/Ai /Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park

Park Development

On 18 October 2000, the Namibian Minister of the Environment and Tourism, Mr Philemon Malima met with the South African Minister for Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Mr Valli Moosa to discuss the development of transfrontier links between Namibia and South Africa.
© 2009 Francois Poolman
© 2009 Francois Poolman
A memorandum of understanding initiating the the establishment of the /Ai /Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park was signed by Ministers Philemon Malima of Namibia and Valli Moosa of South Africa on 17 August 2001.
Extensive community consultations were conducted beforehand, as the Richtersveld National Park in South Africa is owned by the Richtersveld communities and jointly managed in association with South African National Parks (SANParks). This management structure allows the full participation not only of local communities through elected members representing the four towns in the area (Kuboes, Sanddrift, Lekkersing and Eksteenfontein), but also of local pastoralists. These communities were keen to see the transfrontier park established, as they would all benefit from increased tourism to the area, while at the same time conserving its unique biodiversity. The transfrontier park would also help maintain the cultural heritage and traditional lifestyle of the Nama people.
Since the signing of the MOU, a number of developments have taken place. On the South African side, a management plan for the Richtersveld National Park was signed into being at Sendelingsdrift on 26 October 2002. This came about after extensive consultations with the community and several meetings between SANParks and the Richtersveld National Park management planning committee.
Various bilateral committees, both ministerial and technical, as well as national working groups on community development, planning and management, security and customs, and finance were constituted to formalise the establishment of the transfrontier park. The signing of the international treaty effectively transformed the technical committee into a joint management board and the working groups into management committees.
Regarding the international treaty that established the transfrontier park, a comprehensive consultative process was initiated in June 2002 and a draft of this document, as well as draft integrated tourism and joint management plans were discussed at length over the ensuing months. Peace Parks Foundation supported the development of this transfrontier park by funding workshops, a TFCA coordinator and a community liaison officer, as well as a number of community workshops. The foundation's GIS laboratory also assisted in the drafting of the land-use and tourism plans.
On 1 August 2003 President Sam Nujoma of Namibia and President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa signed an international treaty establishing the /Ai /Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park.
Following the treaty-signing ceremony by the heads of state, Namibia and Angola's ministers of the environment signed an agreement to commence the process of establishing a transfrontier park spanning the lower Kunene River and including Iona National Park in Angola and the Skeleton Coast Park in Namibia.
As Namibian Minister for Environment and Tourism, Philemon Malima said at the ceremony: “This is just the beginning of bigger things to come - /Ai /Ais-Richtersveld has opened the door.” The eventual plan is to create a conservation area that will stretch from the Richtersveld National Park in South Africa all the way up Namibia's coast and into Angola. There is also a proposal to link this with Namibia's Etosha National Park, bringing it to a total area of conserved ecosystem measuring more than 19 million hectares.
On 16 October 2007, Namibia and South Africa's ministers for home affairs opened the Sendelingsdrift tourist access facility, thus enabling tourists and local communities to travel between Namibia and South Africa within the boundaries of the transfrontier park.
On the same day, the ministers for the environment from the two countries officially commissioned the restored pontoon that allows visitors and communities to cross the Orange River.
"This pontoon symbolises joint approaches to tourism across a shared border," said Minister Konjore of Namibia. "We are no longer planning tourism country by country. We are looking at regional tourism planning and seeing how best we can harness it for the benefit of all."
In August 2009, Namibia Wildlife Resorts reopened the newly refurbished Ai-Ais Hot Springs Resort for business. The spa complex is situated at the southern tip of the Fish River Canyon, one of the main tourist attractions of the transfrontier park. The Resort owes its name to the sulphurous Ai-Ais hot springs, which means ‘burning water' in the Nama language.
To better control access from the south to the Namibian section of the transfrontier park, an access control facility was opened at Gamkap. Offices in the mining town of Rosh Pinah now also provide a nearby base for the transfrontier park's administrative activities.
Joint activities between the Namibian and South African components of the transfrontier park got under way in 2010, including joint patrols by park managers and the introduction of a border permit that allows officials from both countries to easily cross the border while on official duty within the boundaries of the transfrontier park.
 © Paul Sutton
© Paul Sutton
On 21 October 2010, the Namibian Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism inaugurated the Fish River Canyon’s recently completed viewing facility. Many dignitaries and key stakeholders from the tourism and conservation fraternity attended the event. The facility was jointly funded by the Namibian Ministry of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and the SPAN Project (a project funded by the United Nations Development Programme and Global Environment Facility supporting parks in Namibia), with the objective of creating an eco-friendly world-class tourism facility in the park.

