Crumbling roads killing tourism - Jobs lost as neglected infrastructure costs KZN millions

2014-03-31 00:00

WHILE tourism is being touted as a key economic driver in KwaZulu-Natal, the historic Mountain Park Hotel in Bulwer is taking severe strain because the road leading to the hotel is in a total state of disrepair.

Cars struggle to get to the hotel, and there have been several embarrassing incidents involving guests’ vehicles being damaged. Recently, a biker belonging to a Harley Davidson bikers club took a bad fall there. The club told hotel owner Jill Ward that unless the road is fixed they will not be returning.

Witness journalist Stephen Coan wrote about his own experience on the treacherous stretch of road last year. This was when a Springbok Atlas coach, carrying a group of overseas railway enthusiasts, got stuck in the mud on the way up to the hotel. Coan wrote: “We got back to the hotel well after dark. The narrow dirt road had become a clay fudge. The long coach couldn’t cope with a 90 degree turn and slid into the ditch which had become liquid clay. We walked the last couple of hundred metres. Later a tractor was called out and the coach finally freed at one in the morning.”

For hotel owner Ward, such occurrences have become a regular nightmare and all her efforts to get the Ingwe Municipality to respond to the situation with urgency have been in vain. Ward said as a result, the numbers of guests to the hotel are dropping. She said over the past two years they had to cut down dramatically on staff, by about third.

According to Ward, there are also issues with litter and pollution of the scenic river that runs through the town. “Over the past two to three years I have been in continued contact with the various town managers and with municipal heads of departments and have had little or no response to any of my concerns. Efforts to address the problems have been feeble and grossly inadequate. This poor service delivery has been devastating to tourism in Bulwer and is destroying the viability of the Mountain Park Hotel,” she said.

Just when the situation couldn’t get any worse, Ward found that the river below the Bulwer Dam now serves as the town’s new taxi wash bay. “So now all the taxi waste is dumped directly into the river, leaving the river polluted with two- metre-high foam and debris. A municipality that condones river pollution, and even seems to encourage poor river management, needs to be severely dealt with,” she added.

Ingwe municipal manager Nkosiyezwe Vezi acknowledges the pollution problems, but questions whether the road is the municipality’s responsibility as he believes it could be a private road. Ward said it definitely is a public road as it leads to other properties as well. She said that two years ago she was advised that the road to the hotel would be tarred and was promised that it would be completed by July 2013. However, to date nothing has been done.

Vezi said he shared Ward’s concerns over the pollution of the river and had instructed his staff to attend to the matter. He added that there was a budget of R6 million to develop the road infrastructure in Bulwer but needed to investigate further on whether the municipality was responsible for the road leading to the Mountain Park Hotel.

The KZN Department of Economic development and Tourism spokesperson Bheko Madlala acknowledged that tourism was a key sector in the provincial economy and said they would engage with both the municipality and the Department of Transport to find a solution to the road issue.

Historic Hotel is also haunted

THE historic Mountain Park Hotel stands at the base of what has been described as the “majestic” Amahaqwa Mountain. It is renowned both locally and internationally as “the haunted hotel”. Getaway magazine listed it as one of seven of South Africa’s best haunted hotels. The magazine had the following description: “This KwaZulu-Natal manor house with its creaking floors and Tudor-style accommodation has no less than seven ghosts. You could share a pint with two ghostly drunkards in the bar or bump into one of the three men who reside on the third floor. Then there’s childminder Ruth, seven-year-old Matilda and Wisp, one of the only known ghost dogs in the country. Ghost tours take place every Saturday night. If ghost hunting isn’t your thing you can also enjoy horse riding, swimming, tennis and bowling.”

Little Switzerland a casualty

THE Little Switzerland Hotel was also closed mainly as a result of the poor state of the road leading there. The following extract from a 2012 article published by Moneyweb gives the details.

“Because the R74 down Oliviers­hoek Pass is such a mess after Sanyati [a construction company] abandoned its repair a year ago, the Little Switzerland Drakensberg Resort has closed the doors of its hotel, leading to the loss of 70 desperately-needed jobs. This occurred after 60 years of operation. The hotel had a booming Sunday lunch business catering for the citizens of Harrismith, only 35 km away, but the road is so atrocious that it has fallen away completely. At least 10 other Drakensberg resorts have also felt the pinch.”

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