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Feasibility of Drakensberg cableway questioned
Thursday, 16 January 2014
Plans to build a cable car in the Drakensberg to increase KwaZulu Natal’s tourism offering have received little support from the trade, with concerns raised including the feasibility of the cableway and the state of the R74 road.

In a column published on IOL, KZN mec for Economic Development and Tourism, Michael Mabuyakhulu, argues that the cable car will boost tourism to the province.

According to Michael, the cable car is one of six projects that have been identified to unlock potential tourism in the province. The others include the building of a statue of King Shaka near the Tugela River mouth; the construction of a bridge linking the Bluff headland, adjacent to the Durban Harbour, to Durban’s city centre; and the Isandlwana Development Precinct planned for the KZN Battlefields.

“The Drakensberg Cable Car will have a domino development effect in the area,” writes Michael. He says these include a proposed resort that will include camping sites, hotels and lodges. He says a feasibility study, commissioned by the department, found that the Busingatha site in Mount Amery was a feasible one for the development. 

The study, which can be accessed here, suggests that a cableway would make the mountains accessible to more visitors, including people with disabilities. The study also argues that cableways are “the least expensive, least environmentally impactful and safest way” to transport large groups of visitors up steep slopes and mountains. “The cableway will provide a critical mass attraction for the Drakensberg, which will add to the tourism bed nights, sold in the province and attract new visitors,” the study states.

However, the feasibility of the cableway has been questioned. A review commissioned by the African Conservation Trust and the Wilderness Action Group suggests that the tickets will be too expensive, The Times reports. According to the report, it will cost a family of four R1 100 to ride the Drakensberg cableway, compared with R620 for the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway and R500 for the Hartbeespoort Aerial Cableway.

Jean Carte of Montusi Mountain Lodge also questioned whether guests would be attracted to the cableway. “Cape Town and other major cities worldwide have a ready audience, who, at a whim, might decide to nip along to the cable car station and trip up the mountain,” she says. “The Busingatha valley is a very long way from anything.”

According to Jean, other issues of concern are that there are already several failed government projects in the Drakensberg and that there will be few days with suitable weather for trips up the cableway. “The Busingatha area has the highest rainfall in KZN,” she says. “We do have spectacular days but how many would be suitable for trips to the top of the mountain? There is no way I would want to be up there when one of our summer storms breaks!”

Arguments in favour of the cableway include that it will boost tourism and lead to further development of the area. “The Busingatha area can certainly do with a large investment to help with upliftment,” said Hilton Bedingham of the Cavern Resort and Spa. “I also think as an 'icon' project it will also boost general tourism in KZN.” Jean also suggests that, despite her concerns, the cableway could be a draw card for tourism. “Opportunities for entrepreneurs along the route in the Busingatha valley would lead to an economic improvement for some,” she adds.

Both Jean and Hilton Bedingham of the Cavern Resort and Spa are hopeful that the development of the cableway will improve access to the area, particularly the R74. The feasibility study commissioned by the department also suggests upgrading the stretch of the R74 from the R712 to Bergville as part of the cableway project.

However, not everyone is optimistic about the prospects of the road. “I think we would be more interested in having the R74 fixed so that potential visitors to our region are able to travel to and from the Drakensberg safely,” commented Julie Walker, marketing manager Cathedral Peak Hotel.

A number of businesses in the area have complained about the impact the state of the road has had on visitors to the area, while the state of the road has been blamed for the closure of the Little Switzerland Resort as well as Sungubala Lodge.
By : etnw
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