By Surihe Gaomas
With the recent opening of the Sendelingsdrift and Mata-Mata tourism border posts, a desert tourism boom is expected in both Namibia and South Africa.
Cross-border tourism is also set to avail to international tourists and visitors the attractive desert scenes of the /Ai-/Ais National Park on the Namibian side of the border and the Richtersveld National Park on the South African side.
Opening the Sendelingsdrift International Tourist Facility recently, Minister of Environment and Tourism Willem Konjore said the opening of the traditional pontoon at Sendelingsdrift across the Orange River that connects Namibia and South Africa, serves to promote desert tourism and the strengthening of transfrontier park initiatives.
“With the opening of the pontoon, it is no longer necessary to exit the park as it is now possible to travel across the border within the transfrontier park between South Africa and Namibia, to experience the wonders of this magnificent area,” explained Konjore.
Beyond the Orange River, tourists will also be able to visit attractions such as the world’s second largest canyon, the Fish River Canyon and the magnificent dunes at Sossusvlei, which are among the highest in the world. One can also explore one of the oldest deserts in the world, the Namib Desert.
The /Ai-/Ais Hotsprings Game Park was proclaimed in three portions from April 1968 with the last expansion to include the Huns Mountains in 1988.
On the first of August 2003, the Founding Father of the Namibian Nation, Dr Sam Nujoma and South African President Thabo Mbeki signed an international treaty establishing the /Ai-/Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park.
The pontoon further symbolises joint approaches to tourism and conservation across the countries’ shared borders.
“We are no longer planning tourism country by country but are looking at regional tourism planning and seeing how best we can harness it for the benefit of all of us,” added Konjore.
Desert tourism is set to prosper especially given the increasing demand for adventure activities in that part of the country.
The /Ai-/Ais National Park and Hobas offer extensive tourist accommodation and camping facilities, with extensive luxury accommodation available at a number of adjacent privately managed lodges.
Well-known state and privately run 5-day hiking trails are offered during the cooler season.
On the other hand, the transfrontier park on the South African side of the border has limited visitor facilities, with the Richtersveld National Park comprising three wilderness camps, five serviced campsites and an overnight camp for hikers.
Plans are however under way to upgrade infrastructure and tourism accommodation. The South African government has allocated N$11-million for this purpose.
The opening of the Mata-Mata Tourist Access Facility by President Hifikepunye Pohamba and South African President Thabo Mbeki this month, together with the opening of Sendelingsdrift by the two countries’ environment ministers, is timely.
Minister of Home Affairs Rosalia Nghidinwa said “the opening of this port of entry has come at the right time when southern Africa is expecting a boom in the number of visitors, particularly having in mind the two important events that will take place in the region in 2010 ” – a reference to the FIFA Soccer World Cup to be hosted by South Africa and the African Cup of Nations by Angola during the same year.
“During that period many people will come to South Africa to watch soccer. I believe that many too will make their turn to Namibia through this port of entry and see sceneries in both countries,” said Nghidinwa.
South African Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs Rejoice Mabudafhasi said the establishment of transfrontier parks like that of /Ai-/Ais and Ritchersveld emphasize the importance and the value tourism adds to the country’s economy and the region.
“As cooperation with neighbouring countries is an enabling factor for improving tourism, the ultimate goal is to make the SADC Region the first choice tourist destination,” said Mabudafhasi.
She said that with the 2010 Soccer World Cup, South Africa is working hard towards increasing its tourist figures to a set target of 10 million by 2010.
“All transfrontier parks are going to be marketed internationally and the spin-offs will accrue to all SADC countries and the African continent,” said Mabudafhasi.
The advent of the transfrontier conservation areas and cross-border tourism facilities has now become an important part of integrating regional economic activities and at the same time usher in a new era in eco-tourism management within the region.
Dignitaries were treated to a three-minute ride on the pontoon across the Orange River from Namibia to South Africa.