5 epic things to do in Graskop
Graskop sits on the edge of the Drakensberg escarpment in Mpumalanga. Just over 100 years old, it is also at the centre of the Panorama Route and is the closest town to many of the country's most famous attractions.
That said, it's also well worth visiting in its own right. Here are five things to see and do while you're there:
1. GO DOWN THE GORGE
The biggest investment in tourism infrastructure for many years, the new Graskop Gorge Lift aims to rival Table Mountain's cableway one day, as it is just the first phase of the development of an outdoor activity centre.
The glass lift takes you 51m down into a below the Motitsi waterfall, where 600m of boardwalks and suspension bridges allow you to explore the indigenous forests. Back up on higher ground, there is a complex with a restaurant, curio shops and an art gallery.
Entrance to the centre is R20pp, the lift costs R120 for kids, R175 for adults.
2. JOIN THE GOLD RUSH
Contrary to the recent revival of 2012 news reports on social media, Pilgrim's Rest, 14km from Graskop, is just fine.
Dating back to the 1870s, the main street is a unique gold-rush town, but it's no museum: Pilgrim's is a functioning community but it does depend on tourist income without charging an entrance fee.
A single R30 ticket from the Information Centre gets you access to the town's five museums. A drink in the bar of the Royal Hotel is a tradition for every visitor; the old dining room serves simple lunches and there are other places in town to eat. The Vine is the best.
3. TAKE A FALL
There are almost too many waterfalls and other sights in the area to see in one visit, but one day trip out of town can take in the best if you set out early. Just north of the town on the R534, turn right to God's Window.
En route, look at Pinnacle Rock, a column in a gorge just north of town. At the Window itself, take time to climb to the highest lookout point for the best view, taking in the lush mist forest. The Lisbon Falls, pictured above, and Berlin Falls are both just north of Graskop. Of the two, Lisbon Falls, the highest cataract falls in SA, is the best.
The Blyde River Canyon is about 54km from Graskop, the Three Rondavels turn-off takes you to the most famous viewpoint, best seen in the afternoon. En route to or from the canyon, stop off at Bourke's Luck Potholes, with its amazing water-eroded rock ravines. At R55 per person, it charges the most of all these attractions.
4. PACK IN A PANCAKE
Maybe not the gastronomic centre of the country, Graskop is definitely the pancake capital, thanks to the world-famous Harrie's Pancakes, established in 1986. Others have opened since.
The menu has a large selection of savoury and sweet pancakes, but best avoid lunchtime when the tourist busses roll in, although that does mean service is fast and efficient. It's closed at night.
Nearby, the Glass House serves excellent lunches and dinners, while Canimambo serves Portuguese cuisine.
5. SHOP, SNACK AND STROLL
In a day, you can explore numerous curio shops and galleries, with Curio d'Afrique stocking some serious collectors' pieces. Africa Silks stocks a large range of linen, cushions and clothing.
The recently re-launched and signposted Jock of the Bushveld hiking trail outside Graskop takes you on a 4km walk to Fairy Land, a group of weathered rocks that have been given fanciful names such as the Seahorse and the Tortoise, and to the area where Sir Percy Fitzpatrick camped during summer at what he called Paradise Camp.
Panorama Lodge just beyond the Lift on the R533 to Hazyview has the best view of the Graskop Gorge, and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.