Cape West Coast Biosphere trails

Cape West Coast Biosphere Trails

Cape West Coast Biosphere Trails
Expecting to generate direct local spend of R21 million and create fifteen full-time jobs over five years, the Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve (CWCBR) launched its five new visitor-ready, responsible tourism trails at the historic Kersefontein Guest Farm near Hopefield on Saturday, 4 August 2012. The anticipated income represents a return of R18 for every R1 invested by the Development Bank of South Africa (DBSA) and National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (NLDTF).

A textbook case study of balancing development and conservation to preserve the area’s rich heritage, the more than 200km of hiking, cycling and canoe trails all have Environmental Management Plans, while the hiking trails are Green Flag accredited. The trails will be marketed and operated in line with responsible tourism principles.

Delivering the keynote address at the launch, Alan Winde, Western Cape Minister of Finance, Economic Development and Tourism, said: “The Western Cape Government is a signatory to the South African National Minimum Standard for Responsible Tourism (SANMSRT) and we are fully aligned to the national strategy that encourages responsible tourism principles. A number of responsible tourism initiatives are currently being run in the Western Cape, including the City of Cape Town’s Responsible Tourism (RT) pilot project. It is important that all tourism operators in the province ensure that they operate responsibly. I commend the Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve for this initiative that will not only augment the local economy and create job opportunities, but also ensure that they do so responsibly.”

Addressing a current gap in the market for shorter trails, the Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve’s three hiking trails, cycling trail and canoe trail are designed to be two-and-a-half-day ‘power breaks’, without the schlep. All trails are guided, catered, comfortable and safe. Hikers carry only a small daypack, while lifts and luggage are organised and local folk prepare meals in traditional West Coast style. 

The trails are:

DARLING STAGGER: An Italian style slow-paced, mouth-watering 25km trail from Yzerfontein on the coast up into the hills and through wine and olive farms to Darling.
EVE’S TRAIL: A 30km wilderness hike through the unique vegetation, deserted beaches and tranquil lagoon of the West Coast National Park. 
FIVE BAY TRAIL: A gentle 28km coast-hugging hike between the fishing villages of Paternoster and Jacobsbaai 
WHEELS OF TIME: A 106km ride through time for recreational cyclists keen to experience the back roads and beauty of the West Coast from the seat of a bicycle. 
BERG RIVER CANOOZE:  A 30km downstream kayak from Hopefield to Velddrift with farm stays en route.

Accommodating from die-hard mountain lovers, twitchers and botanists, to family groups and modern-day strandlopers, the trails are the ultimate slack-packing getaway, enabling participants to sample true West Coast hospitality, cuisine and the characteristic tales and humour of the area’s folk. The starting point of all the trails is less than an-hour-and-a-half’s drive from Cape Town.   

The trails’ launch follows three years of preparation and development. A feasibility study was conducted in 2009, funded by the DBSA. Grant funding from the NLDTF then enabled the Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve to set up a trails unit and appoint local people to develop and operate the trails. 

The trails aim to create jobs and support local businesses in a sustainable and responsible way. Harold Cleophas, Executive Mayor of the West Coast District Municipality, says the initiative came at exactly the right time for tourism in the area. “Tourism is the West Coast’s third biggest economic driver and has a major capacity to create jobs. The last few years’ economic climate has meant that visitors have become more discerning. They’re looking for new and rewarding experiences, and are more aware of the importance of protecting natural and cultural resources. These trails not only offer exciting activities, but also support existing and emerging tourism and hospitality services in the region, and sustain the livelihoods of newly employed guides, caterers and drivers,” he says.

The West Coast’s new tourism offering will bring R13 million in direct spend to local catering, transport and accommodation businesses over five years, of which approximately 2.5% (or R325 000) will go towards conservation. Proceeds will also be invested in improving and managing the trail path environments. Almost R1 million will be spent on mentoring and training employees, contract and other staff, making it possible for historically disadvantaged individuals to fill full-time positions and develop skills and capacity over time.

Janette du Toit, CEO of the CWCBR, says the CWCBR wants the trails to be self-sustaining by next year, so that the reserve can unlock further tourism opportunities such as themed driving routes that will serve to connect the trails. “The trails will enable access to our extraordinary reserve by 6 200 visitors over five years. The CWCBR is one of over 600 UNESCO-recognised biosphere reserves in the world and one of six in SA; it’s also home to the West Coast National Park and its unique fauna and flora,” she says.

Jacquelene Melenephy, Trails Manager of the CWCBR, concludes: “The trails encourage us as locals to appreciate just how special the West Coast’s beautiful nature and people are, and to use this to further skills development in the region. We can set an example for other biospheres and hopefully inspire them in this way. While helping to raise environmental awareness and address unemployment and socio-economic problems, the trails also offer people time-out from their busy worlds. We all need to take time to relax and rejuvenate.” 
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