Pilgrim’s Rest was proclaimed a gold field on 22 September 1873 and by the end of that year there were approximately 1 500 diggers working 4000 claims in and around the village. The Gold Commissioner moved his office to the village, which became the social centre of the diggings and a busy community. The village soon had its own trading stores, 18 bars, a post office, bakery, bank, school and church and its very own newspaper, The Gold News, later renamed The Gold Fields Mercury. Later, several companies were formed to mine the gold at the deeper levels. When the Anglo-Boer War started in 1899 and the diggers were forced to leave, the days of the lone prospector effectively ended. After that, most of the mining was done by the Transvaal Gold Mining Company.
Today, the entire village, situated in a beautiful wooded valley near the Blyde River, has been proclaimed a national monument. The village stands frozen in time and takes the visitor back to the gold rush era. Many of the original wood and iron buildings have been restored to their former glory and this authenticity, added to by the realistic museum displays and a healthy tourist infrastructure, has made Pilgrim’s Rest one of the most popular tourist attractions in Mpumalangs. The fact that the town is close to Graskop and its many natural wonders, also adds to its popularity.
Adventure And Sport
Golf: The TGME Golf Club has a tricky nine-hole golf course.
Hiking trails: The Prospector’s Trail Network offers numerous hiking trails of various degrees of difficulty in the vicinity of the village. The moderately difficult, two-day Blackhill trail descends into the Clewer Valley before climbing through the indigenous forest with its scarce fynbos, waterfalls and pools. The three-day Morgenzon Trail, covering over 43 km, is moderately difficult but passes through some spectacular indigenous forests, grasslands, riverine bush and up the original Robbers’ Pass and other long forgotten, historical wagon routes. Stops are made at some old diggings and mines and at the village on some of the trails. Other trails to choose from include the Peach Tree Creek, Peach Tree Creek/Blackhill Combo Trails or the five-day Prospectors’ Trails.
Horse-riding: Ponieskrantz Stables offer day or overnight horse-riding trails.
Walking trails: The Central Information Office in the village has a map of the village walking trails that allow visitors to explore the town and surroundings at their leisure.
Entertainment And Shopping
Restaurants: One could spend the entire day in this historic town, just browsing through the museums and shops and every so often stopping at a restaurant or coffee shop to rest up and enjoy a different beverage or snack.
Shops: What would a tourist attraction be without the opportunity to buy some permanent reminders of one’s visit? The shops in Pilgrim’s Rest are mostly in old restored buildings and several sell reproductions of items associated with earlier times, such as telephones, leather shoes, ornaments and much more. Have your photo taken in historical garb or have some biltong! Some shops sell lovely contemporary works of art and crafts. There is also a shop with creative ironworks, a shop that concentrates on glasswork and woven carpets and one that sells semi-precious gemstones.
History And Architecture
Historical architecture: The town is a living museum and all the houses and buildings have been renovated in the architectural style of the time. Upon entering the town, the visitor is immediately transported back into the days of the old Transvaal gold rush in the latter half of the nineteenth century. There are more than 73 buildings, home museums, memorials, art and craft shops, coffee shops and restaurants and an information centre.
Alanglade: Visit Alanglade, the stately former residence of the Manager of the Pilgrim’s Rest Gold Mine, for a glimpse of the grandeur of yesteryear. The house, just a few kilometres outside the village, is in pristine condition. The house was occupied by a succession of bank managers until 1972, when the mine finally closed down.
Diggings Museum: The museum displays the lifestyle of the first gold diggers and explains the process of gold-panning.
Dredzen Shop and House Museum: The shop keeper and his family used to live at the back of the shop and the rooms and furniture have been kept much as they were. The goods in the shop are no longer for sale, but give us a good idea of what people used in their homes in days gone by. Test your historical knowledge by trying to guess what each item was used for.
Graveyard: Visit the graves of the town’s first residents in the cemetery. The most peculiar grave in the cemetery – Robber’s Grave – belongs to a nineteenth-century tent robber who was caught in the act and was subsequently shot and buried on the spot. His grave lies at right angles to all the other graves. Only 163 of the 320 graves in the cemetery have headstones.
Joubert’s Bridge: At the northern end of the village the five-arch Joubert’s Bridge, built in 1896, spans the Blyde River.
Miner’s House: An Old miner’s house, built in 1913 for a Dr Seycombe, is now a museum depicting the typical home of a miner of the 1910 to 1920 period. Step into the carefully reconstructed rooms and with a little imagination you may get a sense of the people who once occupied these rooms. It looks exactly like a miner’s family was still living there.
Post Office: The old Post Office building is still standing and visitors can post letters and postcards from here.
Printing Museum: The Printing Museum pays tribute to the printers of yesteryear. The building used to house the offices of the Pilgrim’s Rest and Sabie News, the local newspapers. The museum exhibits the historic front pages of local publications.
Royal Hotel and Leadley’s Building: Spend a night at the tastefully restored Royal Hotel in graceful splendour. The interior decorations are nearly all authentic and include many relics from the past. Leadley’s Building, built in 1883, which now serves as an annexe to the Royal Hotel, was actually the very first hotel to be built in Pilgrim’s Rest.
Town Hall: The Town Hall was once the centre of social life in the town and was much frequented by the ladies of the local Anglican Church who held their church functions here.
Transvaal Gold Mine Explorations: A company called Transvaal Gold Mine Explorations built the Central Reduction Works. Visit the gold mine on the property that is still in operation. The mine tour includes visits to the blacksmith and the carpenter.
Fauna And Flora
Mount Sheba Nature Reserve: The secluded 450-ha privately-owned nature reserve protects one of the few remaining large tracts of indigenous forest in the Mpumalanga Drakensberg area. These forests boast 110 species of trees including fine specimens of real and Outeniqua yellowwood and ironwood trees (some 1 500 years old) as well as Cape chestnut, cabbage and red-pear trees. The reserve also harbours more than 1 000 species of plants, that including more than 60 species of ferns and many types of orchids and moss. Luxury accommodation, good food and a series of forest walks through the beautiful countryside have made this reserve a popular weekend destination.