Into The Forest
The folks living on the Panorama Route are an adventurous bunch. Visitors can bungee jump, abseil, do river rafting, go on a canopy tour, whizz by in a toboggan and now, can also drop down into a pristine indigenous forest via a gorge lift. It’s great fun, but also showcases the area’s magnificent beauty and highlights the importance of its conservation.
The lift is not a thrill ride, but appeals for a number of other reasons. Once at the bottom, a network of elevated walkways and suspension bridges takes you straight to Jurassic Park, complete with blood-curdling screams from the nearby Big Swing platform. The walkways guide you along for a short stroll over forest trails and across streams, with a ringside view of the Panorama Gorge Waterfall plummeting spectacularly into the Motitsi River below.
Strategically placed information boards tell you all you need to know about the origin of the Blyde River Canyon, the significance of its forest’s biodiversity and the smaller, generally overlooked organisms living in it. The project cost a total of R40 million and was completed in a staggeringly short eight months – just in time for last year’s festive season.
Visitors have been raving about this latest addition to everybody’s bucket list. A ticket is good for multiple rides up and down to the canyon floor, enabling you to spend a few hours loitering about meaningfully in the centre’s restaurant, bar and shops.
Brilliant stuff. There were still a few signs of recent building activity when we visited, but we were impressed with the limited impact the development seemed to have made on the forest floor. It is also partially wheelchair-accessible (the wooden walkways are too steep to navigate, but visitors with disabilities can still make use of the elevator down to the bottom viewing platform).
Graskop Gorge Lift Company is owned by the president of the Kruger Lowveld Chamber of Business and Tourism, Oupa Pilane, as well as investors and tourism heavyweights Campbell Scott and James Sheard, responsible for developing Skyway Trails (a zipline in Hazyview) and the Long Tom Toboggan (1,7km careen down the Long Tom Pass), respectively.
- This lift is a first for Africa. Construction of the base involved around 160 tons of concrete being poured down a specially created pipe system that ran down the cliff face. The lift shaft weighs 88 tons and is 60m in length, with a total travel distance of 51m – around 16 storeys.
- The glass lift offers a 360-degree view of the gorge, waterfall, trees, birdlife and sky, and can accommodate 26 passengers.
- Wheelchair access is available to the lift and down to the waterfall along the boardwalk, but the steepness of the terrain below doesn’t allow full access.
- Don’t miss the giant mushroom sculptures by local artist Laura Batchelor on display at the lifestyle centre.
- Children will be fascinated by a large, sweet-water butterfly feeder and a massive indoor, wall-mounted observation beehive that give visitors a glimpse of these industrious creatures at work.
Magnificent 40-metre-tall yellowwoods and other high-quality trees were logged in the 19th century for building, railway sleepers, mine props and furniture. An example of the trees that once grew in the region is the magnificent yellowwood cross-section in the reception area of the Graskop development.
Good to know
The lift operates from 8am to 5pm in winter, and 6pm in summer. Wear sturdy shoes as the walkways get slippery when wet. As the weather can be unpredictable, take a jacket or umbrella. If the day is overcast, you might be disappointed. Phone the centre to check the weather beforehand.
The Lift Co Lifestyle Centre
It forms the gateway to the forest below and is made up of a number of small shops, a community craft market, plus a restaurant and bar area. Perched on the cliff edge, it offers spectacular views of the waterfall and forest below.
The forest environment and its importance are interpreted through a series of large panels that has been beautifully designed and illustrated by Lesley Lane of Hamilton-Fynch. These panels are installed at strategic points along the trail, covering elements such as birds of the forest, biodiversity, fabulous fungi and tree communication.
Open daily from 8am to 6-ish. Pop in or call ahead on 076-159-0047 or www.graskopgorgeliftcompany.co.za
Adults, 17 and older: R175; children, four to 16: R120; children under four: free; pensioners: R120.
Discounts apply to secondary and primary school groups. Light-meal combos are available for school groups. One ticket is good for multiple daily rides down into the forest.
On Tuesdays, Graskop locals only pay R80!