The steps to quiet contentment lie beneath thundering falls


Manie Nel is used to seeing the world from above. The hot air balloon pilot gets to admire the verdant landscapes of Mpumalanga from the sky nearly every day. But when Nel is up in the air, he misses out on one of his favourite scenes in the forest: Maria Shires Falls. Constantly flowing down the rock face, the torrential waterfall leaves terraces in its wake, and a song that echoes through the hills.

All along the well-known Panorama Route, majestic waterfalls dot the landscape, breaking up the dense foliage. The atmosphere has a lasting effect on visitors. “The greenness and the water, it leaves a mark on your soul,” Nel says. After spending 25 years working in technology, he decided to turn his love for the outdoors into his livelihood and began piloting hot air balloons. When his feet touch the ground again after sailing across the skies, Nel dons his walking shoes to explore the surrounding forests. “To escape to an area like this, experience nature in an almost unspoilt form, you cannot describe that to somebody,” Nel says as the mist of the waterfall settles on his skin.

Only a few minutes away from the town of Graskop, Maria Shires Falls isn’t the highest in the area, but it flows with powerful force. Nearby, picnic spaces allow family and friends to gather and enjoy the music of rushing water mingling with the call of birds. “When you’re at the waterfall, it feels like you’re a child again,” Nel says. “You feel taken care of, in the arms of a protector.” Whether viewing the falls from a balloon or meeting them on the ground, this is a site of wonder along a route filled with adventure.