The /Ai /Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park is a true success, and of all the TFCAs that we have been involved in this Transfrontier Park has achieved the most in terms of joint management interventions on operational level, as well as best cross-border tourism developments.
Peace Parks supported the development of this transfrontier park by preparing supporting documentation, leveraging funding strategies and opportunities, employing the a TFCA coordinator and a community liaison officer, as well as facilitating a number of community consultation workshops. The foundation’s Geographical Information Systems department also assisted in the drafting of the land-use and tourism plans.
This all led to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding for initiating the /Ai /Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park on 17 August 2001, and the establishment of the Park formalized with the signing of the treaty by the presidents of Namibia and South Africa on 1 August 2003.
THE JOURNEY THUS FAR
A Memorandum of Understanding is signed to initiate the establishment of the /Ai /Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park.
The two heads of state signed a treaty officially establishing the Transfrontier Park, and joint management, tourism and financial protocol plans were completed.
The Sendelingsdrift Tourism Access Facility is opened as a gateway between the two countries. The pontoon is refurbished and customs, immigration offices and staff housing built on both sides of the Orange River.
The Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape is inscribed as a World Heritage Site.
Cross-border activities got under way with the establishment of a joint park management committee, comprising park managers from both countries.
The /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld joint management board approved the park’s integrated development plan and joint operations strategy.
Cross-border Desert Knights mountain bike tour launched
Cross-border Richtersveld Wildrun launched
Cross-border Desert Kayak Trails launched
Various bilateral committees, both ministerial and technical, as well as national working groups on community development, planning and management, security and customs, and finance were constituted to formalise the establishment of the transfrontier park.
With the signing of the international treaty a Joint Management Board was appointed to govern the development of the Park. In April 2011, the board approved the park’s integrated development plan and joint operations strategy.
Collaboration between the Namibian and South African components of the park include joint patrols for monitoring and law enforcement, joint research, managing joint assets like the pontoon at Sendelingsdrift, and identifying and implementing cross-border tourism products. A border permit that allows officials from both countries to easily cross the border while on official duty within the boundaries of the park, was introduced, and a joint radio network, to ease communications between the Namibian and South African components of the park, installed.
A joint training programme was implemented (2012-2014) aimed at broadening the capacity of frontline staff working in various roles, including gate guards, receptionists, housekeeping supervisors, restaurant staff, field guides and tourism managers of both countries. Depending on their responsibilities, staff received received training in hospitality, intensive emergency medical aid and rescue training, or geology and bird and plant identification. In partnership with the Southern African Wildlife College, we trained park staff in the use of geographic information systems (GIS) – enabling them to use the monitoring tools needed in conservation and create management maps. Skippers underwent additional training to support the operation of the Sendelingsdrift pontoon and the park’s joint river patrols, whilste the African Paddling Association helped to select and train river guides for the Desert Kayak Trail, funded by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and Peace Parks.
On 16 October 2007, Namibia and South Africa’s ministers for home affairs opened the Sendelingsdrift tourist access facility, thus enabling tourists and local communities to travel between Namibia and South Africa within the boundaries of the transfrontier park. The pontoon at Sendelingsdrift was refurbished and immigration offices and staff housing were built on both sides of the Orange River.
“This pontoon symbolises joint approaches to tourism across a shared border. We are no longer planning tourism country by country. We are looking at regional tourism planning and seeing how best we can harness it for the benefit of all.”
Former Minister Konjore of Namibia
The upgrade and extension of the Fish River Bridge followed in 2012, and has since proven its worth during floods, allowing visitors seamless access. To better control access from the south to the Namibian section of the transfrontier park, an access control facility was also opened at Gamkap.
In order to increase visitor numbers to the park, attention was placed on developing unique cross-border products for the park.
Desert Kayak Trail
The fully guided and catered Desert Kayak Trail allows participants to kayak along the magnificent Orange River within the boundaries of the /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park. Local communities have been employed to do the catering and help with camp attendant duties and river guiding.
Desert Knights Mountain Bike Tour
The Desert Knights Mountain Bike Tour combines five days of cycling, some of it at night under the full moon, and one day of canoeing on the majestic Orange River. Cycling in this mountain desert at night, removed from any light other than the night sky, is an unforgettable experience.
Fish River Canyon Hike
Hiking in Africa’s largest canyon, the Fish River Canyon, is equally memorable. The hike is 90kms long, but if you take all the shortcuts it works out to about 75km. It starts at the view site at Hobas and finishes at the Ai-Ais resort, and can be completed in 3-5 days. The environment is immense and creates a feeling of surrendered independence – it is just you, ancient rocks, sand, water and your backpack.
Over a period of five days, trail runners traverse 200 km of this vast mountain desert wilderness area. They cross the Orange River, and the international border, to complete this cross-border trail race between South Africa and Namibia through the transfrontier park. Local communities are employed to set up the camps and cater for over 70 people in the desert.
World Heritage Site
Recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, the Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape is renowned as a biodiversity hotspot and boasts some of the richest succulent flora in the world. It is 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. 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.
Did you know?
The impressive Fish River Canyon – second only to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA – is situated on the lower reaches of the Fish River in southern Namibia. The broadest extent of the canyon is 27 km, but it is much narrower for most of its 161 km length. It meanders between spectacular steep cliffs that bisect the flat Namib plateau. In places the canyon floor is more than 550 m below the plateau and reveals rocks that are up to 2 600 million years old. The river flowing along the canyon floor usually forms placid pools between huge boulders, but sporadic flash floods are not uncommon during the rainy season.
The Richtersveld is one of the last regions where the Nama people’s traditional lifestyle based on nomadic pastoralism has been preserved. It is a way of life particularly well adapted to arid regions. The herders and their flocks move over long distances following the sparse rainfall, thus avoiding the overgrazing that is often associated with a non-nomadic lifestyle. The preservation of the Nama languages is one of the objectives of the Richtersveld National Park. This language has remained better preserved in the Richtersveld than in other part of Namaqualand.