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.
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.
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.
The upgrade and extension of the Fish River Bridge was completed in 2012 and has since proven its worth during floods, allowing visitors seamless access. Joint staff training was started and, owing to its success, was expanded in 2013 and in 2014.
With cross-border operations well in hand and successful, the attention turned to increasing visitor numbers to the park. This was done by developing unique cross-border products, which led to the launch of what was to become the 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 operational activities, such as 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.
The fully guided and catered Desert Kayak Trails welcomed participants early in the year and then shut down for an upgrade to the Boplaas base camp and because of the lack of water as a result of the severe drought affecting the region. The trails, which will be operational again in 2017, allow 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.
The first Desert Knights Mountain Bike Tour for 2016 was held from 18-24 April and the second from 12—18 September. This bi-annual event is now fully subscribed thanks to its popularity. Every 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. Hiking in Africa’s largest canyon, the Fish River Canyon, is equally memorable. The canyon features a gigantic ravine, in total about 160 km long, up to 27 km wide and in places almost 550 meters deep. To keep the canyon pristine, the transfrontier park management assisted the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism in the annual clean-up operation—no mean feat, given the size.
From 13—17 June, 45 intrepid trail runners traversed 200 km of this vast mountain desert wilderness area during the Richtersveld Transfrontier WildrunTM. They crossed the Orange River, the international border, to complete the first cross-border trail race between South Africa and
Namibia through the transfrontier park. Local and international trail runners pitted their technical skills against loose shale, deep sand, boulders and gnarly trails as they climbed in and out of the valleys, crossing mountain ranges and river beds along the way. Runners enjoyed a taste of Nama culture, thanks to the dancing, storytelling and singing by community members, while extensive employment opportunities were created for local communities in setting up the
complex logistics required to move camp every day and cater for over70 people in the desert.