Potholes and Pancakes: Mpumalanga Panorama Route in South Africa

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Mpumalanga Panorama Route in South Africa Twin waterfalls and constant rainbows characterise Mac Mac Falls. This area of Mpumalanga is rich with waterfalls and natural pools ideal for walks, picnics, swims and photos. Photo by Alexandra Findlay
Twin waterfalls and constant rainbows characterise Mac Mac Falls. This area of Mpumalanga is rich with waterfalls and natural pools ideal for walks, picnics, swims and photos. Photo by Alexandra Findlay

A 200m tall waterfall crashes down into a clear river pool meters away from where I’m standing. A handful of people are paddling in the water. Despite the fact that there’s a small wooden bridge, a parking lot, and even bathrooms, there’s something about Lone Creek Falls that feels unspoiled and untouched.

The water is impossible to resist. I step gingerly over the pebbles and into the refreshingly cold river. The mist has already covered my body completely and the water laps higher up my legs with the slight waves. I’m in up to my hips and all I can hear is the thundering waterfall. I dive forward and dip my head under the cool water. It feels like someone cracked an egg on my head. The deeper I go, the more the spray takes my breath away. I float on my back, close my eyes, and let the sound and movement of the water transport me away for a minute or two.

South Africa: The Panorama Route

Mpumalanga Panorama Route in South Africa Floating alone in the Lone Creek Falls pool. Visitors can also enjoy a forest walk to the top of the falls – just follow the path. Photo by Luke Maximo Bell
Floating alone in the Lone Creek Falls pool. Visitors can also enjoy a forest walk to the top of the falls – just follow the path. Photo by Luke Maximo Bell

After undoubtedly one of the best swims of my life, we’re changed and back on schedule, snacking in the car on the way to the area’s renowned off-road potholes. Several large parking lots await us with dozens of curio shops and a cafe in the centre.

Troops of baboons sit and watch unusually quietly from the edges of a nearby forest. This is by far the most built up attraction that we’ve seen so far — it is large and touristy compared to the other Panorama viewpoints.

It’s around 35 degrees Celsius without the tiniest breath of wind to offer relief. Sprinkled with visitors, the Bourke’s Luck Potholes expand over a large area. Walkways and bridges zig-zag between the natural craters and flowing water, forming an uneven jagged landscape. It looks like someone sculpted the rocky ground carefully and simultaneously haphazardly out of clay.

For a while we hop over the burning hot ground, peering over the edge of the various indents. Eventually, the heat becomes unbearable and we practically run to the car, after picking up ice creams from the tiny cafe of course. The air-conditioning provides some much anticipated relief.

It’s the final stop of the day and the final viewpoint of our whirlwind Panorama Route adventure. It’s late afternoon and the sun is low, casting a gold light over the green mountainous landscape.

Mpumalanga Panorama Route in South Africa The magnificent Three Rondavels lookout point at the Blyde River Canyon, arguably the Panorama Route’s most famous and most beautiful view point. (Photo by Luke Maximo Bell)
The magnificent Three Rondavels lookout point at the Blyde River Canyon, arguably the Panorama Route’s most famous and most beautiful view point. Photo by Luke Maximo Bell

Blyde River Canyon’s Three Rondavels

We couldn’t have arrived at a better time. The parking area and curio shops are emptying out as evening draws in. Walking towards the lookout point, I let out a gasp. We rush towards the edge and look out onto the Blyde River Canyon’s Three Rondavels,  the most exquisite landscape I have ever seen.

We are standing on a raised boulder on the edge of a cliff. The ground drops dramatically and spreads out into a basin containing mountains and hills covered in thick blankets of green, a blue body of water, and of course the Three Rondavels themselves — the famous round hut-shaped rocky outcrops sitting atop the nearest hill. Named ‘rondavels’ due to their resemblance to traditional circular African huts, these mountain houses are truly natural sculptures.

After clogging our phones and cameras with photos and videos, the two of us find a spot on a rock and watch the golden light move across the scenery spread out below us. I knew that the Panorama Route landscapes would be beautiful, but I didn’t know that they could be this beautiful, this spectacular. Everything is quiet and still. The heat of the day lifts as evening draws in and we head back to our cottage, accompanied by a red African sunset.

Mpumalanga Panorama Route in South Africa The potholes are named after John Bourke, a prospector who predicted the area would yield vast amounts of gold, which it did. Ironically, his nearby claim held no gold at all. Photo by Alexandra Findlay
The potholes are named after John Bourke, a prospector who predicted the area would yield vast amounts of gold, which it did. Ironically, his nearby claim held no gold at all. Photo by Alexandra Findlay

All too soon our car is packed and we’re dodging the potholes into Graskop for the last time. After the best pancakes, I’ve had so far (mine was filled with milk tart — a famous South African creamy cinnamon custard-like dessert), we reluctantly drag our full bellies back to our little blue Ford.

The next leg of our road trip, Kruger National Park, is calling. As we leave Graskop behind, I realize that the Panorama Route is so much more than a picturesque Kruger add-on. It’s one of South Africa’s most underrated destinations — a true hidden gem.

 

 

If You Go to Graskop:

The lovely cottage we stayed in is part of Lisbon Hideaway (http://www.lisbonhideaway.co.za). From here, we self-drove to all the surrounding sights and attractions. This is doable if you stay in or close to Graskop.

For some more information on Graskop and the Panorama Route, here are some helpful links:

Author bio: Alexandra (Ali) Findlay is a Media Studies Honours graduate from Cape Town, South Africa. With a passion for both words and visuals, Ali is a freelance writer, editor, and videographer. When she’s not working, you’ll find her blogging, traveling, exploring her city, baking, or petting any dog she lays her eyes on.