#TravelTuesday: Visit Pilgrim’s Rest, a living museum

Having been declared a National Monument, the entire town of Pilgrim's Rest is a living museum.
Having been declared a National Monument, the entire town of Pilgrim's Rest is a living museum.
Image: Sanet Oberholzer

If you wander slightly off the Panorama Route, you might stumble upon the town of Pilgrim’s Rest, nestled snugly in Mpumalanga province. The small town sprung up during South Africa’s gold rush days after it was declared a gold field in 1873.

It drew gold prospectors hoping to strike it rich. In 1986 the entire town was declared a National Monument and is considered a living museum of South Africa’s early gold rush days. Not so much a weekend travel destination as a fun day trip, Pilgrim’s Rest is a unique monument to a bygone era. At the very least, it will make for a few fun posts on the gram. 

When to travel

Pilgrim’s Rest is a destination that can be visited year-round. However, you will likely want to plan your visit to the town to coincide with a trip of the Panorama route or a visit to the Kruger National Park. The best time to travel the Panorama Region is during winter between May and August. This offers the best views due to the open and clear sunshine days and a moderate climate with temperatures ranging between 5 and 25 degrees Celsius.

The best time to visit the Kruger National Park is at the beginning or end of the dry season between April and September when the temperatures are pleasant and low water levels and sparse vegetation may draw the animals out for better wildlife spotting.

How to get there

The quickest and easiest way to travel to Pilgrim’s Rest is via car. The drive is just over 4 hours long from Johannesburg and an hour and a half from Nelspruit. You can also take a direct flight to the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport just outside of Nelspruit using some of the more popular airlines but flights are likely to be pricey. The drive from the airport to the town is an hour and a half. From the airport, a host of shuttles, tour operators, buses and car hire options are available to you.

Highlights you shouldn’t miss

1. The Pilgrim’s Rest Royal Hotel has been restored and offers guests Victorian style accommodation and a taste of an old-fashioned way of life. Be warned, however, if you choose to stay in the hotel, you may be signing up for more than you bargained for as it’s rumour has it, the hotel is haunted. The bar of the Royal Hotel was once the Roman Catholic Chapel of the St. Cyprian’s School in Cape Town. It was bought, dismantled, loaded into a boat, offloaded in what is today Maputo’s harbour and transported to Pilgrim’s Rest on ox-wagon. The building was re-built in Pilgrim’s Rest where patrons now can enjoy a beer in an old church chapel.

Rumour has it the Royal Hotel on Pilgrim's Rest main street is haunted.
Rumour has it the Royal Hotel on Pilgrim's Rest main street is haunted.
Image: Sanet Oberholzer

2. As a living museum, the town of Pilgrim’s Rest houses an astonishing number of five village museums. The Alanglade House Museum, Thelwall's Museum, Dredzen Shop and Museum, Printing Museum and House Museum all offer a glimpse into a bygone era. Open daily from Monday to Sunday 09:00 - 12:45 and 13:45 - 16:00, tickets for the museums can be purchased from the Information Center in town.

3. One of the most famous, and slightly obscure, attractions in Pilgrim’s Rest is the Robber’s Grave. If you climb the small hill out to the small town’s cemetery, you will easily spot the Robber’s Grave as it’s the only grave that doesn’t face the sun. Laid perpendicular to the other graves, legend has it the robber was shot when he was caught stealing a tent from a miner. Other versions say he stole a wheelbarrow. Whatever the case, he did not deserve to be honoured in death.

4. One of the few income streams in this small town is tourism. This means you will find an abundance of craft markets and gift shops around town, particularly lining the main street. Choose from hand crafted teddy bears, silk goods, curios, African crafts and clothing, pottery, beadwork, collectables, books and traditional homemade sweets for a souvenir or a gift to take home.

Climb the small hill to the entrance of the town's cemetery in search of the Robber's Grave.
Climb the small hill to the entrance of the town's cemetery in search of the Robber's Grave.
Image: Sanet Oberholzer

5. If you want to fully immerse yourself in the nostalgic days of gold digging, you can purchase a ticket at the Information Center for a guided tour to participate in gold panning. Tickets cost R165 for adults and R75 for children and tours take place at 09:00, 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 14:00 and 15:00 every day.

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