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Set on the foothills of the majestic Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province, the small village of Sabie is all about location. Besides the sheer splendour of its natural surrounds, Sabie is just a stone’s throw away from some of South Africa’s most popular tourist attractions that include the Kruger National Park and the Blyde River Canyon, the third largest on the planet. The town is also located in the middle of one of the world’s largest man-made forests comprising over four million square kilometres of eucalyptus and pine trees, lending a fragrant and mystical air to the town of Kaapsehoop.
Although Sabie owes its origins to the 1870s gold rush, today it derives its wealth from the forestry industry and the Sabie Forestry Museum takes visitors on an interesting tour through South Africa’s timber and wood industry. Market Square is the town’s main commercial hub and also where information on activities such as fly-fishing, hiking, mountain biking, horse riding, rock climbing, white-water rafting, abseiling and bird watching can be found.
Visitors are never short of things to do and see as Sabie is also ideally situated to act as a base for exploring Mpumalanga’s beautiful Panorama Route as well as the Kruger National Park. Adding to its convenience is the town’s proximity to Johannesburg and the OR Tambo International airport, approximately a four-hour drive from Sabie.
Sabie is a popular base from which to explore the Kruger National Park and, as it lies less than an hour away, day trippers can enjoy a leisurely excursion through the largest national park in South Africa. The Kruger and Phabeni gates, leading into the park’s southern sector, are the most easily accessed from Sabie, and either is a good option. The Paul Kruger gate lies on the Sabie River in an area renowned for crocodile, hippo and great predator sightings; while the Phabeni gate affords visitors almost instant sightings of game. For those travelling to the Lower Sabie Rest Camp, the Crocodile Bridge gate offers the most direct access. However, many prefer using the Paul Kruger gate and taking the slightly longer, yet conveniently tarred, road.
The southern region is richly stocked with a wide variety of game, as grazers flock to the area in search of sweet grass and predators follow hotly on their heels. Large herds of buffalo and zebra are often easily spotted while some of the special and rare sightings include the mountain reedbuck, oribi, Lichtenstein’s hartebeest and grey rhebok. Klipspringers grace the granite koppies and bake in the late afternoon sun. The massive park covers almost 20 000 square kilometres and is part of the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Reserve, South Africa’s largest conservation area.
Day visitors to the Kruger National Park should note that vehicles are only permitted to drive between sunrise and sunset, so make sure you head towards the nearest gate before closing time. Guided morning and afternoon open-air wildlife safaris can be booked at the park and there are plenty of rest camps where visitors can picnic, purchase refreshments and stretch their legs.
Mpumalanga’s alluring and exquisite Panorama Route presents a road trip to remember and ranks amongst the best of South Africa’s natural attractions. Its magical appeal takes one on a journey of awe-inspiring discovery from astounding canyons to amazing rock formations, crystal waterfalls and views that will quite simply take you breath away. Its highlights include:
- The Blyde River Canyon, one of South Africa’s most remarkable geological features that cuts into the sandstone earth for over two kilometres. It is the third largest canyon on the planet and located below the confluence of the Blyde (joy) and Treur (sorrow) rivers. It also holds a nature reserve of the same name and, while small by South African standards, is nevertheless brimming with remarkable sights and rich plant and animal life.
- Bourke’s Luck Potholes, a natural water feature marking the beginning of the Blyde River Canyon. Over thousands of years swirling whirlpools have ground away sand and rock to create unique cylindrical potholes into the bedrock of the river.
- The striking and scenic Mac Mac Falls feature two panels of cascading water that plummet down 70 metres of rock face. They boast an awesome viewing platform as well as a crystal-clear pool where visitors can take a dip and soak up the mountain scenery. The falls are named after a Scottish miner who once panned gold in the area during the 1870s gold rush in South Africa and, today, visitors will find tombstones near the falls that are etched with this name. There is also a walking trail meandering through indigenous bush and endemic birdlife such as robins, thrushes, greenbuls and cuckoos.
- The aptly named God’s Window stands at an altitude of almost 2 000 metres above sea level, offering visitors spectacular views across the Blyde River Canyon and the beautiful Lowveld terrain. On clear days it’s even possible to see as far as Mozambique.
- The Lisbon Falls are not far from God’s Window and are the highest in South Africa. Dramatic and scenic they are not to be missed.
- Another geological wonder along the Panorama Route is the Three Rondavels where three rounded mounted tops appear strikingly similar to the traditional round or oval African homesteads made with local materials – called rondavels.