Cape Town - Fancy a present worth R50-million on your 16th birthday?
Well, you’d have to be a national park – and the Table Mountain National Park in particular – to get something like that. Oh, and you’d also have to accept that part of your present involved highly utilitarian items such as sewerage and water lines and a new road surface.
New infrastructure development at three major visitor hubs in the Table Mountain National Park that will cost just under R50m over the next 18 months was revealed at the park’s 16th birthday celebration at the Two Oceans restaurant at Cape Point.
Two of these hubs are major tourism attractions – Cape Point and the Boulders penguin colony – while the third is at Tokai, where the park has its headquarters and that is also an extremely popular local recreational area for braais, mountain biking, walking and horse riding.
At Cape Point, new development will include an upgrade of the entrance gate, rehabilitation of the road between the gate and the Point, and a new sewerage treatment plant to cope with the huge number of visitors.
Just under half a million rand will be spent to improve visitor flow around the popular Boulders penguin colony. At Tokai, close to R11m will be spent.
Work here will include upgrading and widening the entrance road leading to the historic manor house – currently in a terrible condition – and adding pedestrian and cycle lanes, while a new office for the national park built according to “green” building principles is also part of the plan for this precinct.
“These investments into the Table Mountain National Park will ensure that it remains a destination of choice for local and international visitors for years to come,” said park manager Paddy Gordon.
At the celebration, he joked that it was actually the park’s 5 000 416th birthday, taking into account the age of the mountain, the era when Cape Town had been established, and the park’s formal proclamation 16 years ago.
Explaining the rationale for the infrastructure spending, Gordon pointed out there were 4 million visits to the park each year, of which 2.3 million were through the major tourism pay-point entrances at Cape Point, Boulders penguin colony and the cableway on Table Mountain. The remaining 1.7 million were recreational visits by locals.
“So there’s a huge responsibility on the park to continue its relationship with the City of Cape Town… We cannot separate ourselves from the city and from the tourism economy that drives the Cape Town system – we are completely integrated with that.”
Noting that the park had also hosted 88 events last year and that visitor numbers had escalated hugely over the years, Gordon said the suggestion that there were now too many visitors to the park was “a nice problem to have”.
For example, the boardwalk at the Boulders penguin colony had attracted 300 000 visitors in 1999 and this number had now climbed to 680 000 a year, while the number of visits to Cape Point had climbed over the same period from 700 000 a year to about 860 000.
“And they’re all coming through just one gate – it is the busiest gate in SA National Parks.”
This meant there were bottlenecks at the gate and “lots of problems” with the road from the gate down to Cape Point. “That’s why we’re doing something about it. It’s important to us and it’s in the interests of all our tourism stakeholders and partners.”
Belinda Walker, mayoral committee member for community services and special projects, said Table Mountain was “part of the daily life” of Capetonians and there was a significant amount of joint management between the city and the national park – “and we’re proud of that. There is a symbiotic relationship that says we have to work together or neither will work at all”.
But the city also had to manage development and infrastructure for its growing population that had increased by 30 percent in the past 10 years, Walker added.
Gordon pointed out the park had also been one of the best implementing agencies of the government’s Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) for poverty relief through employment opportunities.
“Over the past 16 years, R275m has been garnered by the park for job creation projects (under the EPWP) in the Cape Town area – that’s something we are really proud of.”
The park was also involved in youth development initiatives, he added. “They have given us nightmares and headaches, but it’s our responsibility and we had to say ‘yes’ to them.” - Cape Argus