The Long Tom Pass, Mpumalanga
Did you know?
The name Sabie is Shangaan for 'fearful' - it refers to the crocodiles in the river.
As you drive up onto the Drakensberg plateau through Long Tom Pass on a fine Mpumalanga morning, after breakfast in Lydenburg and the prospect of lunch in the timber country around Pilgrim's Rest, spare a thought for the pioneers who made this marvellous road.
The malaria mosquito killed more humans in the Lowveld than any war or other pestilence ever could. This little insect wiped out entire groups of miners, adventurers and road workers, and every mile cut into the mountains to make the road was a major triumph.
The Long Tom Pass was built between Lydenburg and Sabie as an alternative route for the waggoners of the 1800s to get through to the Mozambican port of Lourenco Marques (now Maputo) for trade. It took the wagons 10 days to get from here to the coast. Now, it's a simple matter of hours – border post protocol included – if you go via the Long Tom Pass.
At the top of this picturesque mountain pass is a very large silver cannon called The Long Tom. That was the British name for this Boer-operated field artillery that fired a 38kg shell for 10km and was the bane of British generals and their brigades.
The Boers lugged this metal monster to the most amazing places, constantly surprising their enemy. The gun was used with great effectiveness in this area, and 50 years after the South African War, the pass was named in its honour.
If you've come from Lydenburg, your next stop would be the charming town of Sabie, gateway to the Panorama Route and an historical gem. From Sabie, it's a short hop to the historical village of Pilgrim's Rest and Graskop, the town of the gourmet pancake.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Mpumalanga Tourism Authority
Tel: +27 (0)13 759 5300/1
How to get here
You could either fly to Mbombela (Nelspruit), hire a car and head inland, or you could drive straight out from Johannesburg along the N4 and follow the signs from there.
Best time to visit
There are attractions any time of year. Winter is pleasant (and sometimes very chilly), whereas summer is intensely green. The heat won't affect you all that much at these high altitudes.
Around the area
The Kruger National Park, Pilgrim's Rest, Blyde River Canyon, the Sabie waterfalls, God's Window and Bourke's Luck Potholes are all in easy reach
There are tour buses, but your own car will give you greater mobility.
Length of stay
Negotiating the tarred Long Tom Pass won't take more than a few hours. But the little towns of Sabie and Graskop are very pleasant to visit, so you may want to overnight in one or both.
What to pack
Take something warm, even in summer. The temperature can turn suddenly.
What to eat
Harry's Pancakes in Graskop started something of a trend in the area, and you'll find delicious pancakes of savoury and sweet persuasion wherever you go.
There are plenty of roadside markets in this region that offer very good quality carvings at bargain prices.