Rain and gales have not deterred the public from taking advantage of a week of free access to national parks during SA National Parks Week, which will end on Sunday.
Wendy Perkins, of Rosebank, and Helen Maguire, of Walmer Estate, have visited the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve many times, but on Tuesday September 19, they had their first experience of the recently launched exhibition at the historic Buffelsfontein Visitor’s Centre.
“It’s very impressive, informative and well presented. South Africa is way ahead of Europe,” said Ms Perkins.
According to the reserve’s section manager, Zandré van der Mescht, the exhibition, Origins of Early Southern Sapiens Behaviour, is a collaboration by SANParks, the University of Bergen’s Centre for Early Sapiens Behaviour in Norway and the Evolutionary Studies Institute of the University of the Witwatersrand.
It opened in June and will run for the next three years.
“It is curated by award-winning documentary film-maker Craig Foster and archaeologist Petro Keene. It showcases the culmination of 30 years of archaeological research in the southern Cape showcasing the discovery of early modern human origins and innovations in southern Africa using multi-media displays,” said Ms Van Der Mescht at a media event that day.
At the Flying Dutchman Funicular, an inclined cable-drawn railway system commissioned in 1996, a group of seniors chattered excitedly. The two cars on the line are named Thomas T. Tucker and Nolloth after two of the 22 shipwrecks visible in the nature reserve, according to Cape Point general manager Celeste Bell.
She encourages people to hike the Shipwreck Trail or the shorter walk to the second lighthouse, begun in 1913 at Dias Peak and only completed in 1919 due to the outbreak of World War I and the difficulty of its positioning.
Ragamat Khan, who recently celebrated her 84th birthday, said the visit to the nature reserve was the best gift. She walked the steep pathway to the upper lighthouse and returned on the funicular.
Ms Khan, one of the group of 50 seniors from Bo-Kaap Day Care for the Aged, said her visit to the reserve for the first time brought back memories of the history of the area that she had learnt about at school.
Sharifa Fredericks, also from Bo-Kaap, said that after seeing the story about free access to the parks in the Atlantic Sun (the Sentinel News’ sister newspaper), they contacted SANParks and Susan Muhanelwa made arrangements for them to visit the reserve.
“We were so blessed. This weather is good; it’s not known as the Cape of Storms for nothing,” she laughed.
Ms Muhanelwa, a SANParks environment education officer, said they had gone out and identified communities who could benefit from the visit to the reserve.
“We also wanted to showcase different activities that SANParks offers,” she said.
On the return journey, dodging showers, the media contingent’s last stop was Boulders Penguin Colony, which is not part of the free access.
SANParks section ranger for Simon’s Town, Faroeshka Rodgers, said visitor numbers had declined after the pandemic, but had grown to 1.6 million in 2021 and 4 million in 2022.
An area of only two hectares, the equivalent of a sports field, sees about 64 000 visitors each month, excluding those using other free access points.
“This puts pressure on these aquatic flightless birds,” said Ms Rodgers, adding that October and November were the most important time for the African penguin because they were moulting.
“It’s a time when they need to replace their feathers to maintain their waterproofing. It means they are land-bound for 21 days and do not eat. Prior to this, they consume enough food to survive their moult, so they need as little interference as possible,” said Ms Rodgers.
African penguins are listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. Its population is approximately 50 000 birds, according to Ms Rodgers, and numbers are declining but with a stable population of about 3 000 at the Simon’s Town colony.