Tuesday, 7 June, 2011
Leaving Kruger: Bateleur to Graskop via the Panorama
By 6:40 a.m. we'd dropped off our keys and were
headed for the Kruger exit at Phalaborwa Gate,
three-plus hours away. Today's early start isn't for
game viewing, but nonetheless, we're still on the
lookout for cats.
Jana too early
Our route from Bateleur to Phalaborwa Gate: Southern
S52 east, H1-6 south, Mopani Rest Camp, H1-6 continued,
H14 southwest, H9 to the gate. Except for the slight
detour to Mopani, we didn't take any side loops on our
way out of Kruger today. No time!
On S52, between Bateleur and the first tar road, we saw
elephants, impala, and waterbucks, and then we were
lucky enough to see one last lion, a young male,
heading home after a night of hunting. Bonus cat!
Stopping by Mopani, we were hoping to get our car
washed, since we'd be only on tar roads from here on
out. No way are we going to return the car to Thrifty
with that much dirt, not only on the exterior, but in
every crack and crevice in the interior. No telling
what the cleaning fee would be! Plus, our hope is that
if we wash the car, the scratches all down the side
from pushing the sedan to the limits on the secondary
and tertiary roads of Kruger won't be so visible.
Unfortunately, the car wash at Mopani was closed, it
looked like permanently. However, it wasn't a wasted
stop, because we visited their shop and were finally
able to find the elusive Kruger map and guidebook
available in English! Granted, we were on our way out
at this point, but this will still help identify some
of the mystery creatures we've encountered.
The Letaba River crossing on the H14 gave us one of the
best hippo sightings of the trip. They were big and
close and didn't take kindly to us stopping to take
their photos. Why are hippos so mean spirited? We
stopped on the bridge and got out of the car for
several minutes. No traffic approached from either
direction. I love how uncrowded Kruger has been. It's
going to be weird returning to civilization.
the Letaba River
After the hippos, we saw more zebras, giraffes, and
elephants before reaching Phalaborwa Gate, our exit
from Kruger. I handed the guard our exit permit, and
all was in order. Then he requested to search our
trunk. Finding it completely free of poached wildlife,
we were free to leave at 10:30 a.m.
The name “Phalaborwa” was given to this area by the
Sotho tribe and means “Town of Many Car Washes.” Lucky
for us, we found one as soon as we exited the park. I
made up at least part of this paragraph. It is for you
to decide which part!
The car wash guys cleaned the car inside and out and
even polished out the scratches. It was amazing. We
figured the cleaner the vehicle, the less scrutiny from
Thrifty upon its return. Now our hope is that the
scratches don't become visible as the clean wears off
in the next day and a half. They cleaned the car for an
hour and a half and charged R135, about 20 bucks. So
totally worth it. The only damage to be seen now is the
chip (or maybe two) in the windshield.
While we were waiting for the car, I walked to the two
closest convenience stores to try and get some rand
from an ATM. Much to my dismay, both ATMs were out of
service. We hadn't had an opportunity to get any cash
since arriving at the airport, and our supply was very
low. The car wash would use up most of what remained,
and we still needed gas! Luckily, by the time the car
wash was done, one of the ATMs was back online. We got
cash, gas, and finally headed out of town a little
This afternoon we're driving the Panorama Route over
the Drakensberg Escarpment and along the Blyde River
Canyon, one of South Africa's most scenic areas. The
scenery started at Abel Erasmus Pass, up a steep and
twisty road with breathtaking views of rugged
mountains, high cliffs, and waterfalls. We stopped on
the pass at 1:30 and made sandwiches at a litter-strewn
and graffiti-covered picnic area. It was the first
turnout we'd come to without vendors.
car at Abel Erasmus Pass
The Blyde River Canyon, at 33 kilometers long, is one
of the largest canyons in he world and, unlike the
canyons we're used to, is covered in lush green
foliage. There are several viewpoints around the
canyon, most of them charging a nominal entrance
The Three Rondavels (R5 per car), at the northern end
of the canyon, was the first place we stopped along the
canyon, having somehow missed the turnoff for World's
End. The Three Rondavels are named after the oval
African huts with thatched roofs which they resemble.
This is considered by many the best viewpoint for the
canyon, and it certainly was for us, since later in the
afternoon the views were obscured by smoke.
claims the Blyde River Canyon
Next we visited the spectacular Bourke's Luck Potholes
(R5 per car plus R25 per person). The potholes are
funky cylindrical holes carved into the rock by
whirlpools at the confluence of the Treur River and the
Blyde River. There's a 1-kilometer path with several
pedestrian bridges leading to the best viewpoints.
at Bourke's Luck Potholes
While Tom and I walked the path and scrambled around on
the rocks, Linda went shopping and bought the one
souvenir no visitor to Africa must leave without – a
Leaving Bourke's Luck, we started seeing fires. At
first we thought they were wildfires, but soon we
realized they were being purposely set. Apparently in
the winter they burn the tall wild grasses around here
in a controlled manner to prevent uncontrolled fires
later on. Makes sense, but it doesn't help our views.
Wonder View was a free viewpoint, which is good,
because all we could see was smoke!
Our last scenic stop of the day was God's Window (R5
per car). Like I say, it was pretty hazy by now, but it
was still neat because of the trail up through the
At 4:45 we arrived at Blyde Chalets in Graskop.
Reception is located in a gift shop, but they'd already
closed the shop for the day. Luckily, there was a note
on the door that to check in, phone the posted number.
Unluckily, we still don't have a working phone! Now
what? We've already paid for the room. As we were
pondering our dilemma, a passerby came to our
assistance and located the manager at his chalet around
back. So we checked in and all was well.
Our chalet tonight has two bedrooms, one bath, and a
kitchenette. Nothing spectacular, but it was fine
except for one thing – No heat! That was okay in
Kruger, but here in the mountains, it's cold.
We had dinner at The Glass House, adjacent to the
chalets. This was the only night of our South African
holiday that we weren't locked in a compound, so we
were actually able to walk to dinner. I had rump steak
with mushroom sauce and chips. Tom and Linda had
lasagna and salad. Our meals were excellent, and the
African art decorating the place added great ambiance.
We all had Irish whiskey for dessert to brace us for
the return to our cold rooms.
I don't know the outside temperature, but it was 58
degrees in the chalet, which is too cold for indoors!
Sleeping was okay with the super-warm blankets
provided, but we were very cold until we went to bed. I
turned on the burners on the stove, and we huddled
around for warmth!