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AAt the top of Long Tom Pass in Mpumalanga is the weapon from which it gets its name: a large French-made cannon called the Long Tom. The British gave that nickname to the field gun because it fired a 38kg shell for 10km, and in Boer hands it was the bane of British generals and their brigades during the South African War (formerly known as the Second Anglo-Boer War) of 1899 to 1902.
As you drive up onto the Drakensberg plateau through Long Tom Pass on a fine Mpumalanga morning, after breakfast in Lydenburg and with 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.
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 the huge silver cannon from which it gets its name. 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.
IIf you've come from Lydenburg, your next stop would be the charming town of Sabie, gateway to the Panorama Route and a historical gem. From Sabie, it's a short hop to the preserved gold-rush village of Pilgrim's Rest and Graskop, the town of the gourmet pancake.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Mpumalanga Tourism Authority
Tel: +27 (0)13 759 5300
How to get here
You could either fly to Mbombela (formerly 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, however.
Things to do in the area
Mpumalanga is all about astonishing natural beauty, with plenty of history thrown in. The Kruger National Park, Pilgrim's Rest, Blyde River Canyon, the Sabie waterfalls, God's Window and Bourke's Luck Potholes are all within 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.