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Big plans for beautiful Baviaanskloof

 

Rene Scheepers from Eastern Cape Tourism.The Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve has plenty to offer visitors. Located in Eastern Cape, the reserve is one of two World Heritage Sites in the Baviaanskloof and Gamtoos Valley, one of the biggest wilderness areas in South Africa.

Rich in biodiversity and with spectacular mountain passes winding through it, the region is waiting to be discovered by tourists, local or international. The reserve offers deep valleys offset against towering peaks, lush riverine forestry against dry Karoo tumble weeds.

Popularly known as Baviaanskloof, or "valley of baboons", the reserve is nestled between the Baviaanskloof Mountain Range in the north and the Kouga Mountain range in the south. The 192 000ha area, recently awarded World Heritage Site status, has a high biodiversity, from forest yellowwoods to Karoo bossies, thicket spekboom to fynbos proteas.

Speaking at Tourism Indaba 2014 on Saturday, 10 May, Rene Scheepers, from the Eastern Cape Parks & Tourism Agency (ECPTA), said there were plenty of activities to attract tourists to the area. For the adventurous, these included mountain biking, hiking, 4x4 trails, hunting safaris, and rock and mountain climbing; for the more sedate, there was bird watching and plenty of scenic drives.

"The Baviaans Back to Front Circle Route boasts a multitude of routes from which to choose. The Baviaanskloof offers both short and longer breaks away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The route will take you by car through the culturally rich Karoo towns of Steytlerville and Willowmore to the lush crags of the Baviaanskloof and the ever-changing scenery of the Groot River Valley."

It's heaven for outdoor enthusiasts and mountain bikers – and with their spectacular scenery and challenging routes, the Baviaanskloof Mountains and Gamtoos Valley host the annual Trans Baviaans Mountain Bike Marathon, the longest single stage mountain bike race in the world. For those inclined to get closer to the wild, the Doodsklip and Rooihoek campsites are ideal. They are located on the upper reaches of the Kouga Dam, close to sandy beaches bordering river pools. These are excellent swimming spots.

Attractions are not confined to the Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve. The grave of Sara "Saartjie" Baartman, another World Heritage Site, is located in the Gamtoos Valley, in the small town of Hankey. The famed but tragic Khoi San woman was laid to rest on a hill just outside the town. Born around 1789 at the Gamtoos River, Baartman was subjected to humiliating display in Europe in the early 1800s. She died in France in 1816. After 1994, the South African government asked for her remains to be returned; the process took eight years.

"There are huge upgrades being done to the conference centre at Hankey as well," said Scheepers.

With such hidden tourism treasures waiting to be discovered, it is no wonder that the Industrial Development Corporation is focusing on investing in domestic tourism, in support of local economic development. This is in support of the National Tourism Sector Strategy, which aims to place South Africa among the top 20 world tourist destinations. Another of its goals is to create as many as 225 000 new jobs and add nearly half-a-trillion rand to gross domestic product by 2020.

With this in mind, the IDC and its Tourism Strategic Business Unit is working with the ECPTA on plans to identify tourism nodes in the Baviaanskloof for development. So far, these include: Geelhoutbos, Bergplaas, Riverside, Komdomo, Cambria and Goedehoop, Rooihoek, Doodsklip, Smitskraal and Nuwekloof. Additional nodes will be considered, provided they are appropriately located.

Tourism Indaba 2014 is taking place at the Durban International Convention Centre from 10 to 12 May. The event showcases Southern Africa's best tourism products, and attracts international visitors and media from across the world. The three-day trade event is attended by well over 13 000 delegates from the travel, tourism and relat

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