The Graskop Gorge project. Photo: Supplied
The Graskop Gorge tourism node is underway and is set to be completed by December 2017. The project, which aims to bring in a 51m glass elevator that will transport people up and down the gorge,will also bring a much needed ease of access to the gorge.

While the project that is worth in excess of R40 million is predominantly privately funded, the National Empowerment Fund has a stake in the project. 

The project which began earlier this year will also bring a restaurant and bar that will have magnificent  views for patrons, but also positive spin-offs for local businesses who will also benefit from the development of the elevator. 

The development is being done by the Graskop Gorge Lift Company – owned by three local private developers and the National Empowerment Fund, who are also shareholders and funders, with the local Thaba Chweu Municipality, through Thaleda, the municipality’s economic development agency.

Situated one kilometre out of Graskop, at the Graskop Gorge, on the R533 towards Hazyview, the Panorama Route development is a first for Africa.

The team that has been tasked with bringing the development to life has reported however some challenges with the terrain they need to work on. 

Earthbound Timber Designs has been charged with building the walkways and doing the decking both on the plateau where the retail offering and restaurant will be located, and at the bottom of the gorge, where environmental trails will encourage visitors to learn more about the escarpment’s afro-montane forest.

Although the central attraction will be a glass elevator that will transport people 51 metres up and down the gorge, it was essential that a staircase also be available as an alternative means of entering and exiting the gorge.

Earthbound Timber’s Vincent Cant says replacing the old staircase that had fallen into disrepair tested their ingenuity.

“It involved 125 linear metres and a drop of roughly 70 metres with an average of between 40 and 60 degrees,” he says. While the work was challenging, he adds that the weather was kind to them and the local workforce professional.

“We have worked on similar projects but not ones as intense as this,” says Vincent.

          The wooden walkway on the Northern side of the Gorge, where the Big Swing operates, has been completed. Photo: Supplied
By mid-July, the wooden walkway on the Northern side of the Gorge, where the Big Swing operates, had been completed and work on the staircase was finished. The stairway descends from the head of the gorge to the base of the waterfall. 

“Work on the main, elevated broad-walk at the bottom of the gorge will commence shortly. This will be 500m long and will include two suspension bridge crossings,” says developer Campbell Scott. “The walkways will allow visitors to explore the unique forest environment, waterfall and stream and will be enhanced by a number of interpretation displays which will give context to this unique ecosystem.”

Lift installers move mountains!

Work is also under way on the lift shaft. A specialised mobile crane is being used by Quality Steel for the shaft assembly, which should be completed in mid-August. Thereafter, Otis Elevator Company will begin the lift installation.

In June, the lift base was constructed. This involved around 160 tons of concrete being poured down a specially-created pipe system that ran down the cliff face.

The lift shaft weighs 88 tons and is 60m in length, with a total travel distance of 51m, which is around 16 storeys. It is being assembled in 2.5m sections, which are bolted one on top of the other.