The countdown to the opening of the Graskop Gorge lift development is underway. While visitors can expect a tourism experience that is unique to Africa, an important element of the venture is the showcasing of the Panorama Route’s magnificent beauty and the importance of its conservation.
Situated just outside of Graskop on the R553 to Hazyview, the focal point of the development is a viewing lift that will carry visitors 51 metres down into the gorge. There, a wooden walkway, rising and falling and crossing suspension bridges, will take visitors along a 500 metre interpretation trail through the indigenous forest.
Interpretation is the business of revealing the significance of place, processes, artefacts and cultural heritage. The interpretation media has been developed by Nelspruit-based interpretation specialists Hamilton-Fynch, whose interpretation projects have included the Barberton-Makhonjwa Geotrail, projects in Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique and for 20 reserves spread across all five countries of the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area. Hamilton-Fynch has also recently completed more than 40 metres of interpretation panels for a museum on the sugar industry in Swaziland.
“As well as offering a spectacular tourism experience, the Graskop project has an educational role — revealing the significance of our indigenous forest biome that covers just 0.56% of South Africa but is home to about 5% of plant species. Only the Fynbos has a greater floral diversity. Although South Africa has never had a great deal of forest, many of the forests have been logged for timber,” says Hamilton-Fynch’s Karl Lane.
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.
Although this particular Outeniqua yellowwood comes from Knysna – it died and was subsequently felled in 2016, it represents what could have been if not for aggressive logging. The specimen on display is between 700 and 900 years old and carries a record of fires, fungus and climate extending far back in time. Wits University is to extract tiny cores for analysis which will give an accurate age of the tree and a detailed record of climate over many hundreds of years.
The forest environment and its importance are interpreted through a series of large panels that have 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, tree communications and much more.
“Each of the panels has a short overview of the topic but for those visitors with a deeper interest, there are nuggets of fascinating facts on each panel — for example: did you know that trees can communicate with each other, or that almost everywhere you might be, there may be hundreds of spiders of many species within 10 metres? Luckily for some, spiders don’t have wings,” says Karl.
Although the interpretation media is key to interpretation, Hamilton-Fynch has also introduced some unusual and whimsical elements to add a little extra pizzazz. There is a large and very beautiful stained glass window made by Sharon Patterson from Ponieskrantz Arts and Crafts in Pilgrim’s Rest. This shows a forest scene to set the mood for the trail:
‘Into the forest I go
To feed my mind
And find my soul.’
Eight stained glass panels have been inserted into stainless steel frames to create a final product that is 2.4m high and 2.1 wide.
In addition, there are giant mushroom sculptures by local artist Laura Batchelor, a large, sweet-water butterfly feeder and a large indoor, wall-mounted observation beehive. The bees will enter and exit the hive via a tunnel through the wall so visitors will have the opportunity to safely watch bees at work.
Braille panels have been made for installation on only a small section of the trail. The terrain has unfortunately required that the walkway have steps and stairs that may be difficult for the sight impaired to negotiate but the trail from the lift to the waterfall is very accessible.
The lift is expected to be operational in mid-December.
For further information, visit www.graskopgorgeliftcompany.co.za