The Garden Route may be a bucket-list topper in South Africa, but Abigail Healy finds the Panorama Route and Blyde River Canyon have plenty to rival it.
The Blyde River Canyon is the third largest canyon in the world, after the Grand Canyon in the US and Namibia’s Fish River Canyon. But ask Brits if they’ve heard of it and I’d put money on a negative response. Similarly, the Panorama Route, the access route to the canyon in the Mpumalanga province, could be considered a lesser-known alternative to South Africa’s popular Garden Route.
As I headed to South Africa, friends and travel colleagues looked at me quizzically when I mentioned I planned to travel this stretch of road. Running from the small village of Graskop, which means “grass heads” and refers to the surrounding grassy hilltops, it culminates at the Blyde River Canyon Reserve on the border with neighbouring province, Limpopo. Yet I discover that it makes a scenic addition to an itinerary when clients are planning a Kruger safari. In fact many of the selling points you would use for the Garden Route are readily transferable to this northerly alternative.
Clients can choose whether they prefer the option of self-driving – a good choice for those keen to enjoy their independence. Navigating is simple as it’s a case of following one road with points of interest clearly marked along the way. Alternatively, they can opt for a driver who doubles as a guide to ferry them along the route. The bonus of this option is the added insight into the area’s history and culture along the way.
My day starts with an 8am pick-up in Hazyview and driver Hans, from local destination management company Vula Tours, is raring to go as he has an additional stop planned.
“At this time of year some of the waterfalls aren’t very full as we’ve had so little rain so I want to show you Lone Creek Falls because you can view it from the bottom. It’s a more impressive perspective,” he says.
True to Hans’s word, Lone Creek Falls is spectacular; frothy water tumbles from a vertiginous 68 metres into a pool set in a cool glade. I can’t linger long, as there’s much more to come. The next stop is the Pinnacle. “You’ll recognise this from the brochures,” Hans tells me as we walk towards a fence that outlines a sudden drop. Rising from the vast hollow is a solitary column of rock – its apex roughly level with my eyeline while its base nestles 30m below.