Category Archives: Tsitsikamma

The fastest 10 jobs ever created!

Tour bus at Oudebosch Farm Stall

Tour buses mean business!

Dewald & Penny Niemann at Oudebosch Farmstall

Dewald & Penny Niemann

By getting tour buses just to stop for lunch at his farm stall off the N2 near Storms River village, Dewald Niemann of Oudebosch Farmstall added 10 new jobs to his staff complement.  The bus or buses come in, visitors have to be fed, and the buses need to leave again quickly to keep to their schedule.

No new infrastructure or business plans were needed.  This is how jobs are created — not by fancy strategies and endless meetings that bureaucrats are so fond of.

Jobs in tourism service industries are more upwardly mobile when compared to most of government’s job creation efforts.  And they are created at a fraction of what government spends on achieving little.  And achievements like these are now at risk because of government’s idiotic new visa and immigration regulations.

Lunch at Oudebosch Farmstall

Guests are fed and then on their way again. But not before the 10 staff members regroup as a choir outside for a few songs. It’s a much-appreciated gesture and was the staff’s own initiative.

 

Someone has to make a town work!

And in the case of Storms River, it’s one ward committee member rather than the municipality, “which is nowhere near functional” — a trend I was to encounter almost throughout the Eastern Cape.  It is one of the worst-performing municipalities in SA.

Storms River falls under KouKamma Municipality.  The 2015/6 budget shows capital expenditure of R19,2 million. It’s budgeted to receive R19,9 million in capital grants from national government sources.

Operational expenditure of R130.9 million is budgeted for but total revenue is R107.9 million.  Operating grants total R43.2 million.  The current collection rate for revenue services is below 50%.

The municipality is largely grant-dependent, with over 40% of its income coming from national government.

Employee-related costs and the remuneration of councillors is R47,920,000 — compared to R29,331,000 in 2011/2.  Apparently the speaker/mayor, the municipal manager and top five officials are paid almost R6 million a year.  Are they worth that in a struggling economy?

Bob Reid

Bob Reed has been a member of Storms River’s ward committee for 12 years

Bob Reed bought property in the village in 1998 and has been a ward committee member for 12 years.  His main goal is to maintain the prosperity, viability and tranquility of the village.

But he has been successful in other areas too.  By getting the village recategorised by Eskom, electricity costs for the village’s 80 electrical points dropped by 55%!

He points out that all the municipality does for Storms River is refuse removal.

It’s the Tsitsikamma Tourism Association that tidied up the village’s signage.  And the village’s biggest windfall was national government funding of R177 million for road repairs after the Langkloof floods.  And that it was given to the Sarah Baartman District Municipality to spend, who spread it throughout the municipal areas.

The municipal building inspector doesn’t have enough authority to act on problems in the village and it’s left largely to the ward committee to address these issues.

Appointments made with officials at the municipal offices in Kareedouw are rarely kept, but Bob doesn’t let that stop him.  He finds the next person in line and gets them to take the decisions.  It works!

A lot of faith and hope is being placed in the 2016 municipal elections.  KouKamma is a borderline municipality now and it could easily go to the DA next year.  As it should with a mayor found guilty of drunken driving and allegations about fraud and/or theft by municipal manager and a director.  Citizens deserve better.

Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours: a success story of home-grown heroes

Canopy Tour

Canopy Tours: Traversing the canopy of an ancient forest

Ashley Wentworth & Anneline Wyatt

Ashley Wentworth, founder, & Anneline Wyatt, MD, of Stormsriver Adventures

Ashley Wentworth is an evangelist — about doing good and doing things the right way.

And Stormsriver Adventures, the company he started in 1998 when he escaped the rat race in Cape Town, has probably achieved more than any other — through investing in people.

Apart from being Fair Trade-accredited (one of the most onerous accreditations anywhere) it has also won almost every award worth winning.  And they are one of the largest new job creators in the Eco Adventure industry in South Africa.

He was re-thinking his business after a disastrous setback when Mark Brown, an engineer, came to him with an idea that led to Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours.  Mark had constructed a similar canopy tour in Costa Rica.

The first of its kind in Africa, the canopy tour involves traversing from one platform to another along a steel cable suspended up to 30 meters above the forest floor…

Most platforms are located in giant Outeniqua Yellowwood trees. The scenery and bird life is spectacular and professional guides provide interesting facts about the forest ecology during the 2½ to 3 hours.

The concept of guiding people through the upper canopy of a rainforest originated in Costa Rica, where adventurous biologists devised new methods for accessing the forest canopy in order to conduct research on the undiscovered canopy ecosystem. The idea soon developed into a breathtaking form of eco-tourism which allowed people to enter and experience a previously inaccessible natural environment.

Construction was done in accordance with strict civil engineering standards.  Concept to completion took fourteen and a half months.

