Green is the new black. No, really; we’re recycling, driving hybrid cars and generally trying to be intelligent enough not to melt the polar ice caps or widen the hole in the ozone layer. So why not travel green as well?
Eco-tourism is low impact travel, usually to protected areas in which flora, fauna and cultural heritage are the main attractions. Its focus is on educating the ecologically conscious traveller and minimising the negative aspects of conventional tourism, while providing funding for conservation initiatives and economic opportunities for local communities.
Of course, it’s not all serious… mostly eco-tourism is about having a good old bushwhacking fun time in nature. And with South Africa’s picture-perfect landscapes and status as the third most bio-diverse country in the world, it’s fast becoming one hot destination for eco-tourists. And with good reason …
If it’s wildlife you’re after, you can’t go wrong with the Kruger National Park, which has been luring visitors through its gates since they opened to the public in 1927. The park, which spans nearly 19 000 square kilometres across the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces, boasts almost ridiculously frequent spottings of our famous Big Five – Rhino, Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard and, of course, Lion – as well as a host of other bush critters and birds. But please take note: the only shooting you’ll be doing is with your camera.
Accommodation in the Kruger Park ranges from luxury safari lodges to self-catering rest camps. Alternatively, a day pass into the Park will only set you back R120 per person. Feel free to chauffeur yourself around (a 4×4 comes in handy but is not strictly necessary), or take advantage of a tour by an expert guide. Whichever way you decide to go about it, there are few things more exhilarating than seeing these animals in their natural habitat.
Fancy a hike? Table Mountain’s manifold attractions extend beyond the Cableway – the Hoerikwaggo Trail is an incredible six-day,100km trail from Cape Town to Cape Point through the Table Mountain National Park, constructed by 400 previously unemployed path-builders, who are now employed as mountain guides, tourism staff and rangers. Hikers can book one, two or three-night hikes, starting at R220 per person (the full five-day trail will only be open in June 2010).
The luxuriously rustic tented camps, built only on previously damaged sites, have hot water, fully equipped kitchens and open fires to restore you after the day’s exertions wandering through a reserve steeped in the rich cultural history of the first people and surrounded by indigenous fynbos and wildlife.
If it’s a more leisurely meander you want, book yourself onto a Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour, a breathtaking form of eco-tourism which allows you to enter and experience the Tsitsikamma indigenous rainforest on the Western Cape’s Garden Route, a previously inaccessible natural environment.
A series of platforms and ‘fufi’ slides built high up in the giant Outeniqua Yellowwoods allows you to traverse the forest’s 116 varieties of tree while keeping an eye out for animals on the forest floor (anything from bush pigs to leopards) and an estimated 250 species of birds. The entire system was built and functions in the most environmentally ethical way possible and the state-of-the-art equipment is rated first in the world.
South Africa has really put itself on the map in terms of its myriad eco-tourism destinations. Kloofing in the Magaliesberg, whale-watching in Hermanus, shark diving in Gansbaai, scuba tours, hiking trails, game reserves … the list is seemingly endless. So go on, get out there!