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Cable car Drakensberg Plan

Walking in the Drakensberg

The surprise announcement that the province was planning a cable car in the uKhahlamba Drakensberg could take the local tourism industry to new heights.

This was the signal from Economic Development and Tourism MEC, Mike Mabuyakhulu, who unveiled the plan at the Indaba trade show at the weekend and said the project would change the tourism landscape.

Describing the proposed cable car as “a game changer”, Mabuyakhulu told the annual Tourism KZN networking breakfast on Saturday that it would unlock the tourism potential of the region and put the province on the national and international tourism map.

It was one of four tourism products that needed to be developed – he did not name the others – and the plan was to investigate the development of a cableway 3 300m long.

There would be an intermediate station “climbing 1 300m to the summit which will be an elevation of 3 300m above sea level offering expansive views of KZN, Lesotho and the Free State”.

A pre-feasibility study conducted 12 years ago had indicated that benefits of a cable car would include 1 200 jobs and increased opportunities for small and medium-sized entrepreneurs.

It had to offer views of neighbouring Lesotho and the Free State and this would thus enhance regional tourism, said Mabuyakhulu.

A cable car would also serve as a catalytic project to attract more international visitors and “provide a magnet to a host of other experiences and attractions in the area”.

It would boost the competitiveness of KZN as an adventure tourism destination and it would be an alternative “if people do not want to go elsewhere”, he said to laughter, as he referred to the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway in Cape Town.

An advertisement calling for service providers to develop a detailed feasibility study had already been issued by his department, he said.

As the proposed cable car was earmarked for a World Heritage Site, he said it would “enhance the stature of the international asset and will not only profile KZN as a responsible tourism destination with co-existence of environmental management and economic development, but South Africa as well”.

Addressing environmental concerns, he emphasised in a later interview that “we will ensure that we don’t compromise the heritage site”.

It was too soon to say exactly where the cable car would be positioned, but it had to be at a place where there could be development in the Drakensberg, Lesotho and the Free State.

“All three regions have to benefit,” he said, adding that a joint planning committee between the three regions would look at the plan.

Asked who would fund it, he said it would involve government and strategic private partners.

“It is all about increasing our product offering to tourists. It is not just a stand-alone project. It is going to have huge impact on tourism,” he said.

If the project went ahead, he envisaged that tourists who arrived in Durban would be able to take a 30-minute flight to the Drakensberg for a cable car experience.

“I am absolutely excited about it,” he said.

Franz Gmeiner, the Austrian chief executive of the Orion Group, which owns Orion Mont-Aux-Sources in the northern Drakensberg and who knows a thing or two about mountain cable cars, said: “You are talking big money, but I like the idea. It’s fantastic.”

Gmeiner said he felt the best site for a cable car would be at the Amphitheatre region of the Drakensberg.

Kobus van den Berg, chairman of the Southern Drakensberg Community Tourism Organisation, said the only area where tourists would be able to get views all three areas in question was at the Royal National Park, north of the Amphitheatre.

A leading hospitality figure attending the networking breakfast, who did not want to be named, was initially upbeat about the idea, saying that after all the years of people talking about a cable car “they should just get on with it”.

Later, having thought about it, he phoned to say that he did not think it would happen and that it was all “hot air”.

Brett Dungan, the former chief executive of the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa (Fedhasa) and an outgoing board member of SA Tourism, said that rather than spending money on a cable car, the focus should be on fixing the Oliviers Hoek pass road from Harrismith to Bergville.

The road was so “disgusting” that the Little Switzerland Hotel had had to close down, he said.

Gerhard Patzer, the chairman of the KZN branch of Fedhasa, said:

“The MEC took us by surprise with this announcement of a cable car. I would have thought that there are a lot of other projects that would be more profitable.”


Related article:

Drakensberg chain ladders
The chain ladders en-route to Mont-Aux-Sources – a guide helps a tourist on the right.

The Drakenberg cable car - via ferrata


cable car drakensberg


  1. I wonder if they will be competing with Table Mountain regarding the amount muggings aswell? It’s always nice to spread the love 😀

  2. I think the Drakensberg already has it share of crime too – see image below (the sign on the right).

    I wonder if they will put in a Via Ferrata while they’re at it?

    Sentinel Parking lot signs

  3. We all knew it was comming……….but in the light of the the whole Via Ferrata debacle earlier this year,surely this is a double standard!!! Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife apparently took legal action against the people who put up the Via Ferrata,hosting a whole bunch of reasons about the sensitive nature of the area,the unspoilt beauty ect. I wonder what the place will look like on the Monday of easter weekend,after a couple of thousand tourists took to the summit………..Having said that,if they decide to put it up,it may as well be at Royal Natal,compared to 25 years ago when I first went up the chain ladders,the place is now a rubish dump with a glorious view……..Maybe if they put it up at RNNP,they will leave the rest of the ‘Berg alone……….

