When I had initially planned our Panorama holiday, I wanted to camp in the little prospecting town of Pilgrim’s Rest, which is situated in a valley at the end of a nail-biting hairpin mountain pass about 40km from Sabie. The town was established in the early 1800s during South Africa’s gold rush, and visiting it is like stepping back in time. Declared a national monument in 1986 (and added to the UNESCO World Heritage tentative list in 2004), Pilgrim’s Rest looks pretty much exactly like it did 200 years ago, apart from the ever-present curio stalls selling handmade and wood-carved African goods.
All the buildings along the town’s main street are now museums, filled with interesting artefacts from a bygone era and in one of the shops you can have a sepia photo taken of yourself dressed in the fashion of those days. I found the old cemetery particularly interesting (I know it’s a little macabre, but reading the inscriptions on old tombstones can keep me occupied for hours) where all the graves are laid out facing the same direction, except for the now-famous Robber’s Grave belonging to an unnamed thief who had been caught stealing a tent and punished accordingly.
At the diggings site just outside the village you can take a guided tour that includes a gold-panning demonstration – you’re even allowed to try your hand at it yourself, which leads me to believe that most of the gold had long since run out.
There are an abundance of things to do and sights to see at Pilgrim’s Rest, more than one brief visit would allow. Although we had decided not to stay here this time, partly due to a friend expressing concerns about safety during her recent visit, I would still like to return and spend a few days focussing on this interesting little town on its own. I would love to stay a night or two in the Victorian-style Royal Hotel, which would probably be the best way to immerse yourself in the history of this authentic little town.
Have you visited Pilgrim’s Rest? What did you think of the town?