The same day saw the launch of the Orange River Festival trial, consisting of cycling, running and canoeing. This event was organised as part of an outdoor adventure tourism experience with Namibia’s Ministry of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs as the main sponsors. Various other role-players, such as the SPAN Project, Peace Parks Foundation, South African National Parks (SANParks), Trans Hex mine, ROSHMED and Southern Communication, contributed to the success of the event.
In April 2011, the /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld joint management board approved the transfrontier park’s integrated development plan and joint operations strategy. The latter outlines joint activities at an operational level that include joint patrols for monitoring and law enforcement, management of joint assets like the pontoon at Sendelingsdrift, joint research and the identification and implementation of cross-border tourism products. The /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park management committee, comprising park managers supported by an intersectoral management and development task group, was also established. This committee has since successfully jointly managed daily operations and is using joint management board meetings as strategic work sessions for decision making at policy level.
Mountain rescue training
Mountain rescue training
A training programme aimed at broadening the capacity of frontline staff working in the transfrontier park was undertaken by 18 staff members, including gate guards, receptionists, housekeeping supervisors, restaurant staff, field guides and tourism managers of both countries. In 2012 staff received intensive emergency medical aid and rescue training, as well as training in geology and bird and plant identification.

In 2013 a joint radio network, which will ease communications between the Namibian and South African components of the park, was established.

As the park stretches over a desolate landscape with spectacular canyons and mountain passes, with numerous sheer rock faces that pose real dangers to unwary hikers, joint mountain rescue training of park staff was deemed essential by the park's management committee. In September 2013, staff attended a joint week-long mountain rescue training course. The course ended in the Fish River Canyon, where the trainees successfully hoisted up a person on a stretcher over a 60 m drop.

Following another successful Desert Knights mountain-bike tour in September, the park’s management committee selected staff and started preparations for its planned Desert Kayak Trails, which will be the second joint tourism product.
Skipper training
Skipper training
During 2014 the park continued its staff training. Plans are afoot for a fully guided and catered kayak trail, ranging from one- to four-day trips, with local communities doing the catering and assisting with camp attendant duties and river guiding. With this in mind, the African Paddling Association was approached to help select and train river guides. Thanks to funding from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and Peace Parks Foundation, the training took place during February. Skippers also underwent additional training to support the operation of the Sendelingsdrift pontoon and the park’s joint river patrols. Park staff were trained in the use of geographic information systems (GIS), to use the monitoring tools needed in conservation and to enable them to create management maps. This training was conducted by Peace Parks Foundation and the Southern African Wildlife College.
Desert Knights © Paul Sutton
Desert Knights © Paul Sutton
Peace Parks Foundation was asked by the park’s joint management board to develop a mountain bike trail at Hobas that will be available to tourists throughout the year. The trail was introduced during the Desert Knights mountain bike tour, which saw 118 cyclists cover 280 km between 24 and 30 September 2014. It involved five days of cycling, some of it at night under the full moon, and one day of canoeing on the Orange River. The aim of the event is to further unlock the tourism potential of the park. Proceeds of the tour support joint conservation activities in the park.
Desert Kayak Trails
Desert Kayak Trails
Two more tourist products are now on offer. In 2015 the Desert Kayak Trails were launched. The Richtersveld Wildrun was started in 2014 and in 2016 it will become a transboundary event, from the Richtersveld to the Ai Ais Hotsprings, along very remote areas in the park.