The Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge, formerly the Witsieshoek Mountain Inn, is a perfect example of how an abandoned building can be given a new lease of life. Despite spending a number of years abandoned, exposed to the elements and rotting as a result, the lodge was redeveloped and reopened to tourists again in 2013.
Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge is located in the Northern Drakensburg Mountains in South Africa. It stands 2,200m above sea level at the foot of Sentinel Peak. The views from the area are nothing short of spectacular but it is one of the most inaccessible parts of the country. It is situated near Tugela Falls and is an ideal location for seeing endangered bearded vultures. The lodge is popular with hikers who come for the amazing landscape, rich flora and fauna and the idyllic and tranquil location.
The lodge is situated quite close to the border with Lesotho in the QwaQwa region which was once home to the Batlokoa tribe. The Dutch Reformed Church established a mission station in the area in 1874. The Dutch had begun settling the area in 1824 and established the Orange Free State in 1854. In 1900, the British annexed the Free State following the second Boer War and became the Orange River Colony, a dominion of the British Empire. In 1910, it was merged into the Union of South Africa. Today, Phuthaditjhaba is the primary town in the QwaQwa region.
Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge was originally built in the 1970s as a state sponsored venture to attract tourists to the Northern Drakensburg Mountains. It replaced an earlier stone hut built for backpackers by Batlokoa chief Wessels Mota in the 1950s. It was given to the Batlokoa community in the year 2000 and is managed on their behalf by Transfrontier Park Destinations (TFPD)
The focus is at the lodge is on viable and sustainable tourism, providing employment and revenue for the Batlokoa community. Local traditional craft and art is produced in the community and sold to tourists. The QwaQwa region is the poorest in the Free State and one of the poorest in South Africa so the model of sustainable tourism is an ideal way to boost economic activity in the area.
The decision to give responsibility to Transfrontier Park Destinations to manage the lodge came following its abandonment in 2010. Originally called Witsieshoek Mountain Inn, it suffered a state of decline following its passing to the community in 2000. By 2010, it was in such a state of disrepair that it was closed and left abandoned. The South African climate, especially at high altitude in the Drakensburg Mountains, weathered the building quickly as can be seen in the below video. Its remote location in the mountains meant the building was hard to maintain even in the years when it was operating. It was in an advanced state of disrepair when the Batlokoa community approached TFPD to redevelop it in 2012. A full renovation project took place thereafter and it reopened in 2013 as a luxury mountain getaway which you can read more about here.
Abandoned: 2010 (Since renovated & reopened)