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Look local for post-lockdown getaway

Find your soul in magical forest at Graskop gorge

“You can be in terrible shape but if you take a three-hour walk through the forest and along the river, you're simply not the same as when you started out.”

This quote is one of those you come across as you make your way through the scenic Afromontane forest at the base of the Graskop gorge.

The words that greet you as you disembark from travelling 51m down the viewing lift are “Into the forest I go, to feed my mind and find my soul”.

The two quotes are a perfect description of the experience one has after a visit at the Graskop gorge in Mpumalanga.

A much-needed experience for many South Africans after months of no travel or social activities due to the national lockdown.

The experience is truly a magical one. One feels like Alice in Wonderland as you explore the forest seeing a diverse range of plants, insects and birds using the 600m circular elevated walkway. There are some stairs and two small suspension bridges, but nothing that should worry those with a fear of heights.

As is the new normal these days, Covid-19 safety protocols have been put in place at this popular tourist destination; from your arrival at the gate where you are greeted by security personnel in masks, to the reception area and ticket desk where a protective shield separates you from the staff member. There are also floor markers indicating how far visitors can stand from each other to encourage physical distancing.

Visitors, most of them out-of-towners like myself, also do their bit by maintaining a safe distance between each other and keeping their masks on; of course there is the occasional mask removal to take those Instagram photos.

A staff member provides sanitiser for those getting into the lift – a slight concern was the lack of guidelines as to how many people were allowed in the lift at a time.

Graskop Gorge Lift Company's general manager, Quinton Pretorius, says initially staff were uncertain as to the seriousness and effects of the pandemic, “but after a few meetings we realised that we hold the key to our infections”.

“We discussed personal and guest safety and they have been superb in their commitment and efforts,” he says.

Safety for the environment was also an important factor for the venue.

Pretorius says that to protect the extremely sensitive indigenous forest, they introduced alcohol and chlorine-free sanitiser that is manufactured locally.

“We are using an SA manufactured and tested plant and spice-based sanitiser that not only sanitises us, our facility and guests but is also food for our forest and plants,” he says.

A number of SA’s popular travel destinations have seen an influx of visitors since President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the country would be moving to level 1 lockdown and that interprovincial travelling would be permitted.

 “It is wonderful that people are looking locally for their post-lockdown getaways. We have seen ever-increasing numbers and this is assisting us as a company to getting back to full operation in the near future,” says Pretorius.

As we leave the venue, we come across a Joburg adrenaline junkie couple who had visited the venue to tick the 70m free fall Big Swing from their bucket list.

“It was so exciting,” says the woman, still shaking from the adrenaline rush.

“I almost changed my mind while standing in the long queue but I’m glad I did it, it was worth it!”