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© Koos van der Lende
© Koos van der Lende
/Ai /Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park

Latest News23 October 2014

2015 Desert Knights Mountain Bike Tour

© Paul Sutton © Paul Sutton

The annual Desert Knights mountain bike tour was held for the fifth time in the /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park from 7-13 September this year. This unique adventure consists of five days of cycling covering 280 kilometres and a day of paddling along the Orange River. The tour started at the Hobas Campsite and 118 cyclists lined up to head out onto the newly created single track to the Fish River Canyon lookout point on the first day’s route. → read more…

Background

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, which is the second largest canyon in the world and the largest 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.

Progress

© 2009 Koos van der Lende © 2009 Koos van der Lende

The heads of state of Namibia and South Africa signed a treaty establishing the transfrontier park on 1 August 2003. Since then then joint management, tourism and financial protocol plans have been completed. In 2007 the pontoon at Sendelingsdrift was refurbished and customs and immigration offices as well as staff housing were built on both sides of the Orange River. The pontoon opened at the same time as an entrance gate to Ai-Ais Hot Springs Game Park.

In August 2009, Namibia Wildlife Resorts reopened the newly refurbished Ai-Ais Hot Springs Resort for business. The spa complex is situated at the southern tip of the Fish River Canyon, one of the main tourist attractions of the transfrontier park. The Resort owes its name to the sulphurous Ai-Ais hot springs, which means ‘burning water' in the Nama language.

To better control access from the south to the Namibian section of the transfrontier park, an access control facility was opened at Gamkap. Offices in the mining town of Rosh Pinah now also provide a nearby base for the transfrontier park's administrative activities.

Joint activities between the Namibian and South African components of the transfrontier 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 transfrontier park.

In April 2011, the /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld joint management board approved the transfrontier park’s integrated development plan and joint operations strategy. The latter outlines joint activities at an operational level that include joint patrols for monitoring and law enforcement, management of joint assets like the pontoon at Sendelingsdrift, joint research and the identification and implementation of cross-border tourism products. The /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park management committee, comprising park managers supported by an intersectoral management and development task group, was also established. It has since successfully jointly managed daily operations, thereby allowing joint management board meetings to serve as strategic work sessions for decision making at policy level.

Current Projects

© 2009 Koos van der Lende © 2009 Koos van der Lende The /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park has become a model for joint planning, operations, training and cross-border events. In 2013 a joint radio network, which will ease communications between the Namibian and South African components of the park, was established.

The park stretches over a desolate landscape with spectacular canyons and mountain passes. For all their magnificence, these canyons with their sheer rock faces pose real dangers to unwary hikers who like to test their mettle against the harsh elements. Joint mountain rescue training of park staff was therefore deemed essential by the park's management committee. In September, staff attended a joint week-long mountain rescue training course. The course ended in the Fish River Canyon, where the trainees successfully hoisted up a person on a stretcher over a 60 m drop.

Because of the inaccessibility of the terrain, hikers have the responsibility of carrying their trash with them until the end of the trail, which they unfortunately seldom do. The stakeholders in the transfrontier park, i.e. the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the South African Department of Environmental Affairs, Namibia Wildlife Resorts and SANParks, assisted by Gondwana Nature Reserve, therefore undertake annual campaigns to clean the canyon at the end of each hiking season.

Photographer: Paul Sutton Photographer: Paul Sutton A heritage survey found that the heritage assets of the transfrontier park enhance the tourism value of the area and are worthy of nominating the transfrontier park for World Heritage Site status.

The Desert Knights mountain-bike tour took place over five days during the full moon of September and hosted 34 riders. The mountain bikers journey along approximately 300 km through an area renowned for the richest variety of succulent flora in the world. The event promotes the transfrontier park’s tourism trails, which include hiking, river rafting and mountain-biking routes, and is set to become one of the regional tourism anchor products. The park’s management committee also selected staff and started preparations for its planned Desert Kayak Trails, which will be the second joint tourism product.

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