A new national park could further boost Eastern Cape tourism

The north-eastern segment of the province is the site of a possible future national park, which would bring to five the number of national parks in the province. These parks not only look after animals but also protect quite distinct types of vegetation.

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Credit: Angus Burns/WWF South Africa

Tourism is one of the sectors that was hit hardest by Covid-19. Many events were cancelled, foreign visitors were absent from attractions such as the Addo Elephant National Park and the Baviaanskloof World Heritage Site and guest houses and hotels struggled to make ends meet.

Although times were tough for the “Adventure Province”, there was some good news out of a sector that still retains enormous potential for growth and has been identified by the Eastern Cape Development Corporation (ECDC) as a priority sector.

The ECDC invested R2-million in attracting the TV series Survivor South Africa: Immunity Island and that will undoubtedly pay off when the series is aired in great interest from domestic and international travellers in the spectacular Wild Coast region. The immediate economic impact of the filming was estimated at R10-million with 103 jobs created to support the project.

The north-eastern segment of the province is the site of a possible future national park, which would bring to five the number of national parks in the province, joining the Addo Elephant, Camdeboo, Garden Route and Mountain Zebra National Parks. These parks not only look after animals but also protect quite distinct types of vegetation.

The film industry is a huge potential growth area for the Eastern Cape. The ECDC invested to support the filming of the popular TV series Survivor: Immunity Island, with the spectacular scenery of the Wild Coast as a backdrop. Season 8 was filmed in 2020 and Season 9 returned to the province for filming in January and February of 2022.

If the proposed Grassveld National Park is established high in the mountains above the village of Rhodes and near to the border with Lesotho, it would be South Africa’s 20th. The conservation goal behind the park is to preserve grasslands through agreements with landowners and farmers who would continue to farm the land responsibly. The land of the Batlokoa community (pictured above) is near the famous Naude’s Neck Pass.

Milly the meerkat. (Credit: Shamwari Private Game Reserve)

As a source of clean water, the area is a hugely important resource and worth preserving for that reason too. The falling water shown in the main picture on this page is described by Andrew Weiss of the WWF as “heading towards the Mzimvubu River and the Indian Ocean” while another small stream at the top of the mountain is destined to join the Orange River in the west. Weiss also described rock paintings of eland and reedbuck “with the unusual addition of dogs and a fat-tailed sheep”.

The Grassveld National Park project of the South African National Botanical Institute (SANBI) has already recorded 1 131 species of plant life on the iNaturalist app.

In addition to national parks, the Eastern Cape has 15 provincial nature reserves and a multitude of luxury private game reserves. Shamwari Private Game Reserve reported that its non-paying guests were thriving on all the special attention they received during lockdown. Shamwari’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre took in Milly, an adult meerkat who had been not well looked after as a pet. The centre’s staff kept her mentally and physically stimulated and she has learnt to crack her own raw eggs, to go with a healthy number of blueberries which make up her diet.

The events sector was just about to restart before the Omicron variant put a stop to all travel. This is something the Eastern Cape does well, with the National Arts Festival and a variety of sporting events such as Iron Man being hosted by the province. In the week before the Omicron variant shocked some countries into banning travel, St Francis Links successfully hosted the South African PGA Championship and showed how well multiple companies, guest houses and sponsors can work together to create something of international quality. The tournament also brought employment opportunities to the region.

The South African PGA golf tournament at St Francis Links showed how events can be linked to employment opportunities. Here the expanded ground staff follow the last group of golfers in on the final day – and earn some applause of their own for putting on a fine tournament. (Credit: Sandy Coffey)

Other than tourism and film, the following sectors have been identified by the ECDC as priority sectors: agriculture and agro-processing, sustainable energy, the Oceans Economy, automotive, light manufacturing. Each of these categories is the subject of an updated economic overview in the 2022/23 edition of Eastern Cape Business.