To the west of the Kruger Park lies a region of exceptional natural beauty and dramatic landscapes: the Panorama Route.
Take a slow drive around this rugged, mountainous countryside stopping at reach-for-your-camera viewpoints such as “God’s Window” and “The Pinnacle” - their names conjuring up the enormity of their panoramic vistas – and be sure not to miss the surreal cylindrical rock formations at the Bourke’s Luck Potholes in the Blyde River Canyon.
Most visitors treat this area as a brief diversion on their way to or from the Kruger Park but spend a few days on a Panorama Route safari and you’ll soon discover that naturally sculpted canyons, waterfalls and unspoilt mountain views are only part of the appeal while lovely little towns, local hospitality and outdoor activities - horse riding, hiking and fly fishing - complete the holiday experience.
With the closest gate to the Kruger Park only 10 km away, Hazyview is a popular base from which to explore the extravagantly scenic Panorama Route and then get an early start on a Kruger Park safari.
This pretty little town has good selection of accommodation, shops, restaurants, and there’s a wonderful Belgian bakery where you can enjoy all manner of tasty pastries and teatime treats. There’s plenty to do in the area too: scenic hot air balloon fights, quad biking, paddling on the Sabie River and – a real highlight – visiting an elephant sanctuary where you can touch, feed and even ride the elephants.
All in all Havyview is a much better overnight option than nearby Nelspruit, which lacks the small-town feel and safari buzz.
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Just north of Nelspruit lies the small town of White River. Around a 30-minute drive from the Numbi Gate of the Kruger Park, White River is a convenient base from which to tour the Panorama Route, try the many adventurous outdoor activities in the area, play a round or two of golf and - of course - go on a self-drive safari. As for the town itself there are some lovely pottery and art studios, boutique shops, delis and open-air restaurants, and the pleasant sub-tropical climate is ideal for growing fruit and nuts: Valencia oranges, mangos, litchis, macadamias and pecan nuts are all farmed on the surrounding hills.
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Malalane is located a mere 10-minute drive from the Malalane Gate of the Kruger Park. This is sugar cane country and Malalane - a small farming town - is not very interesting in itself, however, there are a couple of world-class golf courses nearby including Leopard Creek. Here "golfing hazards" take on a new dimension with regular sightings of crocodile, hippo and antelope - either on the course itself or next to the river running alongside several holes.
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At 2 100m above sea level Dullstroom is one of the highest – and coldest – towns in South Africa, and lies in the rolling landscape between Johannesburg and the Panorama Route. Dullstroom is an exceptionally beautiful town with an abundance of water: clear streams, waterfalls, and 14 lakes and dams all stocked with rainbow trout. Popular activities include fly-fishing, horse riding, hiking to nearby waterfalls, and a visit to the informative bird of prey rehabilitation centre.
Dating back to the late 1800s, Pilgrim’s Rest is a historic gold mining town set in a pretty location on the Panorama Route. In an attempt to preserve the atmosphere of South Africa’s early gold rush days the entire town has been declared a national monument: all the buildings have been carefully restored, there are museums up and down the main road, and visitors can enjoy quirky activities such as ghost tours and gold panning excursions.