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The Graskop Gorge Lift in Mpumalanga is a brand new and heady experience that dips you down into thick forests.

Our photojournalist Melanie van Zyl went to find out whether its worth the visit.

You can spot Knysna turacos and other forest birds in the canopy. Image by Melanie van Zyl

When I first heard about this new attraction on the famous Panorama Route, I thought the experience would be all about the glass-walled lift, but it’s more about where said lift takes you. A 51-metre drop from the escarpment (it’s just outside of Graskop on the R553 to Hazyview) lowers you down through the canopy to explore a magical, indigenous-forest world below not unlike a misty realm from Lord of the Rings.

The descent is not bumpy or abseiling-scary, nor is it like a cable-car ride, but rather a smooth elevator experience like you’d find at Sandton City – just with a far better view. Once down in the forest, a beautifully set out 500-metre boardwalk guides you below the trees along the Mitsi River, where ferns flourish, towering  yellowwoods guard the trail and cicadas shrill loudly from hidden crevices in the bark.

You can spend as long as you like here, and we meandered about for over an hour soaking up the woodland sounds and sights along the interpretive trail. There are delightful information boards – the trail was developed by Hamilton- Fynch, the same people behind the fascinating Barberton Geo Trail en route to Swaziland; other interpretation projects of theirs can be found in Mozambique’s  Gorongosa Park and 20 reserves spread across all five countries of the Kavango- Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area.

The boardwalk is an ongoing project; look out for the Perspex beehive, which promises to reveal its intricate inner workings to passers-by on the forest trail.

Here’s a brand new and heady experience that dips you down into thick forests. Image by Melanie van Zyl

Fun factor 8/10

Verdict The Graskop Gorge Lift is a breath of fresh air amid the other regular sights on the Panorama Route. If you haven’t visited in a while, this is the reason to return. It’s part of a bigger tourism complex that includes a great restaurant offering craft beers from the nearby Sabie Brewing Co, a great menu (the toasted chicken mayo, for example, is not your run-of-the-mill sarmie – fresh farm bread, homemade mayo and flavoursome pulled chicken breast) and gorgeous coffee art floating on the cappuccino by a barista who taught himself using YouTube.
Bonus: there are exceptional views of the Motitsi Falls across the gorge from here (great for sundowners). Unique shops at the complex include an art gallery, with artists painting on site, and a good covered craft market outside.

Details The lift costs R175 per person for adults, R120 for pensioners and children (under-fours are free). It takes 26 passengers
at a time. Bring a rain jacket or poncho, as rain is frequent.

Open daily 8.30am to 5pm.

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