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The Lowveld Panorama

After ( and before) the excitement at Backpackers we enjoyed the sheer beauty of Mpumalanga (also known as the Lowveld) while driving to Kruger Park from Pretoria and returning via the Panorama route afterwards.

For me, Mpumalanga - the place where the sun rises - is one of the scenically spectacular parts of South Africa that I always want share with my visitors. Of this 82,000 square kilometers (31,661 square miles) province nearly three quarters is occupied by plateau grasslands of the Highveld and Middleveld and the rest forms the Escarpment where the mountains rise 1 600 metres and more above sea level, spectacular in both their beauty and dimensions.  The northern extension of the Drakensberg and runs from a point just beyond Nelspruit to end in the misty forests of the Magoebaskloof near Tzaneen in the Limpopo Province. Unfortunately we only had time to see a small part of this panorama but the beauty did not fail to delight me once more...and I am sure that my guests enjoyed it too...

Our route from Pretoria took us through the coal mining town of Witbank the major coal-producing centre of South Africa. Of particular interest is the fact that Winston Churchill, concealed in an empty coal truck after he escaped from a prisoner-of-war camp traveled to a siding near Witbank. Desperately in need of food and shelter he fortunately knocked on the door of another Englishman and was hidden first in the underground stables of the mine and then behind some packing cases in the mine office. A reward of £27 for his capture "dead or alive" was  issued but he was stowed away in a railway truck loaded with wool consigned to Lorenzo Marques ( Maputo). According to Bulpin "It was a tedious journey. On the first night the train stopped at Waterval Boven; the next night it stopped at Komatipoort. At last, late in the afternoon of 21 December, the train  reached Lorenzo Marques. After some argument with the British Consul, the grimy, escapee was identified as Winston Churchill and a telegram was sent to the mine manager, Howard, with the news: 'Goods arrived safely'

As a token of his thanks Churchill presented inscribed gold watches to the six men at Witbank who aided his escape."

Our route to the Lowveld also took us to the twin villages of Waterval Boven and Waterval Onder (their names referring to their location “above” and “below” the Elandsriver waterfall). We left the main Johannesburg - Maputo National road at Machadodorp to go via Lydenburg and the Long Tom pass to Sabie.

The first settlement of the Voortrekkers was Ohrigstadt, sited in an unhealthy valley that they abandoned after malaria had taken its toll and then moved to a kindlier area further to the south. They called this town Lydenburg which means ”town of suffering”. However, in spite of the grim reference, this town became the capital of their short-lived republic. Today the town is the centre of a prosperous forestry and mixed farming region and is particularly popular for trout fishing.

Long Tom pass

Left and right: Views of the Long Tom pass

Mountain scene from the Long Tom pass

Devil's Knuckles  where the last shots were fired with this cannon in the Anglo Boer War

The artillery guns at the site where the last shots were fired by the Boers. and another scenic view from from the pass

Another view from Long Tom Pass

The Long Tom pass is named after the artillery guns that the Boers used during the Anglo Boer war. In the last days of the war the two sides were involved in fighting down the pass. 

The Long Tom Pass between Lydenburg and Sabie marks the first step in a staircase of descents from the highveld to the lowveld. This winding road reaches its highest peak at 2, 148 m in the northern Drakensberg making it the highest tarred road in South Africa. The pass is notable for its tortuous gradients and grand views including the four peaks called the Devil’s Knuckles and another called the Staircase. 

The British nicknamed the artillery guns of the Boers “Long Toms” because of the nine-kilometre range across which they could fire. Some way down Devil’s Knuckles the spot where the Boers used their guns for the last time can be seen indicated by a replica of one of the cannons. 

Harry's Pancakes at Graskop

We traveled on towards Graskop where we HAD to stop for more pancakes and a visit to a Mopanie silk shop and other nice craft shops. Along the roads the Sabie lilies were in full bloom

Sabie lilies

Art at Harry's Pancake

Left: Close up shot of the artsy mirrors (the one on the left reflecting Rose enjoying her ice cream pancake)

More art at Harry's Pancake House

Blyde River Canyon 

The Panorama Route is a circular drive all along the escarpment. One more or less travels on top of the escarpment looking down on valleys of spectacular beauty. The hills on all sides are mantled in trees, mostly plantations of pines and wattles but also swatches of natural forest dense with many types of indigenous trees. Ferns, creepers and primeval cycads and many varieties of flowers cluster closely around waterfalls that plunge down rugged sheer cliffs. 

The 33km long gorge called Blyde River Canyon is the third largest green canyon in the world and the largest of  all. It is truly a scenic wonder with the most fantastic rock formations and sheer cliffs and  a wealth of indigenous vegetation.

