14 March 2003
A small municipality in southern KwaZulu-Natal has solved its office accommodation problems and created a potential tourist attraction by building a new R4.6-million railway station.
The station, built in the traditional verandah style in the province’s southern town of Creighton, doubles as the civic offices of the new Ingwe municipality, which has chosen railway tourism as a major avenue for economic development.
The Johannesburg-based Bushveld Safari charter train already stops regularly at the town on its way to Kokstad and Matatiele, in East Griqualand, and visits are likely to become more frequent.
Ingwe municipality has earmarked another R4-million to buy a three-coach train that is expected to run excursions between Himeville and Underberg in the KwaSani municipality and Creighton.
KwaSani already has a strong tourism infrastructure that Ingwe plans to expand on by creating a link with its neighbouring towns. The idea is to create economic opportunities for poor communities in an area largely reliant on a strong commercial farming sector.
Part of the initiative will be for minibus taxi operators to offer tourist trips from the station, with stops every 12km to view attractions. These will include a viewing platform at Indodeni Falls to see a colony of bald ibis, a craft centre at the historic Centocow Mission built in 1890, and access to school choirs and cultural experiences in traditional homesteads.
The municipality also plans to build a raised boardwalk around the Little Creighton Wetland – which is in walking distance from the station – where rare bird species such as the marsh owl and the African snipe can be seen. The municipality is also the habitat of the rare Cape parrot.
Other plans include biannual steam train festivals that will be advertised internationally and will feature restored locomotives.
The old Creighton station – a wood and iron colonial building – will be refurbished and converted into a museum. The old post office, also on the station platform, will become a tourist information centre. A shaded boma and braai facilities for tourists are being constructed on the platform, and the whole vicinity will be attractively landscaped with indigenous trees and shrubs.
The council chamber at the new civic offices is already being used extensively for other public business such as regional police conferences.
“We took a strategic decision”, said Ingwe Mayor Innocent Miya. “We saw an opportunity in railway tourism to create economic benefits for our people. We needed civic offices, so it made sense to construct them right here on the railway platform and create an attraction right away.”
Meanwhile, the adjacent Ubuhlebezwe (Ixopo) municipality plans to restore an old steam train to draw the Paton Express, which is currently being drawn by a diesel train. The Paton Express operates in the hill country immortalised by Alan Paton in his novel, Cry the Beloved Country.