, there was a small fee for parking. This place was on the higher end, R40 ($4 CAD) for the two of us. The hike was easy (flat’ish, no big steps, relatively straight forward directions) and lots of fun, and took about 1.5 hours. We didn’t see a single other person the whole time.
After eating and hiking, we were ready to conquer the Panorama Route. We stopped at most of the big stops. Lisbon Falls was very pretty, but the obvious winner was Bourke’s Luck Potholes. It was very busy with lots of school groups, but beautiful regardless. I recommend going in the late afternoon, as we did. We stayed for a while and got lots of good pictures, and chatted with some young women who seemed to be very into Canadian boys! Lucky me.
Along the way we stopped for lunch at a nondescript restaurant recommended by the ZAM owner. It’s called Potluck Boskombuis. There is a sign that says “Daybreak” on the side of the highway, at which you turn and drive down a dirt road for a few minutes. It’s a small BBQ place with no running water or electricity but a priceless view. We shared the vegetarian platter, which surpassed our expectations.
It was just before dark when we arrived at our hotel for the night. We were first struck with how sprawling the resort was; it boasts a network of hiking trails, mini golf, tennis courts, a restaurant, shop, etc. Our chalet was surprisingly nice, especially for only R800/night. We had dinner at the restaurant; they had a buffet for R160/pp, but we ordered from the a-la-carte menu which was reasonably priced (R50-80 for a main course).
The next morning we splurged for the breakfast buffet at the hotel, for R130/pp, although you can order from the menu for much less. Having eaten, we started our drive towards Kruger. The Abel Erasmus pass through the mountains was very scenic – before I started planning the trip I didn’t think of SA as a mountainous country. And the rest of the drive to Orpen Gate was even more amazing; full of steep curves through tall mountains with endless rock formations. For about 30 minutes the mountains all looked “painted” due to Lichen.
All in all, a great one day detour on the way to Kruger! You’re mostly stuck in your car at Kruger, so this pre-trip provided some much needed walking/hiking to hold us over until Cape Town.