This past week, I was supposed to be visiting Mpumalanga’s Parorama Route, taking in the views around the province, and capturing all manner of awe-inspiring photos of Pinacle Rock, God’s Window, and whatever else was visible. Unfortunately, not a lot of anything was visible at all, since my visit perfectly coincided with some extremely heavy fog and rain covering the entire area.
Fortunately, I was surprised to find that I didn’t much mind missing the views, as I was entertained by something much more interesting: the roads.
The same hills and mountains which provide the (supposedly!) stunning views, also need to provide a way to get up there to experience them. Fortunately, the local government seems to have seen fit to upgrade and maintain pretty much every road in the area - no doubt as a result of the 2010 Soccer World Cup, in an attempt to attract and impress visitors to the area. This has left the rest of us with some brilliant roads to enjoy, in a relatively undertrafficed area.
To start with, coming from Gauteng along the N4, I got off the highway and onto the R36, towards Lydenburg (Mashishing). This was the worst road on the trip, covered in potholes and dilapidated patchwork. There were some amazing views, though, complimented by the odd troop of baboons along the side of the road (no, I did NOT get out to take photos).
After Lydenburg comes the R37 and Long Tom Pass. I only really expected the first section - through the Makobulaan Nature Reserve - to be interesting, and it certainly was, especially in dense fog. The steep downhill sections of sharp corners flowing corners were certainly highlights, but I was surprised to find the entire R37 to Nelspruit an extremely enjoyable drive, even with a fair amount of traffic.
The following day, I was off to try my luck at taking a peek at Pinnacle Rock and God’s Window. Back along the R37, bliss. Then off onto the R532 towards Sabie. Another amazing driving road. At Sabie, with time to kill, I decided to try out the (in)famous “Sabie 22” - the first 22-odd kilometres of the R536 between Sabie and Hazyview, primarily frequented by motorcyclists.
I’m really not sure why this route is not more popular or well known amongst the automotive community (at least, I’ve never heard of anyone mentioning it). It really is quite amazing, and I can absolutely picture overpowered R32 Skyline GTRs, S14 and S15 Silvias, FD RX7s, and even DK’s venerable AE86 having touge-style drift battles along this road. It would be a sight to behold. In fact, it would be awesome of somehow an event like the Knysna Hill Climb could be organised here, it would be a massive hit.
While completely out of place compared to all other traffic in my JDM-inspired overly-loud rice-rocket, it felt right at home on these roads.
After heading back to Sabie, we continue along the R532 towards Graskop. This section of road with it’s pine plantations in every direction as far as the eye can see really reminds me of the Stutterheim area in the Eastern Cape, an area we traveled often when I was younger. Here, the road gets really extreme. Sharp 90 degree bends with sheer drops off the side wind you up through the mountains, with the many crosses lining the roadside serving as better warning signs than any number of red and white chevrons.
Eventually, you arrive in Graskop, pass through, realise you can’t see more than 5 metres in front of the car and won’t be seeing any panoramas, visit the famous Harrie’s “The Original” Pancakes, and repeat the glorious journey in reverse, finally allowing you and your car some R&R time.
Returning to Gauteng was a mostly sedate affair, and while not as thrilling as the R37, R532 and R536, the return trip along the R539 “Highlands Meander”, through fields and fields of citrus trees, offers a completely different but equally enjoyable and very relaxing drive.
So all-in-all, did nothing I actually intended to do on this trip, and I think I enjoyed it more because of it!