The vegetation recovery in Knysna is well underway with some projects re-started after the Knysna 2017 fires. Vegetation is growing much to the satisfaction of SANParks scientists who gave thumbs up for some of the trails to be re-opened and projects re-started.
Subsequent to the recent Garden Route Fires in October 2018 where approximately 37, 800 hectares were burnt, the Biodiversity Special Programmes (BSP) led by Carlo de Kock started clearing areas after receiving approval from the Department of Environmental Affairs. ‘With 30 teams of about 300 people, we opened roads, fire breaks and cleared burnt areas since November until March this year’ says de Kock.
These areas are mainly in Knysna and Wilderness sections of the Garden Route National Park. ‘We cleared a lot in Diepwalle, Goudveld, Farleigh, and Buffeslnek.’
The plan for this current Financial Year 2018/2019 is to prioritize burnt areas where invasive alien species could re-sprout, hence de Kock and his team want to remove any possibility of Eucalyptus and Wattle re-growing first then move on to seeding species such as Pine.
Accessibility to areas since the fire is easier which works in the teams’ favour. As de Kock points out, there won’t be a lot of chainsaws needed, ‘they will focus on hand-pulling and foliar spraying.’ About 12,000 hectares will be cleared, with 25 contractors. In the FY 2017/2018, 7,000 hectares were cleared by 30 contractors.
Knysna’s Park Manager, Megan Taplin says the good recovery after the fires has enabled the opening of popular activities in the forest including the Kranshoek trail, the Harkerville Coastal hiking trail, and the famous cycling red route.
The popular Kranshoek trail was opened in December 2018. The picturesque day hike is approximately 9km. The trail is undoubtedly one of the premier day hikes in the world combining four (4) vegetation types, Afro-temperate forests, fynbos, Noetzie Proteoid Fynbos. The views of the rugged and beautiful coastline are unparalleled.
The 2-day Harkerville Coastal Hiking Trail built for moderately fit hikers with some degree of physical fitness and rock climbing ability was re-routed and is open. The route kicks off on familiar territory for the first 7.5km, where it joins the old red route section towards the Sinclair hut. From Sinclair hut, it continues to Witrivier (11km) where it is diverted onto the green and red route jeep track and finally links up with the original route at Kranshoek Picnic area. From there it follows the original route through the forest to the SANParks Harkerville office.
Hikers are treated to a spectacular view of the Indian Ocean between Sinclair hut and the Kranshoek Picnic area, as well as at the viewpoint at Klein-Eiland. The coastal section has been re-routed along the coastal ridge to ensure spectacular views over the Indian Ocean.
The Red Route Mountain biking trail coastal section through the fynbos area is now open after monitoring rehabilitation for a year and working on the part of the trail that offers cyclists a sneak scenic view of the Indian Ocean. Vegetation has recovered and the topsoil is much more stable.
Section Ranger for Harkerville (home to the red, blue, yellow, green and black routes), Nico Oosthuizen, says the ‘red route was tested by some of the local and regular cyclists who were very pleased with the maintenance work done on it. Those areas include tracks burnt during the Knysna fires.’ Although the route is open, assessment and restoration will continue mainly due to the sensitivity of the topsoil in some areas.
Taplin says another victory is the re-accreditation of the Elephant walk in Diepwalle. The committee at the Hiking Organisation of Southern Africa (HOSA) has re-awarded Green Flag status accreditation to the Elephant trails in Diepwalle after the fires. This is subsequent to SANParks’ commitment to improving safety on the three different Elephant Trails. Now all the Elephant trails in Diepwalle (Knysna forest) are green flag status accredited. The Perdekop trail in Harkerville (9km) is also accredited. Green flag status accreditation is a global benchmark for hiking trails and includes the following criteria: Conservation status, health and safety measures, cleanliness and maintenance, sustainability, management, and others.
The Kranshoek zip line project, which was on hold for a while after the Knysna fires, is back on the cards to boost tourism for Knysna and the Garden Route. This after travel trends indicated South Africa would be among the best-visited countries by adventure travelers in 2017 and beyond (travelstart.co.za), followed by Galapagos Islands, Costa Rica, New Zealand, and Peru. They are seeking what we already offer- ‘affordable, unique and memorable experiences with nature.’
All activities including the zip line comply with the Garden Route National Park’s zoning plan. The zoning of an area indicates what activities may take place in different sections and the conservation objectives of those sections. Prior to the installation of the zip line, site visits with SANParks EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) specialists and scientists took place to discuss technical details for the construction of the zip line. The project is expected to be completed before the end of this year.
Picture: Biodiversity team mopping up in Farleigh after the fires