The project to renovate the tourist roads was completed in just over a year, involving the upgrade of 42.7 km of existing gravel roads and the construction of 13.4 km of new roads.
"Visitors can now explore all areas of the Park for wildlife viewing on roads suitable for all vehicle types, " said Lucius Moolman, South African National Parks (SANParks) regional manager, as he officially opened the roads.
Cutting the ribbon on the newly constructed Link Road, Moolman added that the new 13.4 km road provided an important link between the Ubejane and Rooiplaat Loops, making travelling around the Park easier.
The road upgrade project, funded by the department of environmental affairs' Infrastructure Development Programme saw 40 local people being employed with a spend of R11 million.
Dr. Paul Du Plessis Kruger, former Sasol chairman, officially opened the Park's newly upgraded entrance gate – now named the Sasol Gate - in recognition of Sasol's contribution to Park expansion made just over 10 years ago.
Sasol provided funds at a crucial stage of Park development to purchase a property that was on the market. This donation, along with other donations and fund-raising initiatives initiated by SANParks and the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, helped to increase the Park size from 6 536 hectares to over 28 000 hectares. Organisations such as the Barbara Delano Foundation, WildAid and Vesta Medicines also played an important role.
This Park expansion facilitated the reintroduction of species such as buffalo, cheetah and brown hyena and assured the conservation of the endangered Cape mountain zebra, which now number over 500 in the Park.
Park Manager Lesley-Ann Meyer said she was proud to announce that the renovations to infrastructure had already succeeded in increasing both day and overnight visitor numbers.
Visitor numbers have increased by a massive 40% and occupancy rate has increased from 61% to 70% for the first six months of the financial year.
Moolman announced that the plans to link Mountain Zebra National Park to Camdeboo National Park in Graaff-Reinet to form a mega-conservation area of about 300 000 hectares had now been officially declared by SANParks. These plans envisaged a linkage formed through contractual agreements with private game reserves and landowners, some of whom had already expressed interest in the idea.
Photo: Megan Taplin