About Rainbow Route

The Rainbow Route links the provinces of Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal starting at Carolina. It passes through the towns of Kriel, Bethal, Ermelo, Chrissiesmeer, Amsterdam, and Piet Retief before crossing the border to Paulpietersburg, Vryheid, Melmoth, Ulundi, Eshowe and Mtunzini.

How to combine gorgeous scenery, two provinces, the histories of both the Voortrekker and the Zulu nation, and pass through a myriad undiscovered towns all on the same route?

Drive the Rainbow Route.

The route, aside from its scenic beauty, introduces a series of little, largely undiscovered, towns each of which offers something of historical, scenic or cultural value to the visitor.

The towns of Carolina, Kriel, Bethal, Ermelo and Chrissiesmeer lie on the coalfields belt, a section of the country given over primarily to the production of coal and the generation of power. Grim sounding it might be, but this area is also known as the Grass and Wetlands region of Mpumalanga – a land of shimmering lakes and rivers, incredible scenery, and an abundance of vibrant bird life.


• Carolina was once at the heart of an essential wagon route from Johannesburg to the gold fields of the Kaap Valley, look out for the gorgeous original sandstone architecture, visit the Komati Gorge and the Nooitgedacht Nature Reserve.

• Kriel is all about its power production; the heart of the largest coalfields in the country. Visit Rietspruit Colliery and Matla Coal; the sheer size of the power stations and their production capacity is intriguing.

• The farming community of Bethal is in the heart of potato and coal country. Visit the Bethal Museum in the old magistrate's office, memorial square and Bethal Dam.

• Close to Ermelo visit a settlement of stone huts near Tafelkop built by the Leghoya Tloka tribe, and San paintings on Welgelegen farm.

• Chrissiesmeer is beautiful. Lying at the heart of the Mpumalanga highlands, it is awash with lakes, pans, wetlands and grasslands with a rich Anglo-Boer War history.

• Amsterdam – numerous hiking trails and no fewer than three dams, this area was once known as New Scotland.

• Piet Retief is a quaint town high in the mistbelt on the escarpment and surrounded by forests. Worth a weekend visit and often used by local road-trippers as an overnight stop.

Over the KwaZulu-Natal border the route continues as it has from Amsterdam in a straight line, hugging the eastern edge of the famous Battlefields Route.


• Scenically pretty, Paulpietersburg is rich in historical relevance from both the Anglo-Zulu and Anglo-Boer Wars.

• Vryheid was once the capital of the Nieuwe Republiek and its three museums and nearby battlefields will keep you occupied for hours. Look out for Zulu curios, beadwork, sculpture and pottery.

• Melmoth is beautiful. The former gold rush town lies on a mistbelt surrounded by timber plantations, a bird sanctuary, the Nkandla forest and the beautiful Nkwaleni Valley.

• Ulundi is worth a detour for it is the former heart of Zululand; visit the mystical Valley of the Kings, the kraal of Cetshwayo and the grave of Piet Retief.

• Eshowe: birthplace of Cetshwayo visit Nonquayi, the Dlinza forest with its aerial boardwalk, the Entumi Nature Reserve, the Mpushini Falls and Vukani Museum.

• Mtunzini is home of the Raphia palm and the palmnut vulture, a rare bird of prey.

The route

Follow Route 38 until just after you cross the N11, where you take the R542, R544 and then R545 (in quick succession) via Kriel to Bethal. From Bethal the N17 will get you to Ermelo and Chrissiesmeer. You then join the R33 all the way down into KZN until you reach Vryheid, where you take the R34 to just beyond Melmouth (the R34 forks off east) where you join the R66 via Eshowe to KwaGingindlovu, and R102 to Mtunzini.


You should be able to find a brochure and map at tourist information centres in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga. The route in its entirety takes over 8 hours, so break up the journey. We recommend staying in Chrissiesmeer, Piet Retief, Melmouth and Umtinzini.

Need to Know

WhereThe Rainbow Route links the provinces of Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal starting at Carolina. It passes through the towns of Kriel, Bethal, Ermelo, Chrissiesmeer, Amsterdam, and Piet Retief before crossing the border to Paulpietersburg, Vryheid, Melmoth, Ulundi, Eshowe and Mtunzini.

WhenBest during daylight hours

How muchFree

TelephoneNot applicable.

OvernightStay nearby in Carolina, in Mpumalanga


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* Distances shown are "as the crow flies", not driving distances. Please confirm with the establishment should driving distance be a factor in your decision.

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