The small town of Graskop, situated on the Drakensberg Escarpment above Kowyn’s Pass, was established in 1880. The town was originally a gold-mining settlement but is now a major forestry centre. The mining of asbestos, manganese and phosphates also contribute to the economy of the town. Graskop is the gateway to the Panorama Route, which will enable you to visit some truly magnificent spots. The entire Graskop area is actually a natural wonder, since the lush landscape is beautiful and there are so many natural waterfalls and geological formations in a relatively small area.
Adventure And Sport
Hiking: Some of the best hiking trails in the country are to be found in the vicinity of Graskop. The Bourand while the Belvedere Trail will teach you more about the history of the waterfalls and the Blyde River Valley. The Protea Trail, on the other hand, invites you to enjoy the beauty of indigenous forests, waterfalls and bird life of the area. The cream of the crop is the 65-km Blyde River Gorge (Blyderivierpoort) Hiking Trail that starts at God’s Window passes along the edge of the escarpment with its magnificent scenic views over the Blyde River Canyon.
Waterfalls, indigenous forests and prodigious bird and wildlife are some of the sights that can be seen along the route that ends at Swadini Dam Resort on the Lowveld plains. The famous Fanie Botha Trail also passes through this area.
Walking: There are several walks and less strenuous hikes that visitors to the town can try out, for example, the Spookvoel Trail begins at the ‘natural bridge’, a rock formation over a stream about 2 km west of the town on the Sabie Road; the Tree Fern Creek Walk starts in Louis Trichardt Street and the walk down Graskop Gorge ends at a pool at the foot of the Graskop Waterfall. The three-hour Swartbooi Trail starts at “Fairyland”, east of the town and follows the historic African route along the edge of the escarpment to the Lowveld. A 1 000-year-old Yellowwood tree can be seen on the return journey.
Art And Crafts
Craft stalls and markets: It is quite easy to believe that the abundance of natural wonders in the area have worked their magic on the local population, when one sees the abundance of art and craft-works they create. The local crafters sell their goods at many spots along the road and neat stalls have been erected all over, especially at popular tourism spots. These talented people make and sell anything from huge wooden giraffes, comic zebra statues, to salt and pepper shakers, painted fabric and ceremonial masks.
Fauna And Flora
Blyde River Gorge (Blyderivierspoort) Nature Reserve: Set against the Greater Drakensberg Escarpment, the reserve encompasses more than 29 000 ha of spectacular scenery ranging from unique geological features such as Bourke’s Luck Potholes, the magnificent view from God’s Window, the Three Rondavels and the Blyde River Gorge with its many dramatic rock features. The reserve is home to many types of animals, such as baboon, leopard, lynx, grey and red rhebuck and klipspringer. Birds identified in the reserve include all three South African loeries, a breeding colony of the rare turkey iIbis and many species of owls. Hippos and crocodiles have made the Blyde River Dam their personal domain.
Fairyland: Situated east of the town, just beyond the Municipal Caravan Park, is a wonderland of indigenous forest, wind-sculpted rocks and wild flowers, including the rare dwarf protea.
Abel Erasmus Pass: The old Zeederberg stage coaches used this pass to snake their way down the Drakensberg Mountains on their way to the Lowveld. The modern tarmac road and pass was opened in 1959 and named after Abel Erasmus, a nineteenth-century pioneer of this area. The pass, beneath rusty, lichen-covered cliffs, descends some 800m while offering breathtaking views of the Olifants River Valley before passing through the 133,5-m-long JG Strijdom Tunnel and reaching the Lowveld plains at the bottom.
Berlin Falls: The volume of water of the Berlin Falls crashing down approximately 80 m into a deep plunge pool in the Blyde River, is a truly magnificent sight. Signs along the road indicate the turn-off to the Falls.
Blyde River (Blyderivier) Canyon: This magnificent 800-m-deep gorge carved out by the Blyde River as it meanders through the valley is often referred to as the “Grand Canyon” of Africa and is definitely one of the scenic wonders of Africa. About 26 km long, the canyon includes the Blyde River Dam and is enclosed in the more than 22 000-ha Blyde River Gorge Nature Reserve.
Bourke’s Luck Potholes: Enjoy the awe-inspiring sight of the masses of water swirling in the strange, intricate rounded potholes carved in the rock by millions of years of water erosion, known as Bourke’s Luck Potholes. The potholes also lie within the Blyde River Gorge Nature Reserve. These geological formations were formed at the confluence of the Blyde and Treur Rivers and are basically huge hollowed-out columns of rock and deep cylindrical cavities.
Driekop Gorge: This spectacular gorge is situated 1,5 km east of Graskop and is a testament to the awesome and creative power of nature’s forces.
God’s Window: A more prosaic description of this cleft in the edge of the escarpment north of Graskop, would be that it is a ledge from which the entire area can be surveyed. The “window” was formed by many years of wind erosion and provides a magnificent panoramic view of the Lowveld. The view from this vantage point seems to stretch into infinity, allowing visitors to survey much of God’s wondrous creation. It is situated within the borders of the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve. It is quite a steep climb to the Window and if you persevere to the top, you can visit the forest overgrown by some singularly attractive trees and plants. Remember to wear comfortable walking shoes and to bring some money along to buy a souvenir from the local artists and crafters who sell their goods at the neat stalls next to the parking area. The area is often covered in mist and when you stand at God’s Window, it creates the illusion of a cloud carpet on which you can step and cross the valley.
Lisbon Falls: These falls are situated north of the town on Road R532 to Blyde River Gorge Dam and road signs clearly indicate the directions. In these lovely falls the Lisbon River, a tributary of the Blyde River, tumbles over a sheer semicircular drop and is another place worth visiting. Get some healthy exercise, enjoy the fresh unpolluted air and stand in awe of nature.
Pinnacle Rock: This massive freestanding column of rock rises like a beacon of hope from a densely wooded gorge.
Three Rondavels: Many people have heard of the Three Rondavels, even if they have not seen them. These landmark triplet peaks dominate the view over the Blyde River Canyon and strongly resemble three “rondavels” (chalets with cone-shaped thatch roofs).