The Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency today held an official sod-turning ceremony for the God’s Window Skywalk in the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve. Once complete in 2023, the project will allow visitors to experience one of South Africa’s most iconic vistas in an entirely new way.
Located at the zenith of Mpumalanga’s Panorama Route, God’s Window offers visitors a panoramic view of the Lowveld more than 900 metres down into a lush indigenous forest-clad ravine. On a clear day, you can see as far as the Indian Ocean and Maputo. The skywalk will be a cantilevered glass walkway suspended off the edge of the cliff to give visitors a 360-degree panoramic view. The walkway will protrude about 12 metres out from the cliff and will be about 5 metres wide.
The procurement process for the skywalk, which was first envisioned in 2004, commenced in 2019 following the National Treasury Guidelines and the PPP Toolkit for Tourism to develop a state-of-the-art facility. The development is to be procured using the design, build, finance, operate and transfer (DBFOT) approach. Mapulana Canyon (Pty) Ltd was appointed to invest, design, operate and manage the project, which will be transferred to the landowners at the end of the concession period.
Mapulana Canyon is a unique partnership between Motsamayi Tourism and Land Claimants from the Blyde River (The Blyde Valley Community Property Association). At launch, the concession for the site will be run by Motsamayi Tourism Group, which has experience in running the Concession funicular at Cape Point which consists of the funicular and F&B offerings, Kruger Shalati: The Train on the Bridge, The Kruger Station, and the newly refurbished Sanctuary Mandela — the boutique hotel built on the site of former president Nelson Mandela’s Houghton Residence.
The Skywalk is designed to be a global iconic attraction with a number of activities on-site – the skywalk – a sky bridge – a sky swing – a zero-gravity room – a conference and meeting facility. The plan is for a significant part of the activities to be run by local unemployed youths from the area.
“As vaccination rates around the world pick up and Covid-19 becomes more manageable, we fully expect local and international visitor numbers at South Africa’s tourism hotspots to pick up,” says Jerry Mabena, CEO of Motsamayi Tourism Group. “We applaud Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency for having the vision to develop one of its most iconic destinations and look forward to playing our role in making God’s Window a global must-see location.”
“Our desire is to see this beautiful project acting as an instrument to put the area back into its place as a world-class tourism destination. We believe that this project will energise the area and create new jobs and support other attractions in the area,” says Mabena.
“The Blyde River region attracts nearly one million visitors annually,” adds Mabena. “Projects like the skywalk will do a lot to increase those numbers and encourage people to roam in the area for longer, which in turn will increase visitor spend to the region while exposing more people to one of South Africa’s most beautiful locations. It will also be the first skywalk of its kind in South Africa, and one of a very few to have been built around the world.”
With a 900 metre drop, the God’s Window Skywalk will be higher than the Grand Canyon Skywalk, which stands at between 150 metres and 280 metres, and the Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge in China, which is 260 metres at its highest point.
The project is expected to greatly benefit the Mapulana Tribe, which owns the land on which the Skywalk is to be built. While the construction phase will be creating 300-plus job opportunities, it is expected to offer more than 100 jobs once complete and operational. Additionally, the community will get a shareholding in the concession through a special communal property association (CPA) named Blyde 04 CPA.
“The commencement of work on the skywalk project is very welcome, especially given the economic difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Lourence Mogakane, Chair of the Blyde 04 CPA and National Chairperson of the People and Parks Programme. “For the landowners, it’s a chance not only to create jobs but to benefit from the richness of the land which belonged to their forefathers.”
“We’re also excited by the potential skills transfer that the project will bring as members of the community are trained in administrative roles, for example,” he adds. “We also know that, with Motsamayi’s involvement, community members will have the chance to work on a world-class, iconic project. By the time construction is concluded, we hope that enough people will have been vaccinated for us to welcome people from around South Africa and the globe to see the unique beauty of Mpumalanga.”
“This project means a lot to us as a community,” says Blyde 04 Community Property Association (CPA) Secretary Hezekiel Nkosi. “It will serve as a catalyst to bring jobs to the community and spark entrepreneurship among young people. We’ve been waiting for something like this for a long time, and we’re very happy to see work begin on it.”
The Skywalk at God’s Window is part of a broader effort by the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency to make the province a more competitive tourist destination. The Agency has also unveiled projects to further develop the Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains World Heritage Site and the Railway Heritage Tourism projects.
“Although the tourism sector is currently struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are working hard to turn the situation around,” says Johannes Nobunga, CEO of the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency. “We are also working to ensure that all of our ongoing tourism projects create jobs and support emerging black entrepreneurs.”
“We believe that the skywalk and the activities around it will encourage visitors to Mpumalanga to add an extra day or two to their trip and explore the province further,” adds Nobunga. ”There is so much for people to experience here. Whether visitors are after adventure in the form of abseiling, river rafting, fly fishing, rock-climbing and bush walks; scenery – such as at God’s Window and Three Rondavels; the Kruger National Park’s wildlife and safari experience, which is world-renowned and needs no introduction; culture: most notably in the shape of famous Ndebele painter, Dr Esther Mahlangu; or heritage – Mpumalanga has it all.”
“As we celebrate Tourism Month, this is an opportune time to showcase what this project will bring for our tourists and, most of all, communities residing close to Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve. This will definitely diversify the tourism product offering in Mpumalanga.