Tourism is an important industry in the GCBR.
There are two main routes through the Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve - the N2 highway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, and Route 62 which travels through the Klein Karoo. Via the N2, at least a million visitors pass through the Langeberg and St Blaize sectors every year. Route 62 has been a growing tourist corridor through the Towerkop and Kammanassie sectors and it is estimated that at least 300 000 tourists visit the Cango Caves – arguably the most popular single attraction in the Klein Karoo – near Oudtshoorn every year.
Reliable empirical data specific to the biosphere domain is not available. However as shown in the graph below, the number of tourists visiting South Africa has nearly doubled in recent years, and given its prime position in one of the country’s top tourist destinations (the Western Cape) it is most likely that the region has experienced a concomitant increase.
Tourism is also one of the fastest growing sectors of South Africa's economy, its contribution to the country's gross domestic product (GDP) increasing from 4.6% back in 1993 to 8.3% in 2006. http://www.tbcsa.org.za/. Directly and indirectly, tourism constitutes approximately 7% of employment in South Africa. Ideally placed to create new jobs and to add value to the country's many natural and cultural resources, tourism has been earmarked by the government as one of SA's growth sectors. (Data source: http://www.tourism.gov.za:8001/default.aspx)
This industry is still poorly developed in the rural sections of the biosphere reserve and the development of eco-tourism to currently unknown destinations and thus creating valuable incentives for landowners to protect biodiversity on their land is supported. Note that tourists have already indicated that one of the main attractions to the region is the unspoilt landscapes and the rich biodiversity of the region, but that the latter is not easily accessible. During the Gouritz Initiative phase of the project, a new destination was successfully championed, namely the Donkey Trail (www.donkeytrail.com ) over the Swartberg Mountains and hence availing access to unknown parts of this World Heritage Site.
Types of tourism
The vast majority of tourists visiting the coastal towns and villages in the GCBR are attracted by the temperate weather, beautiful beaches and mountain scenery. For the adventurer, the coast line offers numerous water sports. Surfing is popular throughout the year; swimming and snorkelling (in rivers, estuaries and in the sea) is largely seasonal (November to April). Witsand, Lappiesbaai (near the hamlet of Stilbaai) and Santos (in Mossel Bay) are all Blue Flag Beaches during December and January. Scuba diving is possible throughout the year, although rough seas often limit visibility. Sailing is popular throughout the year; wind-surfing, kayaking, parasailing and kite-surfing are all practiced, although usually only during the summer months.
Mossel Bay also offers shark cage diving, dolphin-spotting and whale watching (http://www.visitmosselbay.co.za). Bryde’s whales and orcas visit throughout the year, but the Southern Right whales, which visit in winter and spring (between June and October), offer the best sightings. Hiking and mountain biking are popular tourist activities and various trails along the coast and inland offer spectacular scenery, abundant animal life and amongst the most diverse number of plant species in the world.
Archaeological tours are becoming increasingly popular, in light of the remarkable findings at Pinnacle Point and other digs. Archaeologists provide strong evidence that early humans at Pinnacle Point, near Mossel Bay, displayed key elements of modern behaviour as far back as 165 000 years ago. “The evidence is in the form of shellfish, haematite (red ochre) used as a colouring agent, and small stone ‘bladelets’. The site provides a rare glimpse into human adaptation to coastal conditions during a time for which most evidence elsewhere has been scuttled by subsequent rises in sea level”. South African culture and history is well represented and there are many museums in the biosphere reserve (including, for example, the Diaz Museum complex in Mossel Bay which has a Braille trail – a touch and smell garden for sight impaired people.)
Private game reserves along the coast and in the Klein Karoo offer accommodation, bird-watching and wildlife experiences with elephants, lions, rhinos, wildebeest and zebra, either with guided tours in 4x4s or on foot. Hiking trails and camping are offered at the provincial Nature Reserves (administered by CapeNature) which form part of the core area.
The inland areas of the Klein Karoo and southern reaches of the Great Karoo offer an abundance of different types of tourism opportunities. Many tourists use “Route 62”, “the tourist route in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape, South Africa that meanders between Cape Town and Oudtshoorn, the Langkloof and Port Elizabeth, offering the shorter, scenic alternative to the N2 highway” (http://www.route62.co.za/). A survey conducted in 2006 in the inland region of the Klein Karoo suggests that visitors overwhelmingly identify the area’s scenery and nature as its biggest attractor (see Table below). Hunting and golf were consistently the least popular features.
