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Garden Route (Tsitsikamma, Knysna, Wilderness) National Park

Natural & Cultural History

The Tsitsikamma Section of the Garden Route National Park is situated at the heart of the picturesque tourist region known as the Garden Route, found in the Southern Cape of South Africa. Tsitsikamma is a Khoisan (early inhabitants of the area) word meaning, “place of much water.”

The Park incorporates 80 km of rocky coastline with spectacular sea and landscapes, a remote mountainous region with secluded valleys covered in mountain Fynbos and temperate high forests with deep river gorges leading down to the sea.

The Tsitsikamma’s spectacular scenery includes the Indian Ocean breakers, pounding rocky shores beneath 180 m high cliffs, evergreen forests and fynbos (proteas and heath) rolling down to the sea in a lush carpet where ancient rivers have carved their path to the ocean through rocky ravines. All this conspires to attract large numbers of international and local tourist to the Park. Tsitsikamma National Park is the third most frequently visited out of the twenty national parks in South Africa. This makes it one of the few National Parks where tourism revenue is adequately able to match the exhaustive expenses associated with conservation. Such an income source is imperative to help meet the immense financial challenges facing conservation in a developing country like South Africa, where national parks need to be able to have a tangible value both spiritually and economically to the communities around the parks.

The Park conserves a considerable portion of the natural biota (all living organisms) of the Garden Route. The primary vegetation biomes consist of Mountain Fynbos, Coastal Fynbos, Afro-montane Forest and the Marine herb-land-, inter-tidal-, and sub-tidal zones. The mean annual rainfall is 1200 mm.

Tsitsikamma National Park protects a wonderland of inter-tidal and marine life. This is one of the largest single unit ‘no take’ (including fishing) Marine Protected Areas (MPA) in the world, conserving 11 percent of South Africa’s Temperate South Coast rocky shoreline and provides a 'laboratory' for fisheries baseline research on endangered line fish species. In 1964 when it was proclaimed, it became the first Marine National Park to be proclaimed in Africa.

Approximately 30% of the park is covered in fynbos (Cape Floral Kingdom), scattered amongst the forest vegetation, boasting a wide variety of beautiful flowers, including proteas and heath. Many species of forest, fynbos and sea birds are present.

The Tsitsikamma Section has a long history of Marine and Forest utilisation and most of the local communities relied mostly, in one form or another, on these two ecosystems for their survival. The previous resource utilisation was of obvious economic value gained from the region and now incorporated into the Park. Today, the National Park contributes in a different way to the economic development of the region. Tsitsikamma National Park attracts tourists to the region, provides economic opportunities for local entrepreneurs, (local trail guides, adventure operators, transport services, infrastructure development & maintenance services, etc.) and as implementing agency for poverty relief program’s, creates employment and training opportunities for some of the regions poverty stricken communities. Currently, two of the nationally running, poverty relief programs, namely Working for Water (Invasive Plant Clearing) and Coasts Care (Coastal Conservation) are operated within the Park.

The Tsitsikamma National Park incorporates various cultural heritage sites ranging from Khoisan cultural heritage sites such as caves, shell middens and rock art to more recent cultural historic sites such as the ruins of small fisher settlements, remnants of the past forestry industries and grave sites. The park is currently embarking on a Cultural Mapping project with the aim of identifying and protecting all Cultural Heritage sites incorporated within the Park. An Oral History Collection project is being implemented currently to recover and interpret information relating to cultural heritage. The more recent history of the forestry and fishing industries that is still in the memories of older folk from the region, is the one thing that strongly connects local communities with the park and can enhance park-community relations. These processes will be developed and implemented in conjunction with local community members and the organisations representing community interests, as well as relevant academic institutions and researchers.

During the First World Conference on National Parks in Seattle in 1962, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) appealed to governments for the establishment of marine parks and reserves. The National Parks Board responded with the proclamation of the Tsitsikamma National Park.

The original Coastal and Forest National Parks were proclaimed on in December 1964, by the then Minister of Forestry in conjunction with the Director of the National Parks Board (Government Gazette 1964). The original coastal park extended some 59 km between Groot River (east) (24°12' E, west of Oubosstrand) and Groot River (west) (23°34' E, at Nature’s Valley), and included the areas approximately 800 m landward and 800 m seaward of the low water mark (horizontal distance - contours ignored).

In September 1983 the seaward boundary of the park between the Groot River (east) and the Bloukrans River (23°,39' E) was extended to three nautical miles and the remainder (Bloukrans to Groot River(west)) changed to 0.5 nautical miles offshore. (Government Gazette 1983). The small Tsitsikamma Forest National Park was deproclaimed in 1989 (Government Gazette 1989) and the coastal park became known as the Tsitsikamma National Park (TNP). In December 1987 the De Vasselot Reserve (2561 ha) was added to the park (Government Gazette 1987). During April 1996 an extension of the seaward boundary was proclaimed as part of the Tsitsikamma National Park. This section extends from Groot River (west) along the same seaward boundary to a point parallel to Grootbank and then back to the Groot River (west) along the high water mark.

Contractual areas (Schedule five National Parks) have, subsequent to the original proclamation, been added to this park. During March 1995 erven 382 and 444 and the remainder of erf 434 Natures Valley were added to the TNP as contractual areas. The farm Buitenverwachting was gazetted as a contractual National Park in 1996. In October 1991 a 30-year lease for the neighbouring Soetkraal area (24 372 ha) was signed with Rand Mines Properties Ltd.