• The Graskop gorge lift has been officially opened by the Minister of Tourism, Derek Hannekom.
    • It is Africa's first viewing lift and travels up to 50 metres down into the forest below the gorge.
    • The lift goes down into an afromontane forest that features a variety of plants, animals, insects and birds.
    • Travel time to go down is less than a minute while the trail takes about an hour to complete.

    Dubbed the "Kynsna of the Lowveld area" by development economist, Vusi Mashabane, the town of Graskop on the iconic panorama route in Mpumalanga officially added a new innovative and bold tourist attraction to its notable list of wonders on Friday.

    Innovative tourism

    The Graskop gorge lift is Africa's first viewing elevator, according to one of its developers, CEO of the Graskop Gorge Lift Company (GGLC), Oupa Pilane. The elevator travels 50 metres down the face of the Graskop gorge and into the afromontane forest below.

    Oupa Pilane, CEO of the Graskop Gorge Lift Company. (Photo: Timothy Rangongo)

    "It’s not every day that you get to see this in the Thaba Chweu area," said the Mayor of the local municipality, Selina Mashego-Segobela in her compliments to the lift's developers: Pilane, Campbell Scott and James Sheard - who entered into a partnership with the National Empowerment Fund (NEF) to finance the project. 

    Pilane tells Business Insider SA that "all we [GGLC] had was a vision of putting a lift in the forest and the NEF took a chance on us." The NEF contributed R33.4 million towards the R40 million project that is now expected to grow to R150 million in value as the team gears for the second phase of the project. 

    The first phase entailed construction of the lift and a centre with a restaurant that is perched on the top of the cliff edge offering hair-raising views, a contemporary African art gallery, colourful African fashion clothing shop, curio shop and community craft market.

    The gorgeous gorge

    The Graskop gorge. (Graskop Gorge Lift Company)

    Travel time down into gorge is brief at one metre per second and doesn't take more than a minute.

    Upon touching down, the forest can be explored via a 600-metre elevated circular trail that takes about an hour to complete. It's a sensory delight, full of sounds, texture and unforgettable sights.

    Water drips down rock faces, moss grows in abundance, the river dances across boulders and the waterfall cascades.

    A rich, earthy smell lingers and little flowers vie for attention next to towering trees.

    GGLC is looking to expand the project further by developing a hotel, a wedding venue in the forest, electric bicycles and trails and a crafts workshop for the local artisans like Alan Mashego, who says "we [crafts men and women] are going to walk a long journey with Pilane and support his vision."

    The NEF says it will continue to financially back the project in its second phase which will compare to the Grand Canyon, Victoria Falls, Table Mountain and Uluru National Park in Australia upon completion, according to Philisiwe Mthethwa, CEO of NEF.

    Not only does the Minister of Tourism, Derek Hannekom also liken the region to Kynsna but says, unlike the Western Cape town, Graskop has the potential to be more, given its wide variety of offerings and its closeness to Joburg.

    Among Hannekom's pieces of advice to GGLC, some were to invest in people, such as well-trained tour guides; pursue inclusive growth and also invest in the infrastructure in the area. Since opening to the public in December 2017, Pilane says more than 100,000 visitors have checked the lift out. Going down the lift and exploring the forest below costs R175 for adults and R120 for children and pensioners. 

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