The Western Cape province of South Africa is situated at the southern tip of the African continent. Its capital, Cape Town, which is also the legislative capital of South Africa, is a world renown tourist hub that over the years received several awards as the world’s top tourist destination.

A lesser know fact is that Cape Town and the rest of the Western Cape province has a plethora of UNESCO sites. These are all special sites that UNESCO deemed worthy of preserving for humanity due to its unique beauty and importance.

Robben Island (where nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years) was declared a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage site in 1999. The famous Cape Floral Region Protected Areas is Natural World Heritage sites that received their status in 2004 and were expanded in 2015. The 5 Western Cape  Biosphere Reserve domains falls within the Cape Floristic Kingdom which is the smallest, but one of the richest of the six floral kingdoms in the world, and the only one found entirely within the boundaries of one country.

The United National Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) on 9 June 2015 approved the designation of the Gouritz Cluster ecosystems as Biosphere Reserve. In June 2017, the 29th Session of the UNESCO Man and Biosphere (MAB) International Coordinating Council in Paris, France, designated the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve as South Africa’s 8th Biosphere reserve and the 5th in the Western Cape Province.

Welcoming the announcement, Minister of Environmental Affairs, Minister Molewa said, “South Africa is proud about the additional sites that have just been listed and the government, as the designation of these areas, supports national efforts of expansion of the conservation estate in addition to supporting the achievement of government’s development objectives”.

The Minister also indicated that the implementation of the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve management plan will create a number of alternative community opportunities in partnership with the private sector and mitigate negative industrial impacts in pursuit of sustainable tourism and cultural heritage development.  She further added that the designation of the Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve, which is South Africa’s biggest biosphere reserve, “will enhance South Africa’s status as the third most biodiverse country in the world and enhance our effort to conserve the world-renowned Cape Floral region”.

Launched in 1970 by the UNESCO General Conference, the Intergovernmental Man and Biosphere Programme aims to improve human environments and preserve natural ecosystems. The Programme promotes research and capacity building with the main objective of reducing the loss of biodiversity and addressing the ecological, social and economic aspects. The UNESCO network of biosphere reserves connects people around the world who are pioneering a positive future for people and nature.

Biosphere reserves are sites of terrestrial and marine ecosystems designated under the UNESCO MAB Programme, where people share a sustainable way of living with nature and innovative practices are tested in co-operation with local inhabitants with the aim of reconciling conservation of biodiversity with sustainable utilisation. The zone includes strictly protected areas at the core, which are typically surrounded by buffer zones where conservation is emphasised, but where people also live and work.

The whole area is surrounded by a transition area, or area of co-operation, which promotes sustainable development. These are therefore much more than “protected areas” and form an integral part of an integrated regional planning and development strategy aimed at promoting conservation and sustainable development whilst providing facilities for education, awareness and training.

Other existing Biosphere Reserves in South Africa are:

a) Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve (Western Cape Province, designated 1998)
b) Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve (Western Cape Province, designated 2000)
c) Waterberg Biosphere Reserve (Limpopo Province, designated 2001)
d) Kruger-to-Canyons Biosphere Reserve (Limpopo Province and Mpumalanga, designated 2001)
e) Cape Winelands Biosphere Reserve (Western Cape Province, designated 2007)
f) Vhembe Biosphere Reserve (Limpopo Province, designated May 2009).

The newly designated Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve area covers an area of more than three million hectares and straddles the Eastern and Western Cape Provinces. The area is globally unique as it is the only area in the world where three recognised biodiversity hotspots — the Fynbos, Succulent Karoo and Maputoland-Tongoland-Albany hotspots — converge.

Be it walking a trail in the Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve or bungee jumping in the Garden Route, visiting the African Penguin colony in the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve or sipping wine in the Winelands Biosphere Reserve, the unique landscapes of the southern most tip of Africa will bring you the most unforgettable adventures ever. Contact us now for a tailormade tour for you and your loved ones.