Summer months visitors
Winter months visitors
Wine & food
What attracts tourists to the Klein Karoo? (source: Gelderblom 2006)
The website http://www.oudtshoorninfo.com lists some of the region’s outdoor attractions: “hiking trails, mountain biking, caving, abseiling, rock climbing, quad biking, hot air ballooning, microlight flights, eco tours, visiting the Meerkat colony, going to Hell (the Gamkaskloof), travelling on a donkey cart, driving across a historical passes and through “poorts” (gorges), birding and taking part in a large number of sports activities on the excellent facilities in the Klein Karoo.”
To support the development of eco-tourism to poorly known destinations and thus creating incentives for landowners to protect biodiversity on their land, the Gouritz Initiative already championed the development on an ‘off-the-beaten-track-route’ as well as a very successful new destination (Donkey trail over the Swartberg Mountain).
Avitourism, popularly known as ‘birding’, is one of the fastest growing sectors in ecotourism internationally. Bird tourists travel deep into the rural areas and in that way contribute to local economy. It is relatively underdeveloped in the biosphere domain, and yet holds considerable potential. Route 62 in particular can be marketed from a birding perspective with many regional endemic species especially around Calitzdorp. Establishment of a formal Birding Route could bring additional benefits, e.g. by training local bird guides from low-income communities to become the cornerstone of the birding route experience.
During April of every year, Oudtshoorn hosts the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (Klein Karoo NasionaleKunstefees). About 80 000 visitors descend on the town to experience South African music, art, drama, local cuisine and culture. More recently, festival organisers have introduced the Klein Karoo Klassique, a classical music festival held every October. Oudtshoorn also offers a “township tour” (e.g. “Ma Betty’s Xhosa Cultural Experience”) where visitors can eat a traditional meal and experience traditional dancing. The Klein Karoo is also a wine-producing region: port, muscadel, brandy, and a variety of wine cellars are popular with tourists.
Tourist facilities of the biosphere reserve
The coastal towns and villages within the Langeberg and St Blaize sectors, and the inland sectors of the Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve are very well equipped for the local and international tourism market.
Mossel Bay, the largest town in the biosphere reserve, and Oudtshoorn, the capital of the Klein Karoo, both have a wide variety of tourist facilities, within the town (transitional zone) and in the adjacent buffer area:
- Resorts offering camping and caravans,
- Backpackers hostels;
- Guided trails (including the well-known Oyster Catcher trail);
- Self-catering accommodation and apartments;
- Numerous bed and breakfasts;
- Sporting facilities as described above, as well as golf courses, tennis courts, gymnasiums, rugby, hockey and soccer fields;
- A range of hotels and conference facilities; and
- Guest lodges and game lodges.
Oudtshoorn, the largest town in the Klein Karoo, advertises itself as the “ostrich capital of the world”, with ostrich show farms offering daily tours and demonstrations on the history, life-cycle and use of ostrich products.
The well-known and popular Cango Caves, in the Swartberg just to the north of Oudtshoorn, is visited by about 300 000 tourists a year. Structured, guided tours of the caves are offered throughout the year and provide important income to local residents.
Other “edutainment” opportunities include the Cango Wildlife Ranch (http://www.cango.co.za/). Initially a crocodile show farm, 1988 saw the birth of The Cheetah Conservation Foundation to highlight the plight of the endangered cheetah. Other animals at the Cango Wildlife Ranch include the Cape Vulture, Madagascar Lemur, Greater Flamingo, Spotted-necked Otter, Pygmy Hippo, Marabou Stork and the infamous Nile Crocodile.
In the core areas of the GBR, CapeNature offers various tourist facilities inside the Provincial Nature Reserves (http://www.capenature.co.za):
- Anysberg Nature Reserve offers hiking, guided horse trails, overnight huts, and mountain biking;
- Boosmansbos Wilderness Area offers rustic accommodation, hikes and camping;
- The Swartberg World Heritage Site/Nature Reserve covers 180 000 ha; cottage-type accommodation, a bush camp and campsites are available, as well as hiking trails and overnight huts.
- The Gamkaberg Nature Reserve offers rustic bush camp accommodation, braai facilities, hiking, and mountain biking.
- The Outeniqua Nature Reserve offers hiking trails, rustic accommodation, and mountain-biking.