Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom on Friday officially opened the Graskop Gorge Lift Centre, which features a viewing lift that travels 51 m down the face of the Graskop Gorge, located along the Panorama route, in Mpumalanga.
The Panorama route is a popular tourist destination in the province, located on the edge of the Drakensberg and God’s Window, and attracts about 500 000 visitors a year.
The centre boasts a restaurant that is perched on the top of the cliff edge with views of the Motitsi waterfall, the forest below and long views down into the Lowveld.
An African art gallery, an African fashion clothing shop, curio shop and community craft market are also included in the centre.
Funded by the National Empowerment Fund (NEF), the first phase of the centre cost R33.4-million to develop. Overall investment in the project will grow to about R150-million when the second phase is completed.
NEF CEO Philisiwe Mthethwa on Friday said the destination has “every potential to become the most innovative tourism development in South Africa after liberation”.
Investors secured a 25-year contract with the local municipality, following a public procurement process, to develop the infrastructure, with the aim of transforming Graskop into a major tourism node.
Once completed, the Graskop Gorge Lift project will feature a suspension bridge across the entire gorge, while offering improved zip lining and bungee jumping facilities. It will also feature five-star accommodation and a wedding venue, while hiking and bicycle paths will be revived.
Mthethwa further said at the opening event that the Graskop Gorge Lift Company (GGLC) is among the industrialists funded by the NEF.
“The business is doing so well, that it has begun to fulfil its loan obligations to the NEF [ahead of] schedule,” she added.
GGLC CEO Oupa Pilane, meanwhile, pointed out that while the centre has seen 100 000 visitors since opening to the public in December last year, the project is a “dream come true, not only for investors, but for the people of Graskop and communities across the province which are, and will continue to benefit from the growth in tourism in the area”.
Hanekom also applauded the GGLC for enhancing the visitor experience, showcasing innovation in destination management and demonstrating broad-based benefits in the tourism sectors.
It is for this reason, he said, that GGLC will receive R5-million for its next development through the Department of Tourism’s R120-million Tourism Transformation Fund.
“We need more projects such as this to enhance our tourism offerings so that South Africa can be more competitive as a tourist destination and, in the process, create more sustainable jobs for our people.”
“The Graskop Gorge Lift project is proof of the fact that integrated support and efforts between government, the private sector and other stakeholders can cultivate meaningful outcomes. A project of this nature will push the tourism sector to the next level,” Trade and Industry Deputy Minister Bulelani Magwanishe commented.