Plunge into the gorge where an otherworldly forest thrives

 
 
 

Azure skies disappear behind interwoven branches. In the cool air, beneath towering canopies, Oupa Pilane has found a haven. Here, he is free to think and feel without interruption. “Spending time with the forest is like having someone to lean on,” Pilane says. Since he first laid eyes on Graskop Gorge in school, Pilane committed himself to sharing the wonder of the canyon with others. He understands the power of nature. “I’ve gone through difficult moments,” Pilane says. “Coming here basically saved my life.”

In times of trouble, Pilane descends into the gorge. He helped develop a unique lift that gives more people access to the ravine, taking visitors down the 51-metre drop. “It’s such an amazing feeling,” Pilane says. But while the journey to the bottom is exhilarating, nothing beats the experience of being enveloped by the trees below. “The breeze, quietness, clean and fresh air,” Pilane says. “I feel like I’m in my safe place.” Wooden walkways and bridges take one through the rare Afromontane forests, across rivers and below waterfalls. Life prospers in the gorge. Butterflies, birds and insects fly among the plants, many of which hold medicinal properties. Trails through the valley are also dotted with art, including a stained glass piece that captures the details of the surroundings.

Graskop Gorge makes up part of the Panorama Route through Mpumalanga, and is just two hours outside of Kruger National Park. It’s Pilane’s space of harmony. “I can let go of everyday stresses and just be,” he says. “The forest can listen to you, the forest can give you life.” Amid the varied landscapes of South Africa are places of refuge. Our connection to them allows us to be who we are.