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Hope grows for Castle Rock

Castle Rock Caravan Park in Sabie, Mpumalanga, should soon be returned to its former glory, with new chalets added to attract tourists into the area.

27 November 2012

Thaleda programme manager Sindiswa MathebulaThaleda programme manager Sindiswa Mathebula

Located in a breathtakingly scenic spot at the foot of a hill, with a bubbling rivulet purring through it, the caravan park is one of the projects that the Thaba Chweu Local Economic Development Agency (Thaleda) has earmarked for a revamp.

"The property was donated to the [Thaba Chweu Local] municipality some years ago by South Africa Forestry Company Limited (Safcol) to be used as a caravan park and recreational area for residents. However, since the area did not fall under core council business, it lacked maintenance, leading to its current dilapidated state," says Sindiswa Mathebula, Thaleda's programme manager.

Officially launched in October this year, Thaleda is one of the agencies established by the Industrial Development Corporation to drive economic expansion and job creation at a local level. The agency has identified several key tourism and economic development projects in Sabie and the surrounding towns of Lydenburg and Graskop.

Through these initiatives, the agency aims to jump-start tourism to become the key economic driver in the region. Mathebula say the municipality is losing money because the park is under-utilised. Also, it has to pay a staff of one manager, one general worker and two security officials to guard the site.

The site can accommodate 100 caravans, has a communal recreation centre, ablution blocks, kitchens and a swimming pool. General maintenance has been lacking though, and the overgrown grass lends an air of neglect. The swimming pool also needs cleaning and a new coat of paint.

Mathebula says Thaleda is concluding a feasibility study on the caravan park to find out which business model will best benefit the park and the municipality. "The best option is to lease [the caravan park] to a private operator. A long-term lease would suit us best."

At present, the caravan park's only business is school camping groups that use it during rugby tours. "We also get conservation groups booking space," adds Mathebula.

An upgrade will involve adding chalets, rehabilitating the river banks and reintroducing hiking trails, which are very popular with tourists. The revamp would also be used to woo back a cross country marathon which used to start at the caravan park.

A huge braai enclosure built in boma fashion stands in the middle of the facility. The enclosure can hold 200 or more people, and has potential to be converted into a wedding venue, according to Mathebula. "The potential for the site is huge. The structures are still strong because only treated solid wood from the surrounding mills was used to build the caravan park."

Eckson Bango, the general worker, says he has been at the park for the past 25 years. His job description involves cutting the grass, repairing broken windows and general maintenance. "I remember this place being full of people, especially during weekends. The peak season was usually September to December, when people would come with their caravans and camp here."

The main problem that led to the neglect, he says, is lack of maintenance of basic facilities like toilets and the caravan sites. He says he hopes Thaleda will bring back the glory days.

Hopefully, Mathebula says, the caravan site will be operational come July 2013. "The site has to go through the tender process first to determine the winning bidder."

 

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