Graskop place's of interest and History


Panorama Route (North on R532)

This scenic route commences along' the R532 at the top of Louis Trichardt Ave., signposted Ohrigstad, which goes directly to the Blyde River Canyon, while the scenic route R534, a 15,4km loop along the escarpment, branches off to the right at 2.2km and rejoins the R532 at a point 8.1km from Graskop.

Pinnacle Rock is a tall column of weathered quartzite littered with bright aloes. It rises 30m above the indigenous forest in the surrounding Driekop gorge. A source of the Ngwaritsana river cascades through the dark depths of the narrow cleft on the right at the head of the gorge.

God's Window at an altitude of 1730 m, offers magnificent views across the Lowveld, Kruger National Park and the Lebombo mountain range in the distance. The nature reserve at God’s Window includes a rain forest and beautiful Aloe gardens scattered with large outcrops of sandstone, weathered into haunting prehistoric shapes. A trail leads through the rain forest along the escarpment edge towards Wonder View affording panoramic views over a vast expanse of the Lowveld.

Lisbon Falls are a spectacular 95m treble cascade that tumbles into the dark green pools far below. Lisbon creek is typical of the area where early diggers panned for gold.

Berlin Falls were named after the farm on which they are situated and are 45m high. They originated as a result of the differential weathering resistance of the local rocks. The scene should not be missed as there are some excellent vantage points revealing the entire drop.

Bourke's Luck Potholes at the confluence of the Treur and Blyde rivers is one of the most remarkable geological phenomena in the country .Through millions of years, the swirling whirlpools which occur at the confluence, have caused water born sand and rocks to grind deep cylindrical potholes into the bedrock of the rivers.The potholes are named after Tom Burke who recognised the gold potential of the area. He became involved with the mining enterprise which owned the properly. However, there is an element of irony in the name, as the main find of gold was not on their ground but on the opposite side of the river.

Blyde River Canyon. A scenic spectacle, the Blyde River Canyon lies within the 27,000 hectares of the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve, a 57 km belt which runs north from Graskop along the escarpment. Owing to variations in altitude, temperature and-rainfall, a great diversity of vegetation occurs. On the high-lying southern section which has a high rainfall, extensive grassy slopes and dense areas of rain forest with yellow wood, boekenhout, forest silver trees, etc. and ferns are to be found. The central area has mixed Sour Bush veld and thorn trees, while the northern area and foothills are known as the Lowveld Sour Bush veld.

Lowveld View Site is on a flat rocky mountain top at an altitude of 1219m and appears to be 'only a little lower than the canyon peaks. Paths lead to the edge of the 16 km canyon, an awe inspiring view. Fat below the Blyde river foams and tumbles along the rocky canyon floor winding like an enormous green snake and eventually flows into the Blydepoort Dam. Dense vegetation with moss and ferns fill the deep krantzes and the upper rocks are covered with vivid lichen.

Three Rondavels View Site affords magnificent views of the famous peaks of quartzite and shale, known as the three rondavels while the Blydepoort dam lies calm arid serene far below. The poort or mouth of the canyon lies between Swadini and Mariepskop, which was once the scene of a great battle between Swazi raiders from the south and local Bapedi and Mapulana tribesman, who used the flat crest of the mountain as a place of refuge and a fortress whenever they were attacked. The Bapedi and Mapulana tribes became tired of the continual Swazi raids and under the leadership of Chief Maripi Mashile, they climbed to the top of the mountain peak opposite Swadini and bombarded the Swazis with large boulders in what became known as the battle of Moholoholo, 'the great, great battle '. The Swazis were heavily defeated and thereafter the mountain was named Maripi in honour of the Mapulana chief.

Continue on the R532 across the rolling mountain grasslands, gradually leaving the canyon behind. Diepkloof is a precarious gorge north of here through which the Ohrigstad river flows, Further on the road descends and goes through the Rietvlei Valley to the junction of Route 36. Turn right at this junction.

This route commences along the road to Sabie and Pilgrim's Rest (R532).

Natural Bridge This phenomenon was probably caused by the river weathering away the softer rocks as far as the hard quartzite. The river which is a source of the Mac Mac river, rises south of Hebron, flows past the old prospecting pits before passing through the natural bridge.

Continue on the R532 bearing left at the turn off to Pilgrim's Rest

Maria Shires Waterfall In honour of pioneer, Maria Shires (Born Taylor) 1814 to 1875, whose mortal remains lie buried close by. She was the mother of Joseph Brooke Shires (Junior) a pioneer commercial forester of this region, who planted the first Eucalyptus and Wattle at Onverwacht (now Brooklands) in 1876 and of Ann Maria McLachlan who was presented with the Burgers Cross by President Burgers for her devoted nursing services to the Mac Mac digger community. Her son in law, T. McLachlan together with James Sutherland and Edward Buttons discovered the first gold in the region of Spitzkop on the 14th of May 1873. He later found many other valuable minerals in the region. A truly distinguished pioneering family who opened the way for the gold and tree wealth of today.

