Potholes and Pancakes: Mpumalanga Panorama Route in South Africa

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Mpumalanga Panorama Route in South Africa. These natural formations are also known as the Three Sisters and the Chief and His Three Wives. The hill itself was named Mapjaneng after a renowned chief who was involved in a famous battle nearby and the Three Rondavels were named after his three wives: Magabolie, Mogoladikwe and Maseroto. Photo by Alexandra Findlay
These natural formations are also known as the Three Sisters and the Chief and His Three Wives. The hill itself was named Mapjaneng after a renowned chief who was involved in a famous battle nearby and the Three Rondavels were named after his three wives: Magabolie, Mogoladikwe and Maseroto. Photo by Alexandra Findlay

It’s mid-afternoon and we’ve already left Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria, South Africa in our wake. Moving through destinations in a short period of time always leaves me slightly disorientated. It feels like days have gone by, especially if our obligatory road trip snacks are anything to go by.

Mpumalanga Panorama Route

We are heading for the Mpumalanga Panorama Route, a popular scenic road in South Africa. As we get closer and closer to our destination, the potholes in the road get worse and worse, a signal that we are almost in Graskop, a small town in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa — a place synonymous with potholes and pancakes, both of which we experience in excess. Swerving our way onward, we pull up to our idyllic hillside cottage.

Minutes away from Graskop, rolling green grass, never ending forests, and an accompanying babbling river cover the landscape. My inner Julie Andrews stirs within me as “The Hills are Alive” plays on repeat in my head while we unpack.

Morning brings a picture perfect day, ideal for exploring our surroundings on foot. After a short walk, we find ourselves at our first Panorama Route attraction — Lisbon Falls. With no railings, the sights at this viewpoint are nothing short of spectacular.

One of the highest falls in the area, the noise it produces is far from quiet. We listen and watch for an hour or two, hypnotized by the warm sun, tranquil sounds and constant plummeting water that lies before us.

God’s Window on the Panorama Route

God’s Window is one of the Panorama Route’s most famous attractions for a good reason. Although not ideal for our much-anticipated photo-ops, the hazy mist that surrounds the look-out point this afternoon makes for a dramatic and somewhat eerie visit.

We walk along a concrete path, winding through thick tropical rainforest. A few minutes later, the forest thins and we see that the trees end meters away from a cliff edge, only to continue in the valley below.

Mpumalanga Panorama Route in South Africa Peering over the bridge at Bourke’s Luck Potholes. These crevices are a result of water flowing through this rocky landscape for hundreds of years. Photo by Luke Maximo Bell
Peering over the bridge at Bourke’s Luck Potholes. These crevices are a result of water flowing through this rocky landscape for hundreds of years. Photo by Luke Maximo Bell

Framed by green rock faces, the ground we are standing on plummets dramatically before us, creating a gigantic valley carpeted in green. The bowl of rainforest extends for what looks like hundreds of kilometers before it curves up into elegant cliff faces similar to the one we’re standing on. Peering over the safety railing, I can see nothing but unspoiled natural architecture before me and I am in awe.

Rumbling tummies and the thought of pancakes lead us back into Graskop for the last few hours of afternoon. We roughly plan out the next few days over cinnamon sugar pancakes and head back along the dented road to our cottage before the stars settle in for the night and the sun bids us adieu.

Traveling to Mac Mac Falls

Mac Mac Falls is our first stop that next morning. A large safety wall means viewing is restricted, but the constant rainbow and double stream of water make this stop memorable nonetheless. After some convincing, I’m persuaded to head to a destination that was not on the agenda for today.

Once again, we climb into our blue Ford. Twenty minutes later, we pull up into a largely empty parking lot. The heat from outside sticks to our skin as soon as we step out of the car. There’s a small hut and a line of parking bays that extends away from where we’ve stopped. We get what we need out the boot and turn around to face a wall of thick jungle-like trees and vegetation.

The moisture hangs in the air, along with the thundering sound of a nearby waterfall. We walk along the damp sandy path and after only a short distance, the trees thin out and we catch our first glimpse of the mammoth amount of falling water that is the source of the noise. We reach the clearing and I step up onto a rock, not at all ready for the beauty that is awaiting me.

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