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51-metre glass elevator to give Mpumalanga tourism a lift

Travel
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Ms Xolisile Ntanzi, senior investment associate, National Empowerment Fund; Clr Idos Mokoena, chief whip, Thaba Chweu Local Municipality; Ms Sindiswa Mathebula, chief executive officer, Thaba Chweu Local Economic Development Agency; Clr Selina Mashigo-Sekgobela, executive mayor, Thaba Chweu Local Municipality; Mr James Sheard, investor, Graskop Gorge Lift Company; Clr Sandile Shongwe, ward councillor, Thaba Chweu Local Municipality; Mr Oupa Pilane, investor, Graskop Gorge Lift Company; Ms Nosidima Dana, project co-ordinator, National Empowerment Fund; Mr Campbell Scott, investor, Graskop Gorge Lift Company; and Mr Mduduzi Dlamini, principal, National Empowerment Fund.
Whoever came up with the name God’s Window for the legendary Mpumalanga landmark knew a thing or two about beauty. So heavenly is the scenery in this corner of South Africa, that people have for ages been finding innovative ways to share the magic.
 
The latest is the most ground-breaking yet. A 51-metre glass elevator is being constructed down the road from God’s Window. Situated one kilometre out of Graskop, at the Graskop Gorge, on the R533 towards Hazyview, the development will offer yet another amazing tourism experience on the Lowveld’s legendary Panorama Route.
 
It is also the first development of its kind in Africa.
 
The development is being done by the Graskop Gorge Lift Company, owned by Lowveld businessmen Oupa Pilane, James Sheard and Campbell Scott. Nelspruit-born Pilane is the current president of the Kruger Lowveld Chamber of Business and Tourism and a well-known figure in the province, while Sheard and Scott developed the Long Tom Toboggan and Skyway Trails, respectively.
 
The glass elevator will be the main attraction at the Graskop Gorge adventure centre, which will cost in excess of R40 million to construct.

Artist impression of the Graskop Gorge Lift Company.
 
Visitors will be transported to the bottom of the Graskop Gorge, into a pristine forest environment. As the glass cubicle descends down the cliff wall, the saying, ‘Life’s a journey, not a destination’ will be given new meaning. The glass elevator will offer 360 degree views of the gorge, waterfall, trees, birds and sky.
 
Domestic and international visitors, as well as Mpumalanga residents, can expect a memorable outing, with enough to keep all family members entertained for a good few hours. The centre will incorporate a restaurant, bar and shops at the top of the gorge, with a children’s play area and look-out points.
 
The site handover took place on March 29, 2017, and ground was broken in April. The centre will open for business in the last quarter of this year.
 
Hands-on environmental tourism
 
What makes the development extra special is its commitment to not only preserving the environment but educating visitors on its uniqueness. An elevated forest walkway will be built at the bottom of the gorge. It will have two suspension bridges that cross the river and will include interpretation boards.
 
The company responsible for helping bring the Barberton Makhonjwa Geotrail to life, Hamilton-Fynch, has been contracted to provide environment interpretation boards.
 
“The project is an opportunity to explain the origin of the Blyde River Canyon; the biodiversity significance of our forests, and the smaller, generally unappreciated 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,” says Karl Lane from Hamilton-Fynch.
 
Local economic development
 
“The Gorge development will bring much-needed investment relief to the tourist town of Graskop by promoting the optimal use of the Panorama Route to benefit local communities. The increased number of tourist will have a ripple effect, benefiting both local businesses and the local municipality,” says Pilane.

“The start of construction has already created new jobs and the development will create a further 40-plus permanent jobs.

“BEE opportunities have been structured into the development, including ownership, management, maximising on BEE procurement opportunities and impact on local job creation,” he says.

The adventure centre is a public-private partnership with the Thaba Chweu municipality through its local economic development agency Thaleda, and the National Empowerment Fund is a shareholder.
 
The second phase of the project will include a 40-bed boutique hotel.
 
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