Forest Falls These beautiful broad falls, 10m high, on the Mac Mac river, can only be viewed by walking the 3.5km Forest Falls Nature Trail, which starts at the Green Heritage picnic spot.

Jock of the Bushveld, Mac Mac diggers and Transport Riders Memorial. When prospector, Tom McLachlan acquired the farm, Geelhoutboom, gold was found in every stream and the human stream of prospectors followed and were soon busy with shovel, sluice box and pan. This was the richest strike so far and attracted miners from all over the world. Jansen, the Landrost of Lydenburg visited the diggings and under pressure from experienced diggers, organised a digger's committee and appointed an American, Major W. MacDonald as Gold Commissioner. As the members of the Volksraad could not possibly visualise the developments taking place in the area and had only a vague idea as to its location, Jansen suggested that President Burgers should visit the goldfields, which he agreed to. Burgers proved very popular with the naturally suspicious digger community. For a start, he spoke excellent English and the diggers had heard that his wife was Scots. when the President looked over the claim holders, he noticed the predominance of Scottish names, bearing the prefix 'Mac' and said "I am going to call this place Mac Mac". The role of the transport rider, in providing supplies and equipment to the digger communities should not be overlooked. These transport riders, mostly young man of adventure, were a breed of their own and hauled their wagons and oxen over terrain faced with many hazards and hardships. One of these, Percy Fitzpatrick, later became a well known South African politician.

Mac Mac Falls were declared a National Monument on the 18th of February 1993. Cement pathways and stone steps with safety railings have been provided to gain access to the beet view points, from where one can see the two uninterrupted cascades plunging into the deep densely wooded chasm, with the river twisting 65m below. The Mac Mac diggers were responsible for rearranging the face of the earth a little, by changing the single waterfall into the double waterfall as we see it today.

Mac Mac Pools is a popular picnic area, shaded by a clump of trees on the edge of the shallow rocky river, which drops into a series of rock pools. There are shelters, braai facilities, toilets, picnic spots and a nature walk. The nature walk works its way to the base of the Mac Mac falls, providing magnificent views of the falls from below.

Sabie River Gorge and Falls are situated under the new Sabie bridge which was built on the curve so as to blend in with the natural attraction of the gorge. View site parking is on the right hand side before crossing the bridge. There is a short walk through the Williams Memorial Gardens to view points overlooking the gorge down which the Sabie river plunges 73m.

Bridal Veil Falls which resemble a bride's veil, can be reached by taking the old Lydenburg road until the gravel forestry road on the right at approximately 3km. Mondi Timbers sawmill, one of the biggest in the Southern hemisphere, is situated on the corner at the turnoff. Continue on this gravel road, passing the Ceylon Forest Station on the left and over a narrow bridge to the five road junction. Bear right at the junction (do not turn right) and keep to the main road. Further on a track forks to the right and leads to a stream 300m down the track, the falls can be seen above and ahead. It is advisable to park on the rise and follow the rough track to the left beyond the stream. This track winds through thick vegetation up to the falls which drop 70m into the centre of an amphitheatre at the head of the valley.

Horseshoe Falls are situated 4km on a signposted gravel road off the Old Lydenburg Road. The cascade type falls form a perfect horseshoe when the river is in flood and have been declared a National Monument. This is also the site of one of the first sawmill in Sabie.

Lone Creek Falls are situated 9km from Sabie on the old Lydenburg road. A lovely short walk of 200m through the thick vegetation of the gorge reaches a pool, into which a slender cascade of water plunges over a ledge from a height of 68m. The falls have been declared a National Monument.

Return to the R532 and continue through Sabie taking the right turn to Lydenburg. For other places of interest in Sabie, refer to the section on Sabie.

The Long Tom Pass which links Sabie with Lydenburg, is one of the most spectacular mountain passes in the country, With a summit of 2169m, it is one of the highest major roads in South Africa .From Sabie the road climbs more than 1000m before descending 670m to Lydenburg. The road sweeps smoothly over sharp climbs and descents and it is difficult to appreciate that this pass was once a fearsome natural obstacle. It was also the scene of a running battle between the Boers and the English in September 1900. A replica of a Long Tom canon stands in the pass, reminding visitors that the pass was named after the Long Tom canons used in the battle there during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902).