The tour begins with a detailed safety briefing followed by a ‘kitting up’ session where full body harness, pulleys and climbing equipment is issued and checked. A short drive into the Tsitsikamma forest and it is time to monkey around!

From the start on the launch platform a new world unfolds as one gently glides on a steel cable to the first tree platform. All groups are escorted through the forest canopy by a lead guide and a follow guide to ensure your safety as you slide from tree to tree. The platforms, built high up in the giant Outeniqua Yellowwoods, provide an unbelievable view of this enchanting new world — any fear of heights is soon lost as you gather in your new surroundings.

Spend a couple of minutes relaxing while your guides enthusiastically explain the ecology of the forest – pointing out different trees and the magnificent giant ferns way below. The bird life is incredible. Knysna Loeries, sightings of the elusive Narina Trogon and the Vervet monkey are not uncommon.

This is an operation where the attention to detail is phenomenal!  The platforms high up on the trees are constructed so that trees are not damaged in any way, and cater for future growth.

The level of safety is mindboggling — and the two very young girls who were in the group I was with were quite at ease with coping with the slides.  This is very much a family outing, and just as popular for team-building exercises.  (There is the comfort that if you can’t handle the heights — which are not excessive at all — there are escape routes for you to turn back.  Every eventuality is planned for.)

Canopy tour

Safe thrills… a rollercoaster amid the tree tops — even if she wasn’t doing it quite right.  (Your one hand should be on the cable to brake you.)

But where Ashley really wears his heart on his sleeve is when it comes to his staff — they are his passion.  When SanParks irrationally threatened to close his business by refusing permission to use the forest, it wasn’t his business that concerned him but rather the staff.  (SanParks really needs to wake up — they’re not among the best companies to do business with.)

Stormsriver Adventures has funded all staff training itself, and it is as comprehensive and rigorous as it can be.  Staff are also encouraged to become multiskilled, preparing them for a brighter future.  Our tour guide on the canopy tour also works in the IT department.

The company’s beliefs and commitments are at its core — your find them displayed boldly at their offices and on their website:

Stormsriver Adventures is more than just an adventure company, and strives to enrich the surrounding environment and community by honouring the following 10 point commitment statement:

  • Total compatibility with sensitive environmental issues thus ensuring a sustained commitment to conservation of natural resources used in adventure products.
  • Forming a synergistic relationship with all parties in the area to the mutual benefit of all role players without exclusion.
  • Upliftment of the community through job creation.
  • Forming of partnerships with individuals/communities through joint ventures.
  • Committed resource plough-back by providing training for local inhabitants thus creating a highly professional tourist oriented community.
  • Creation of mini-enterprises through the training of “Adventure Contractors”.
  • Provide marketing expertise for the responsible expansion of tourism in the area and actively promote the entire area in accordance with tourism forum philosophies.
  • Maintain and enhance optimal safety standards in all adventure operations without compromise.
  • Expand environmental education packages in collaboration with Garden Route National Parks, Cape Pine and other organizations.
  • Actively assist with community fund raising projects and development of S.M.M.E’s.

And they even tell you where customers’ money goes:

[table caption=”Where your money goes” width=”500″ colwidth=”300|200″ colalign=”left|right”]
Expense,%
Royalties/Commission,15
VAT,14
Conservation fees,7
Empowerment catering company,7
Training & development,5
Animal welfare/education,2
School feeding scheme,2
Environmental education,2
HV/AIDS awareness,1
Crafting initiatives,1
Donations,0.5
Only 43.5% remains to run the company
[/table]

If heights are definitely not your thing, then Stormsriver Adventures also offers the Woodcutters’ Journey.  It’s a completely different perspective of the forest.  Those in my group had also done the Canopy Tour, and I agree with them… it was just as worthwhile.

Woodcutters Journey

The Woodcutters’ Journey: A drive down the old Storms River pass on the Garden Route, and experience the indigenous forest from the comfort of a specially designed vehicle.

And home-grown heroes?  Stormsriver Adventures was a winner at Proudly South African’s Homegrown Awards.

Storms River: A tiny village that’s at the top of the league

I’ve driven past Storms River village in the Tsitsikamma Forest on the N2 scores of times, thinking it would be too far off the N2 for just a look-see. Well, surprise number one was that it’s only about 600 metres off the N2, and surprise number two was what a charming little village it is.  Clean, well-maintained and none of the pot-holes one experiences elsewhere in the Eastern Cape. I felt as though I was still in the Western Cape!  Ignoring the new provincial boundaries, this is still part of the Garden Route.  It is at the heart of the Tsitsikamma forest.

Storms River Info

The first building one comes across is the colourful Info office, bistro & art gallery.

Storms River Info office

And unlike most Info offices, this one is open seven days a week, from 8am till late… with a fire lit in a wheelbarrow as a beacon when the sun sets.  Now if tiny Storms River can get it right, why can’t all Info offices?

