An epic adventure for trail runners and a tourism boost for local communities
45 intrepid trail runners braved 200 km of the arid Richtersveld over five days from 13-17 June 2016 during the Richtersveld Transfrontier Wildrun®, traversing this vast mountain desert wilderness area and crossing the Orange River to complete the first cross-border trail race between South Africa and Namibia through the /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, with local communities supporting the event and celebrating the tourism opportunities created by the annual cross-border event. read more
The /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park measures 5 920 km² and spans some of the most spectacular arid and desert mountain scenery in southern Africa.
It is part of the Succulent Karoo biome, which has the richest succulent flora in the world, harbouring about one-third of the world’s approximately 10 000 succulent species. It is also one of only two entirely arid ecosystems to earn hotspot status, the other being the Horn of Africa. A biodiversity hotspot is a biogeographic region with a significant reservoir of biodiversity that is under threat from humans. Another outstanding feature of the Succulent Karoo is the high diversity of geophytes or bulblike plants. It is home to the tree-like succulent, the halfmens and 69% of its plants are endemic. Furthermore, it is a haven to many unique species of lizards, tortoises and scorpions.
The transfrontier park also features the Fish River Canyon, the largest canyon in Africa. The Orange River mouth is a Ramsar site and the 350 million year old and erosion-rich Orange River gorge abounds with history, folklore and grandeur. The Richtersveld is one of the last regions where the Nama people's traditional lifestyle based on nomadic pastoralism has been preserved.
On 1 August 2003 a new era for desert tourism and conservation of this unique succulent biodiversity dawned when the treaty on the establishment of the /Ai /Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park was signed by the presidents of Namibia and South Africa.
The heads of state of Namibia and South Africa signed a treaty establishing the /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park on 1 August 2003. Since then, joint management, tourism and financial protocol plans
have been completed. In 2007 the pontoon at Sendelingsdrift was refurbished and immigration offices and staff housing were built on both sides of the Orange River.
Joint activities between the Namibian and South African components of the park got under way in 2010, including joint patrols by park managers and the introduction of a border permit that allows officials from both countries to easily cross the border while on official duty within the boundaries of the park. With cross-border operations well in hand and successful, the attention turned to increasing visitor numbers to the TFCA. This was done by developing unique cross-border products, which led to the launch of what was to become the annual Desert Knights Mountain Bike Tour.
In April 2011, the /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld joint management board approved the park’s integrated development plan and joint operations strategy. The latter outlines joint activities at an operational level, such as joint patrols for monitoring and law enforcement, managing joint assets like the pontoon at Sendelingsdrift, joint research and the identification and implementation of cross-border tourism products.
The park’s management committee, comprising park managers supported by an intersectoral management and development task group, was also established. This committee has since successfully jointly managed daily operations and is using joint management board meetings as strategic work sessions for decision making at policy level.
In an important event for visitors, the upgrade and extension of the Fish River Bridge was completed in 2012 and has since proven its worth during floods. The joint training of staff was also started and, owing to its success, was expanded in 2013 and in 2014 .
The /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park has become a model for joint planning, operations, training and cross-border events.
The fully guided and catered Desert Kayak Trails welcomed the first participants in June 2015. The trails allow participants to kayak along the magnificent Orange River within the boundaries of the /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park. The route covers approximately 40 km from Gamkab on the Namibian side of the park to a point near the confluence of the Orange and Fish rivers. The standard trip is four days and four nights but shorter trips, overnighting at Tatasberg Wilderness Camp, as well as full- and half-day trips, are available on request. The route does not require paddling experience and is popular with families and birdwatchers, as the lower Orange River boasts a large number of waterbirds. Local communities are doing the catering and help with camp attendant duties and river guiding. During the day's kayaking, the resident Nama guides give participants a fresh perspective on this alluring area while keeping everyone entertained with their storytelling skills.
To prepare for the trails, the African Paddling Association was approached to help select and train river guides. Thanks to funding from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and Peace Parks Foundation, the first training took place during February 2014. In February 2015, the park’s management committee members and river guides from local communities attended an advanced river-guide training course to prepare for their work on the trails and for their accreditation examinations. A detailed concept plan was also prepared for the Gamkab Adventure Trail Camp, which will serve as the base for the trails. The Desert Kayak Trails promise to become another popular product to further unlock tourism to the /Ai /Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park.
Already regarded as one of the toughest, most scenic and unique trail-running stage-race events on the South African trail-running calendar, the 2016 Richtersveld Wildrun™ will be extended to a linear 200 km, five-day crossing from South Africa to Namibia through the heart of the /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park in 2016. The Wildrun™ was presented for the first time in 2014 and is going from strength to strength.
The demand for the Desert Knights Mountain Bike Tour has been so overwhelming that the park’s management committee, the hosts of the tour, in 2015 set two tour dates. According to Francois Snyders from Namibia Wildlife Resorts, the overall event coordinator, both the April and September tours had been a resounding success and the tour is now a permanent fixture on the calendar of events for the /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld. He added: ‘We have come a long way since the inaugural tour, which took place in 2010. We have made a significant investment in equipment required for the tour, improved aspects related to the camp set-up, created a number of short-term job and training opportunities and established an innovative and sustainable way to raise funds for conservation activities in the /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park’.