The Lowveld is rich in its history and we are fortunate that our guests can enjoy exploring this history while they stay at Nelspruit Lodge.

Alec “Wheelbarrow” Patterson was a loner that earned his nickname Wheelbarrow Patterson because he pushed his belongings around in his wheelbarrow after he sold his donkey because it kicked him.  There is not much known about this man as he was secretive and preferred panning for gold on his own.

The story goes that after selling his donkey, he then pushed his wheelbarrow from the Cape to Mac Mac to pan for gold.  The overcrowding at Mac Mac did not suite Wheelbarrow Patterson and so one morning he packed his sluice box and panning equipment onto his trusty wheelbarrow and merely informed the locals “I’m off!” before heading into the hills.  After surveying the Blyde River Valley from the top of the mountains he saw a small stream coming down the mountain and join with the Blyde River.  He also noticed that there were peach trees growing on the banks of the Blyde River possibly germinating after hunters had passed and thrown down the pips.  After walking about half way down the stream, Wheelbarrow Patterson put his prospectors pan in the stream and found the tell-tail colour in his pan.  Being a solitary man, he quietly kept on panning, not registering a claim.

And such was the beginnings of a town that has become a cultural jewel in Mpumalanga.

His secret was soon revealed when a fellow panning struck gold in the same stream and registered a claim.  As the news got out the area was soon flooded by many other gold panning enthusiasts creating the biggest gold rush of the time and on the 22nd of September 1873, Pilgrims Rest was officially proclaimed a gold field.  Although most of the gold found in the river was alluvial, gold dust, there were also several nuggets found wedged in the boulders of the streams.

Today, a visit to Pilgrims Rest is not complete if you don’t stop in at the Digging Site which is a well-marked turn off just outside the village.  A lot of work has been done here to recreate the atmosphere and look of the area so that it represents what it must have looked like in the 1800s when there area was a hive of panning activity.

Included here is the Gold Commissioners Hut, transport wagon, prison tent, sluice box, water wheel, steam engine and stamp battery.  Once you have done a tour of the area you will be given a demonstration on how to go about panning for gold and you may even try your hand at panning for gold yourself.   It is said that if you simply do as the river would do and rinse the water over the sand in the pan from left to right, the gold that is heavy will stay in the pan and the lighter deposits will be released back into the river.  This process has to then be repeated several times until all you have left in your pan is gold.

When staying at Nelspruit Lodge, you too can experience gold panning, with Pilgrim’s Rest being a short drive away. Book your stay today!

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