Main road in Storms River village

The main road in Storms River village — Darnell Street

There are only about 80 houses in the village (or that’s the number of electrical connections) with a fair number of accommodation establishments — yes, tourism is the biggest business here.  But prepared to be surprised by what you do find in this tiny village.

Marilyn's 60s Diner

Marilyn’s 60s Diner with its pink Cadillac and Chevys, neon rimmed signage, 50 and 60’s decor, and Elvis & Marilyn memorabilia.

Tsitsikamma Village Inn

Stepping through an imposing entrance takes one into a forgotten era at Tsitsikamma Village Inn. The pub, built in 1888 as a hunting lodge by the Duthies, is the village’s oldest building.

My main reason for visiting Storms River though was to meet Ashley Wentworth.  It was the brochures that you find everywhere for his Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours that had really piqued my interest in the village and which really put Storms River on the map.  (More about him and his company in the next post.)

Canopy Tours

Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours take you through the trees about 30 metres above the ground on an educational adventure experience you won’t forget quickly.

Segway Tours

And there’s the option of a more leisurely tour in the forest on a Segway.

 

South Africa’s little-known Wolf Sanctuary

I visited David Daitz about 15 years ago when he was CEO of CapeNature, and was surprised to see a very large and stunning poster of a wolf on his wall.  “What on earth?” I asked.  David had recently visited the wolf sanctuary in the south of France which, he pointed out, at that time received more tourists than Cape Town did.  “It’s a reminder of the attraction of nature,” he said.

One of the packs of the almost 40 wolves at the Tsitsikamma Wolf Sanctuary.  Photo: Tania Thompson Poole

One of the packs of the almost 40 wolves at the Tsitsikamma Wolf Sanctuary.  It should be a much more popular destination.  When we enquired about it at the Tsitsikamma tourism office at Storms River bridge, the woman tried to persuade me to go to the one — which by all accounts isn’t a sanctuary at all — on the way to Knysna.

The last time I visited the Tsitsikamma Wolf Sanctuary was about 12 years ago, when it opened.  I had a pet wolf, Akela, who lived with me for almost 15 years.  There were only two enclosures and about 12 wolves.  Akela ignored them totally, probably terrified I was going to leave her there… she knew where her bread was buttered!  And she ended up living a rather extraordinary life with her best friend, Kenya the Staffie.

This time, I was curious about how Beezus would respond to the wolves.  He was raised by Akela for the first 14 months of his life — she regurgitated her food for him and spent hours and hours with him in the garden.  Today, Beezus has many characteristics that don’t fit in with his real parents.  One example: when he misses someone, he howls… a tiny, tiny howl, but then he is a tiny dog — his whole body is the same size as a wolf’s head!

Akela and Beezus

Akela and Beezus — lessons for a lapdog in 2012

He last saw Akela in September 2012, 20 months earlier.  How much does he remember?  He doesn’t respond to her name at all.

I carried Beezus into the sanctuary and, when he caught sight of the first wolves, there was the usual low growl.  As we got closer, his growl stopped completely and he was silent for the whole time we were there.  He just stared at them, even when they came close to the fence to sniff him… and he sniffed back.  Usually when he’s intimated by big dogs, he turns his head away… but not there, he just stared and stared.  And he was more subdued than usual as we drove on to Plettenberg Bay afterwards… he was dead quiet, lost in thought.

What were they both thinking?

What were they both thinking?  What were they communicating?

So likeAkela!

So like Akela!

For me, seeing a wolf again for the first time in 18 months, when Akela and Kenya died, carried mixed feelings.  Yes, some of them looked so like Akela but I realised how different Akela was to all those at the sanctuary.  Her pack had been Kenya and me since she was five weeks old… she knew the luxury of beds and couches to lie on; of long, long walks; of farms and beaches to explore.  Kenya was her best friend — she looked after him and he was her Linus blanket at the same time.  Akela wasn’t phased by cats… and raised Beezus.

These are packs of semi-wild wolves, because they do have regular contact with people and are fed by people.  Some came from homes where they couldn’t be managed, but they had formed new packs and I would have been the intruder, interrupting a clear social order.  I’d need a lot of re-assurance before I’d step into most of those camps!

Draco Pack

Draco Pack

It was at the last camp, with the oldest inhabitants of the sanctuary, where my feelings changed.  These were the wolves that had been rescued from East London zoo — the Draco Pack.  The entire pack wanted to play, and the lead was taken by the alpha male.  There was a connection similar to the one I had with Akela.

I left with a very heavy heart.

It’s a pity Tsitsikamma Tourism doesn’t have the same insight as David Daitz.  It is an added reason to visit the area; it can benefit tourism.

The Lupus Foundation, trading as the Tsitsikamma Wolf Sanctuary, is the only registered Non-Profit Wolf Sanctuary in South Africa.

Photos: Tania Thompson Poole