    • Unfortunately it cannot fail to set a precedent for further degradation, never mind about the cumulative and synergistic impacts.

  4. The problem is that the proposed Mnweni site is not currently Ezemvelo land, i.e. it is unprotected by conservation laws and owned by the local zulu communities. So there are no double standards i.t.o. the Via Ferrata.

    Let’s hope this goes away like all the previous suggestions of putting a cable car up the Sentinel!

  5. The article states “At the RNNP,North of the Amphitheatre” unless i’ve missed something. Either way,lets hope it NEVER happens! If there is a protest demonstration, I’ll be there!

    • The whole thing is electioneering but cannot be dismissed even although it is pie in the sky.
      If no voice is publicly raised silence will be taken as acquiescence.People should start making their voice heard.

  6. Ah sorry, I had read about the Mnweni proposal in the previous version of this news story, before Justin updated and moved it to the featured news section.

  7. grrrrr! the Berg is certainly not TM and i doubt that it will draw the numbers to make it economically feasible. regardless of the numbers, it would be an obscenity to deface one of our last true wilderness areas with a steel & concrete monstrosity. and it’s not 1 april 🙁

  8. Reintroducing (white) elephants to the ‘berg. TM needs 4000 touriests a day to cover its costs, assuming they both have similar running costs do they really think they will get those numbers anywhere in the ‘berg?

    I agree the berg isn’t TM, its much more special in that it is a wilderness area and a hidden gem for international tourists. any area that would be ideally suited to a cableway would be inconvenient for tourists, unlike TM. I can’t see it happening anywhere else but Sentinal though, and what a sad and unnessisary day that will be. In some ways i’d rather they built a road to the top from the Lesothu side

  9. more questions than answers: the MEC announces it, where is KZN wildlife? left hand/right hand? The Austrian hotel group likes it, the local tourism operators not so much? Mweni was proposed, now it appears not? Who pays, who benefits? At what financial and environmental cost will those 1200 jobs come at? Are those direct jobs or indirect? Will the (already bad) roads handle the extra traffic? Or are they all expected to fly in? To what landing site? etc, etc.

  10. One of the preferred sites for the cable car was in the Mnweni Valley near the Royal Natal National Park section of the World Heritage Site.
    The proposed summit station would be in Lesotho at a height three times that of Table Mountain. The cable length would be three kilometres.

    –> Mixed response to Berg cable car idea

  11. Well having just spent the weekend in the Mnweni area, the natural feel for the place is already not completely natural due to the constant sound of helicopters flying through the valleys. There were often 2 choppers buzzing in and out.

    WRT the cable car, I’m not a fan of the idea, however it will be a massive tourist draw-card, but at what expense… Chances are it’ll get shuffled through the system lining a couple pockets along the way.

  12. Thats what you did wrong guys…you never drew “government and strategic private partners” into the VF setup 😉
    and you never said that…” will ensure that we don’t compromise the heritage site”.

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  14. KwaZulu-Natal’s uKhahlamba Drakensberg World Heritage Park may be getting a cable car that would quite likely shift Table Mountain’s out of the limelight.

    A detailed feasibility study on the proposed Drakensberg Cable Car is about to get under way, according to IOL reports detailing Mike Mabuyakhulu, KZN’s Economic Development and Tourism MEC announcement at the 2012 tourism Indaba in Durban.

    Details and exact costs are not clear as yet, but according to Mabuyakhulu’s spokesperson, Bheko Madlalahe the preferred sites are in the Mnweni Valley next to the Royal Natal National Park section of the World Heritage Site, with the base station near Woodstock Dam. The summit station would be in Lesotho, at a height almost three times that of Table Mountain, and the cable length would be 23km.

    While the plan is set to be something of a tourism ‘game changer,’ the fact that it will be located next to a World Heritage Site is sure to draw criticism from environmental groups opposed to the commercialisation of a wilderness environment.

  15. I just saw this thread, not sure if there is a more recent one.
    Just thought I should leave the actual new (2013) feasibility study here

    As a lover of the wilderness I am divided about this. The plan itself may be noble, and needed for the country as a whole, I am just not sure if the Drakensberg can offer what people want. There is honestly not much up there but freedom, isolation and adventure. The cablecar has none. Basically grass and a cliff. A cablecar is on the other hand not the worst ecological thing they can build but as long as people are not allowed to walk around on top… I dunno… doesn’t make me happy but *if* it is successful it is not the worst. Many mountains around the world has made it work

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