God’s other window

A viewing lift on Mpumalanga’s Panorama Route promises to be a game-changer and has not disappointed investors since it opened to the public last December.

The Graskop Gorge Lift Company spent R40 million on the first phase of the outdoor adventure hub.

The viewing lift travels 51m down the Graskop gorge – giving tourists a breathtaking view of the face of the gorge and waterfalls. At the bottom tourists can take a 600m walk in the forest – which includes boards with information on butterflies, spiders, snakes and other species found in the natural habitat.

Above, adrenalin junkies can take a 68m free fall on one of the world’s highest gorge swings or do a zip-line slide across it.

Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom launched the project last month and promised to inject R5 million into the second phase from the Tourism Transformation Fund – a kitty to support black investors and communities to expand tourism-related projects.

Graskop George Lift Company CEO Oupa Pilane told City Press the investment on the Graskop Gorge Lift Centre had been worth the returns so far. The company obtained R33.4 million from the National Empowerment Fund and the directors invested R6.6 million from their own pockets, Pilane said.

'Quite happy'

“We’re quite happy because we’ve been able to cover our operational costs without having to pay anything from our pockets since we opened,” he said.

Pilane, however, declined to indicate how much turnover the project had generated.

The project has created 40 permanent jobs and an additional 15 temporary jobs. The nearby restaurants, craft and clothing shops have created 17 jobs.

“By the end of July 100 000 tourists had visited the gorge and 90% of those were domestic travellers. We’ve not scratched the surface yet in getting international tourists but we are getting there.

“We’ll probably start seeing international visitors next year because they book two years in advance and tour operators had not yet included this new attraction as part of their routes,” Pilane said.

The Panorama Route, said Pilane, had been in decline in the past few years. The route offers attractions and landmarks that include the Blyde River Canyon, Bourke’s Luck Potholes and God’s Window.

“There used to be 500 000 people on that route a year and, because there was nothing new, the number of visitors began going down. Now, it’s less than 100 000. We plan to take that number to 200 000 this year and back to half a million,” he said.

godswindow

The project, said Pilane, would need a further injection of R150 million as a second phase.

This phase will see the establishment of a hotel, a wedding venue, improved zip lining and bungee-jumping facilities, a suspension bridge across the entire gorge, as well as bakkie and hiking trails.

“We’ll have to keep the attractions relevant from time to time to avoid lack of interest. We’ll offer a variety of activities … whether you are an adrenaline junkie or you just love nature, this will be a place for you and by the time we finish this will be an outdoor adventure hub,” he said.

Pilane said development of Graskop town also needed upgrading and was important to encourage tourism in the area and give international tourists, in particular, an experience of a lifetime.

“Right now you can’t take a selfie in Graskop. We must turn things around.

“All these years, there’s been no benefit for local communities and the Graskop Gorge Lift Centre will create enterprises for the local people. There’s not even a shisa nyama in Graskop,” he said.

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