The ‘new’ Garden Route National Park (GRNP) was gazetted in 2009, amalgamating the former Tsitsikamma and Wilderness national parks as well as the Knysna Lakes area and over 50 000 hectares of additional land. South African National Parks (SANParks) took a bold and innovative step forward in the local conservation theatre with the proclamation of the GRNP – for the first time in South Africa geographically separate areas were combined into one park. Additionally human settlements were included in the park, humanity being viewed as a part of the environment rather than being regarded as the ‘enemy’.
The GRNP encompasses a broader spectrum of ecosystems than any other South African national park – a mosaic of marine, mountain, forest, lake, estuarine and fynbos biomes. This biodiverse national park is certainly one of the jewels in the crown of the beautiful Garden Route. Rich in endemic species, some only discovered this century, the GRNP comprises the following sections:
- Knysna National Lake Area and Knysna Forest – a diverse mix of a major estuary and lagoon, a town and indigenous forests! The iconic Knysna Heads guard the entrance to the Knysna Lagoon, home of the endangered Knysna seahorse and a multitude of marine life. The world famous Knysna Forest is the largest continuous forest remaining in the country and is known for, amongst others, its magnificent specimens of the Outeniqua Yellowwoods. A host of both long and short trails are laid out in the forest with overnight stops where required.
- Wilderness National Park – a beautiful world of lakes, rivers, forests, estuaries and beaches against the backdrop of the majestic Outeniqua mountains. Look out for the beautiful Knysna turaco (lourie) on the forest and river trails. A wheelchair friendly rest camp offers caravan and camping facilities too.
- Tsitsikamma National Park – besides magnificent coastal rivers, gorges and cliffs, this section includes a marine zone extending some 5km out to sea. The five-day Otter Trail, a 42km coastal hike through the national park, is considered one of the finest hikes in the world. Two superb rest camps cater for all the needs of visitors. The Storms River Mouth Rest Camp in the eastern section of the park also caters for caravanners and campers. The Natures Valley Rest Camp is situated in the De Vasselot section of the park where many short trails are on offer or visitors may elect to canoe, sail, swim, boardsail or just relax in the beautiful surroundings.
The GRNP is a must see for all visitors to Knysna – even a brief stroll along the beach or a short forest trail will instil a sense of the Garden Route’s uniqueness and magic in your soul. Hopefully the GRNP has set the stage for a more ‘accommodating’ and all inclusive outlook on the future of conservation in our glorious country.