Drakensberg Cable Car Feasibility Study and Business Plan Summary

Introduction to the Project

The erstwhile Department of Economic Development and Tourism; developed the KwaZulu Natal Tourism Master Plan (KZNTMP) which was adopted by the Provincial Cabinet in 2012. The KZNTMP is a strategic guiding document pointing to the future direction in the development and growth of tourism in the Province of KwaZulu Natal.

The KZNTMP identified seven iconic tourism products that should be developed in the Province and proposed the development of the Drakensberg Cable Car as one of the catalytic projects in unlocking the tourism potential of UKhahlamba – Drakensberg region and further enhance the competitiveness of the Province. The KZNTMP called for the investigation of the feasibility of developing a cable car in the Drakensberg Mountains. The facility will constitute a carefully engineered balance between environmental sustainability & conservation constraints on the one hand and a world-class tourism attraction on the other. The facility will be designed in such a way as to accommodate increased tourist numbers whilst ensuring that only minimal and sustainable impacts on the ecology and environment will occur.

The project will unlock the tourism potential of UKhahlamba-Drakensberg region by extending access to the escarpment to a broader range of tourists and enhance the competitiveness of the province with regard to adventure tourism. The project will serve as a catalytic project to attract more domestic and international visitors to the Drakensberg region and provide a magnet to a host of other experiences and attractions in the area. It will further extend across the tourism value chain and the other economic sectors that supply services to the tourism industry to the economic benefit of the province.

The Drakensberg-uKhahlamba-Maloti (DUM) Mountains are home to the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg World Heritage Site (WHS). The mountains are a key tourist attraction and one that should be accessible to all who want to enjoy their beauty. This includes tourists with limited time, people with disabilities and those less adventurous tourists. Additionally, increased visitor numbers are putting strain on the environmentally limited existing access routes to the escarpment. It is in the best interests of the WHS that many more visitors are able to enjoy the scenic beauty of the escarpment in an environmentally sustainable manner, rather than the limited numbers of hikers, horse riders and donkey trains presently capable of climbing its rugged escarpment passes and peaks and people who are able to afford a helicopter flip.

The Drakensberg Cable Car is envisioned as a world class tourism attraction in the Busingatha Valley, just south of Royal Natal National Park. It is planned as a “one of a kind “attraction providing tourists of all ages and levels of physical prowess the opportunity to ascend in comfort and safety close to the summit of Mount Amery where visitors will be able to enjoy extensive vistas of the Drakensberg escarpment top and of the Valleys below. The cable car will take visitors up to a view point three times higher than Table Mountain at 3300 metres long cable way with an intermediate station, climbing 1300 metres to the summit which will be an elevation of 3300 metres above sea level. The cable car will run from the base station up a mountain spur adjacent to the Busingatha Valley to near the summit of Mount Amery where a top station will be constructed. One, or possibly two, intermediate pylons will need to be constructed at points along the mountain spur. The pylons will be constructed on untransformed land not vegetated with any rare or endangered species.  The people would be transported through a cable car system consisting of two large cable cars per drive system or a gondola system consisting of a serious of small gondolas.

The Study Area

Only the escarpment zone within South Africa above the Mnweni Valley between Royal Natal National Park and Cathedral Peak was studied for potential cable car top station sites. Sites outside of the boundaries of the WHS within the Mnweni and Busingatha Valleys (located in the northern Drakensberg, between Royal Natal National Park in the north and Cathedral Peak in the south) were assessed for suitability. The preferred site which is 100 x 100 m outside of the World heritage site lies in the Busingatha Valley area of the uThukela District Municipality on the border with Lesotho. Busingatha Valleys situated in the northern Drakensberg, just south of the Royal Natal National Park and north of Cathedral Peak.

The oKhahlamba Municipality’s Integrated Development Plan (IDP) as well as the Spatial Development Framework stresses the need to exploit the area’s tourism potential. The uThukela District Municipality Tourism Sector Strategy lists the cable car as a key project and it is also part of the IDP. In this respect infrastructure improvements making tourist sites accessible, is regarded as critical to the development of tourism within the municipality. Tourist attractions of the Municipality are considered to include, eco-tourism sites and sites with historical significance. The Drakensberg – oKhahlamba – Maloti Mountains comprise a 300 kilometre long alpine and montane zone along the southern, eastern and northern borders of the landlocked mountain Kingdom of Lesotho and the Republic of South Africa. Most of the high altitude areas lie in Lesotho. The rest lie in the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape provinces of the Republic of South Africa. The most scenic areas lie along the length of the Lesotho / KwaZulu-Natal border – commonly called the escarpment, a panoramic range of precipitous mountains dropping down to the “Little Berg” in KwaZulu-Natal. The Drakensberg – oKhahlamba – Maloti Mountains have globally significant plant and animal biodiversity, with unique habitats and high levels of endemism.

The Drakensberg – oKhahlamba – Maloti Mountains are home to the greatest gallery of rock art in the world with hundreds of sites and many thousands of images painted by the San or Bushmen people who lived in the area up to the end of the 19th century / early 20th century. The region is the most important water catchment for Lesotho and South Africa. Two of the largest civil engineering projects in southern Africa, the Tugela-Vaal Scheme and the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, carry water from the Drakensberg -oKhahlamba – Maloti Mountains to the economic powerhouse of Africa, the South African province of Gauteng.

Social and Economic Profile of oKhahlamba Local Municipality

Okhahlamba Local Municipality is a remote municipality situated in the highlands of KwaZulu-Natal and is characterized by a predominantly rural settlement pattern, extensive subsistence farming and as well as some commercial farming and tourism developments. The total population is 151,441 persons (oKhahlamba Municipality IDP-2015).

Tourism is playing an increasingly important role in the local economy of Okhahlamba, with the wide asset base including a range of accommodation facilities, outdoor sporting and recreational activities. The municipality also embarks on events promotions for tourism development. The main tourism destinations in the OLM are Cathkin Park, Cathedral Peak, Royal Natal National Parkland, Spioenkop, which includes the historical site, dam and lakeside resort run by KZN Wildlife. Locations of growing significance for tourism include the Mnweni Valley area, Okhombe and Busingatha Valley. Overall the Okhahlamba area represents (especially in partnership with surrounding areas e.g. Lesotho) one of the primary tourism potentials of South Africa.

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