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This is the most popular route to big-game country, with roads taking you past endless pine and eucalyptus plantations, interspersed with pockets of tangled indigenous jungle, plunging waterfalls, and breathtaking views of the subtropical plains. A 4-hour drive from Gauteng, it's an easy escape for Johannesburg's ever-harassed city dwellers, desperate to breathe fresh air and drive around with unlocked doors. Unfortunately, the air is not always that fresh; Mpumalanga's industrial activities are responsible for one of the highest acid rainfalls in the world. This is compounded during the dry winter months, when veld fires are rife, coloring the air with a hazy smog that obscures the views. While this is one reason to consider traveling via the Letaba/Magoebaskloof area, which is generally a great deal greener in the winter, nothing matches the magnificent view of the lowveld plains from the aptly named God's Window, or watching the Blyde River snake through the floor of the eponymous canyon 700m (2,296 ft.) below. In addition, the region's popularity makes for a plethora of great accommodations; with the exception of Pilgrim's Rest, overnighting in any of the Escarpment towns (as opposed to the outlying areas) would be a mistake -- the surrounding forests and farms offer a lot more in the way of views and setting.

In short, the route is as follows: After driving through Dullstroom, the highest town on the Escarpment, you drop down the eastern slopes via the scenic Long Tom Pass to the forestry towns of Sabie and Graskop. (Pilgrim's Rest, a restored gold-mining village, lies another mountain pass away and warrants a separate visit of at least a half-day, excluding travel time.) Graskop is the gateway to the Panorama Route, a drive that curls along the rim of the Escarpment, with lookout points along the way that provide relatively easy access to some of the most panoramic views in Africa. Once past the canyon lookouts, the final descent to the lowveld follows the Abel Erasmus Pass to Hoedspruit, which offers easy access to Kruger via the centrally located Orpen Gate, and also lies very close to the private Timbavati, Thornybush, Kapama, and Manyeleti game reserves. From Hoedspruit, you can also head south to Hazyview for access to the Paul Kruger, Phabeni, and Numbi entrance gates to Kruger Park, or to Sabi Sands Reserve, or to complete a loop returning to Sabie or Graskop.