One of our first stops was at “The pinnacle” an enormous protruding monolith rising 30metres above the ground in a beautiful natural forest “kloof” (ravine). From there we stopped at “God’s Window”. Well one cannot describe this scene!! It really feels as if one is looking out through the most beautiful window in the world with the mountains forming the “walls” next to the window. A vista that can only be described as “godly” overlooking valleys, hills and rivers right to the far misty blue horizon. The cliffs rise between 600 to 800 metres above the riverbeds down in the valley.

There are many waterfalls in the area. We first stopped at the Berlin Falls where the water drops through a narrow cleft into a glistening pool. The Mac Mac falls was our next stop. The name comes from the gold digging days when many of the diggers were Scots and Irish with names often beginning with Mac or Mc. The Mac Mac falls are 56 metres tall (about 170 feet). The Mac Mac falls are twin falls formed by the water pouring between two adjacent sections in the rock face.

God's Window

Left: The magnificent view from God's Window

Right: The safari girls at the entrance to  the rain forest of the  Blyde River nature Reserve 

Entrance to the Blyde River Nature Reserve rainforest

A view towards the lowveld from the Escarpment

Left: View from the escarpment towards the Blyde River Dam

Right: View west of  Pilgrim's Rest from Robber's pass.

Top of Robber's pass

Bourke's Luck Potholes

Bourke’s luck Potholes is a remarkable feature of dolomite rock erosion in the shape of huge potholes created by swirling water, rocks, pebbles and other debris. The name comes from the farmer Bourke who discovered gold down in the holes. Some of the holes are big enough to contain a small vehicle and are up to 6 metres deep. The potholes are in what was once called the Treur River by the Voortrekkers. In 1844 members of the Potgieter trek waited at the river while Hendrik Potgieter and some of his men went to the present day Maputo. After months of waiting the Trekkers gave up hope that they would ever see Potgieter again and called the river the Treur which meant “river of sorrow”. However a while later they trekked to another location and the surprisingly met up with their leader again. They promptly called this river the Blyde River – the river of joy. These two rivers flow together near Bourkes Luck Potholes.

Bourke's Luck P

Left: The Potholes

Right the Blyde River above the Potholes

Far Right: The Treur river below the Potholes

Blyde River

Treur River

The Pinnacle

Left:  The Pinnacle

Jo, Rose, Patsi and Donna taking a rest at the Bourke's Luck Potholes site

Safari girls at the Potholes

Right: Berlin Falls

Berlin Falls

Mac Mac falls

Left: The Mac Mac Falls

Pilgrim's Rest

Pilgrim’s Rest is a living museum nestled in a narrow valley where thousands of diggers staked their claims during the late 1800’s. This first gold rush in South Africa took place in 1873 when payable gold was discovered on the farm Geelhoutboom near the town of Sabie on the Mpumalanga escarpment. One of the Mac Mac diggers, Alec "Wheelbarrow" Patterson, left the immediate area to prospect further afield. Soon after, he discovered rich gold deposits in Pilgrim's Creek, a tributary of the Blyde River, close to where the village of Pilgrim's Rest now stands. Shortly afterwards a second prospector, William Trafford, discovered the same deposit of gold. The news of a rich strike triggered the first major gold rush in South Africa. 

Pilgrim's Rest was declared a gold field on 22 September 1873. The Gold Commissioner moved his office to Pilgrim's Rest and by the end of 1873 there were some 1500 diggers working 4000 claims in and around Pilgrim's Rest. . It is estimated that R2 million worth of gold was mined during the first seven years of mining in the Pilgrim's Rest valley.

By 1874 Pilgrim’s Rest had become the commercial and social centre of the diggings and more permanent houses were built. Mining was active until 1971 when Beta Mine was closed down. The conservation of Pilgrim's Rest as a cultural and historic asset began in 1974 when the provincial government purchased the village. In 1986 the village of Pilgrim's Rest and the farm Ponieskrantz, on which the village is situated, was declared a National Monument.

The Diggings

Left: The diggings

Right : Pilgrim's Rest street scene

Pilgrim's Rest street scene

Royal Hotel PIlgrim's Rest

Left: The Royal Hotel at Pilgrim's Rest

Right: A typical Miner's house

Miner's House Pilgrim's Rest

Soott's Pancakes at Pilgrim's Rest

Left: Ahem!! Scott's Café! YAY!! PANCAKES!!

Right: A craft shop

Craft shop


The girls enjoying the feast once again

Oh well, we could not resist NOT trying out the pancakes...YAY! As usual they were Yummy!! Ask Jo! She is living proof of the fact that you have to swim at least 50 laps a day to prevent them from settling on your hips!!

Jo says: "Yummy!!"


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