Knysna - One of South Africa's most important conservation areas and tourism assets, the Garden Route, joins the country's protected areas with the establishment of the new Garden Route National Park.
The establishment of the new park is part of a long term strategy to expand the protected areas in South Africa under formal protection from 6 percent to 8 percent of the total area of the country, according to Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk.
The Garden Route is one of the country's crown jewels in terms of biodiversity and its attraction of both foreign and local tourists, he explained on Thursday.
The diverse biomes in the Garden Route include indigenous forests, the Knysna estuary, the Wilderness lake areas, marine protected areas, lowland fynbos and mountain catchment areas of national importance.
According to Mr van Schalkwyk, the formation of the park will have a number of beneficial results that include the sharing of resources and management experience, and the integration of current management units in order for greater economies of scale to be achieved.
"Furthermore, the formation of the park will facilitate the regional implementation of important programmes like fire management and alien clearing and enable land consolidation.
"The park management will be able to take advantage of the potential of integrated landscape management, which will improve the protection of important ecosystems," Mr van Schalkwyk said.
Approximately 121 000 hectares, the park will consist of about 52 500 hectares of newly proclaimed land, as well as 68 500 hectares of the Wilderness and Tsitsikamma National Parks.
The individual parks will retain their identity and become camps in the greater Garden Route National Park, known as Tsitsikamma and Wilderness, he said.
facilities include camping decks, chalets, mountain biking trails, hiking trails, canoeing, diving and history and adventure activities.
SANParks Chief Operating Officer (COO), Sydney Soundy, said the Garden Route was one of the critical focus areas in South Africa.
"The area plays host to the largest continuous complex of indigenous forest in the country, spanning approximately 60 500 hectares. Its aquatic systems, the Knysna estuary and the Wilderness lake areas, are rated number one and number six respectively in the country.
"The fynbos falls within the Cape Floristic region, which is a designated global diversity hotspot," Mr Soundy said.
The Garden Route, he highlighted, is fortunate to be part of this process and he believes they will be coining a new conservation model for South Africa.