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Gorgeous Gorge

Aug 06 2017 12:27
Khethiwe Mndawe

Pretoria - A group of entrepreneurs are spending R40 million on building a ground-breaking glass lift in Graskop in Mpumalanga that they hope will boost local tourism.

Graskop is a small forestry town perched on the edge of the Drakensberg escarpment in Mpumalanga.

The town is not far from a number of scenic wonders, including God’s Window, which is a popular vantage point along the Drakensberg escarpment, where majestic cliffs plunge down 700m to the Lowveld.

The project is also a short drive away from the popular Lisbon Falls, Berlin Falls and Mac Mac Falls.

The developers, Graskop Gorge Lift Company, will launch the glass lift at the end of 2017.

Construction on the project started in March and is now 70% complete.

Graskop Gorge Lift Company is owned by the president of the Kruger Lowveld Chamber of Business and Tourism, Oupa Pilane, and James Sheard and Campbell Scott, who are big investors in the project and are both well-known figures in the tourism industry.

Sheard and Scott developed Mpumalanga’s Long Tom Toboggan and Skyway Trails, respectively. The Long Tom Toboggan is a 1.7 kilometre track in the Long Tom Pass while Skyway Trails are two zip lines in Hazyview.

The glass lift will offer a 360-degree view of the gorge, waterfall, trees, birdlife and the sky.

The lift, which will be associated with the Graskop Gorge Adventure Centre, will incorporate a restaurant, bar and shops at the top of the gorge, a children’s play area and lookout points.

The adventure centre is a public-private partnership with the Thaba Chweu Local Municipality through its local economic development agency, Thaleda.

The development aims to preserve the environment and educate visitors about its uniqueness.

“We brought in the National Empowerment Fund (NEF) as a shareholder and funder of the project.

"The NEF is going to stay with us until we finish paying off their loan, which should be seven to eight years after the operation has been in existence.

"After that they will sell the stake back to us,” said Pilane.

“We have been looking for projects that are innovative in nature and projects that are able to bring people together.

"We are in that process of producing quality projects, especially in the panorama route,” he added.

“We have relied too much on natural tourism sites but they have to compete with the world. They’ve got to compete with the world.

"You’ve got to be able to invest in tourism so that it becomes attractive. We cannot just only rely on the Three Rondavels, God’s Window and the remarkable waterfalls.” Pilane said.

“We need to innovate to keep people coming to these sites for the second time, third, fourth time; and that is the call we are attending to.

"We need to give the world products that are unique to Africans and the world. And this is the first project we are initiating, the glass lift project.

“This is not like attractions such as bungee jumping, which can be found all over Africa. This is a first ever. We are putting all sorts of educational stations right at the end of the gorge,” said Pilane.

He said the installation would be complete by the end of August and that the project is expected to be finished by the end of November.

“We are really pushing to launch it before the 16th of December and we have to open it before Christmas,” he added.

“It’s exiting. The construction phase has created 155 jobs. Locals were hired to do the concrete and wooden decking works, and we are impressed so far by the quality of work.

"We are going to start the process of hiring permanent employees. We will start with 50 employees as soon as we open the site,” Pilane said.

Visitors will be transported into a forest environment where on a clear day they will be able to see across the Kruger National Park towards the Lebombo Mountains, on South Africa’s border with Mozambique, and the flat plains of Swaziland.

“The project is an opportunity to explain the origin of the Blyde River Canyon, the biodiversity significance of our forests and the smaller, generally unrecognised organisms that live there, and the importance of the escarpment catchment to water supplies for communities and wildlife downstream, all the way to the Indian Ocean,” said Karl Lane from media agency Hamilton-Fynch.

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