Family Safari – The Panorama Route
After the first game reserve experience of our family safari trip (in the Entabeni Safari Conservancy in South Africa’s Waterberg region), we headed west towards Kruger National Park. Before seeing the park itself, we took a day off from animals to check out the famous Panorama Route.
Getting to the Panorama Route
We left Honeyguide Ranger Camp after one last game drive and a hearty breakfast. Our destination was Hazyview, a small farming town just outside Kruger National Park. We had a choice of two routes. One option was to take the freeway most of the way, but there was a more direct route. This involved more secondary roads, but they looked major enough to be OK, and would likely be more interesting. This was definitely true, as we drove through townships and mining communities. We saw evidence of poverty and some pretty basic construction techniques, but also vibrant communities. There were lots of small businesses – car washes, grocery stores, building material sales and others.
Contrasting with the basic accommodations and structures we were passing, we were surprised to suddenly come upon an almost new shopping mall. This made a great bathroom stop (sometimes it’s a problem to find these in South Africa). We had a late lunch there, at KFC. Despite the familiar red and white surroundings, communicating in our Australian and American issue English was a bit of a challenge. We were definitely off the regular tourist path here.
We had once again underestimated how long it would take to get to our destination. As the sun got lower, we started to see some more scenic views as we got closer to Hazyview.
With some miles still to travel after this picture was taken, it was dark by the time we got to Hazyview.
Accommodation in Hazyview
There are a number of places to stay in Hazyview. Some of the more well-reviewed (but also more expensive) options are resort-style, with lots of amenities and activities. We needed a place to sleep, and eat breakfast (and probably dinner), so we were looking for a more traditional style of hotel. Based on information and reviews online, we chose the Rissington Inn, and were not disappointed. The service was impeccable (maybe a bit overwhelming at times), and the food was great. We’d definitely recommend a stay here.
The hotel was a bit tricky to find in the dark. We had to navigate down a bit of a rough track as it is set back a ways from the main road. We checked in, then quickly unloaded our luggage into our room before heading to the dining room for dinner. As you may recall from our last post, it was Lachlan’s birthday. We had arranged with the Rissington Inn in advance for a cake to be served for dessert to celebrate.
Unfortunately, after our early start for the morning game drive and long day’s drive, Lachlan was too exhausted to enjoy more than a very small piece of his second birthday cake for the day. The staff kindly packed up most of the cake, and we had it for dessert the next couple of dinners as well.
We slept well that night, and woke up the next morning to get a good look at the lovely hotel grounds, including the view across the lawn that stretched out in front of our room.
The Panorama Route
After yet another hearty South African breakfast, we set off to explore the Panorama Route. Our first stop was the aptly-named God’s Window, for our first look out over the spectacular Blyde River Canyon.
We then headed as far north as we had planned to go on our day trip, to the Three Rondavels. The plan was to work our way back towards Hazyview. We figured we’d find some lunch along the way (spoiler alert – this was not as easy as we thought it would be). You can tell how popular a Panorama Route scenic spot is by the number of souvenir stalls there. The Three Rondavels had a lot of these. Unfortunately, the morning sunlight made getting a good photo a bit tricky. I suggest a Google image search if you want to see what they look like in better light.
From the Three Rondavels viewpoint we could also see the reservoir behind the Blyde River Dam.
Looking south from the Three Rondavels viewpoint there were great views into the Blyde River Canyon, and the interesting colors in the canyon walls.
Bourke’s Luck Potholes
Apart from the Blyde River Canyon, the major attraction on the Panorama Route is Bourke’s Luck Potholes. This is a surreal landscape of circular holes formed by swirling eddies where two rivers meet.
There were a lot of people here, including tour groups and school buses. However, the site covers a large area so it wasn’t too crowded. There are cool bridges over steep gorges, and then an area of shallow water and an interesting small waterfall where you can see some small potholes up close.
By this time, it was early afternoon, and between the sun and the walking to and from the various viewpoints and around the potholes we were pretty warm. We were glad to be in South Africa in winter time, albeit a very mild winter as you can tell from Heide and Lachlan’s short sleeves and sunglasses.
Where to eat along the Panorama Route
It turned out to be more difficult than we thought to find somewhere for lunch on our Panorama Route day trip. We figured there would be somewhere to eat mid-way through our itinerary of sights, but this wasn’t the case. There is a place at Bourke’s Luck Potholes that sells some food, but it didn’t appeal to us, so we just had something to drink and some protein bars from the emergency stash we carry while traveling. This wasn’t the first time our emergency provisions have saved us, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
With our hunger kept at bay for a while, we were able to hold out until we got to the small touristy town of Graskop, where we had a late lunch at Harrie’s Pancakes. We managed to grab a table just before a bus full of tourists got there. Despite how busy it was, the service was good and the pancakes were very tasty. There are other restaurant options in Graskop, but you can’t go wrong with Harrie’s, they live up to their reputation.
In hindsight, we should have got a picnic lunch from our hotel. This is an option that most full-service hotels in South Africa provide, as there are a lot of excursions in the country that will take you to places where restaurants are sparse. Although, we probably would have still stopped at Harrie’s for an afternoon snack.
Mac Mac Falls
The last stop on our Panorama Route tour was Mac Mac Falls. This was a more low-key site than the others we visited, surprisingly not charging an admission fee like all the others (although these fees are pretty nominal, and go towards the upkeep of the sites).
The afternoon shadows made it difficult to get a good shot of the falls, we had mistimed the light again.
On that low-key note, our Panorama Route adventures were over, and we headed back to our hotel for another good dinner and an early night. Our plan was to get up early the next morning to head into Kruger National Park to try our hand at a self-drive safari. More on that in our next post …