Graskop History

The first records of Graskop history start in 1843, with the arrival of the Voortrekkers in the area. In 1838 Louis Trichard - in search of a port not under British rule - had reached Delagoa Bay via a particularly arduous route through the Oliphant's River Valley. This journey was completed at a tremendous cost in lives lost to fever, probably malaria. In 1843 Andries Potgieter - who had just founded Potchefstroom and on the advice of Trichard - took a more southerly route, which turned out to be virtually impossible - let alone arduous!! After negotiating what is known as CASPER'S NEK Pass (named after Paul Kruger's father who pioneered this oldest existing road in the region still in use), the party reached the edge of the Drakensberg Escarpment down which there was no possible descent at that point, or - by line of sight - 50km in any direction. Leaving the women and children and a few men out spanned on the banks of the river just below the top of the escarpment - with strict instructions that the waiting group return to Potchefstroom if the scouting group had not returned by a date two months into the future - the men went in search of a way down to the Lowveld 1000m below. Access to the Lowveld was discovered to be via an animal track on a land under the control of a local chief named Koveni - hence the Afrikaans translation Kowyn - and onto Delagoa Bay where, for various reasons, the men were delayed. The waiting party, after staying a fortnight longer than instructed, left the river on who's banks they have been anxiously waiting, named it "Treurrivier" (River of Sorrow). A few days later the returning men caught up with their womenfolk on the banks of another river, which was promptly named the "Blyderivier" (river of Joy).

In the year 1850 the farm GRASKOP - so named because of the vast tracts of grassveld and singular lack of trees in the area - was owned by one Abel Erasmus who in later years was to become "native commissioner and magistrate" for the entire Lowveld and escarpment region. The local, indigenous people gave this redoubtable hunter the name "Dubula Duzi", in recognition of the fact that he waited till the very last moment before firing on his quarry. Gold was discovered in various places all over the region in the 1870's and the GRASKOP area was no exception. Though not as dramatic or lucrative as elsewhere in the region, the watchful eye may still notice the scars of long (and not so long) past mining operations around GRASKOP and Pilgrims Rest. As recently as 1996, the last of the prospecting "characters" in the area decided to hang up his pan.

"Jock of the Bushveld" belongs to the late 1880's and the early 1890's. Two chapters of this classic African tale - namely "Paradise camp" and "Baboons and Tigers" - took place a stone's throw from GRASKOP. By the 1890's, the need for a more effective route for necessities at Pilgrims Rest - in particular - allowed Max Carl Gustav Leibnitz to make his own fortune. Almost single-handed this man turned the existing animal track into the first "Kowyns Pass" - the present one is the third and was completed in 1957 at a gradient of one in fourteen. The original pass had a gradient in some places of one in three. At the top of the pass Leibnitz built a tollgate and Inn. Leibnitz's original pass could not by any stretch of the imagination be called a road. The ascent was a 2 to 3 day grind of sweat, hard work and foul language. Going down the pass was no game either because huge branches had to be attached to the wagons to assist with braking. Needless to say the trade in liquor was very brisk indeed - even though Leibnitz did not have a license. This fact, as such, wasn't a problem; but when the magistrate from Lydenburg passed through every second week on his way to the Lowveld, liquor was hastily hidden and there where many irate, thirsty men mumbling themselves to sleep. On one auspicious occasion the magistrate - who was aware of the illegal liquor trade and didn't mind the odd tipple himself, pointedly asked Leibnitz why he didn't sell liquor. "Who will look after the toll gate while I'm gone for a week fetching a piece of paper?" came the arch reply. At the truth and logic of this the magistrate relented and handed over the necessary forms, which were duly signed and witnessed. A railway spur from Nelspruit through the farm Sabie and onto the farm GRASKOP was begun in early 1910. This railway line was completed and ready for the opening ceremony on 18th June 1914. GRASKOP was declared a town later that same year. By 1918 GRASKOP had a primary school, church and a store. Talk of the town becoming a farming community was just that, talk. Because of the high rainfall, vegetable and fruit farming was not a viable enterprise. Although there had been cattle around for some time, the predominantly sour grass nature of the veld - which the cattle preferred not o eat, as well as the permanently wet nature of the veld which caused hoof rot, nipped in the bud any idea of cattle or dairy farming on a large scale. As a result of these factors Graskop remained predominantly a railway town. Then in the late 1920's and early 1930's came the depression. In an attempt to create as many work opportunities as possible, the government of the day decided to plant trees in the area. Trees were always going to be planted here, but the decision turned a fifty year plan into a five year plan as thousands of white men planted the first trees by hand and received a pittance for their labor. That pittance however kept many thousands of loved ones from starving in those dark days. Since the depression and after the cutting of the first trees (as a matter of interest and rule of thumb, the trees in the region only grow for 15 years before they are felled), GRASKOP became a timber town with a little more prosperity than before. By the time the Second World War started, GRASKOP had a population of 700 people. The town hall had been built and there was a golf course as well as a horseracing track, both of which there is no trace today. The one thing that never changed was the constant stream of tourists who were entranced by the region. Although it was as rough as it could come on the gravel roads of 30 years ago, many people came and were overwhelmed by the splendor which abounded, despite the fact that the roads were virtually impassable in the rainy season and so dust filled during the dry winter months that one had to keep one's distance from the vehicle in front. At that time the Bourke's Luck Portholes - already a prominent tourist attraction - was spanned by swing bridges and a trip to the Three Rondavels viewpoint was an overnight affair. Many residents of the region are the offspring of men who found that they could - or would - not exist outside the "encircling comfort of these hills". This "encircling comfort of the hills" attracts many hundreds of thousands of people to the Greater Escarpment Tourist region each year.