Things are looking positive for the relocation of the Orpen Gate, with seemingly only two stumbling blocks left in the path of the creation of a more streamlined visitor experience at the Orpen entrance to the Kruger National Park (KNP). On the cards for several years, the original plan of creating an entire new gate about 7km south of the existing gate has been transformed into the creation of two new entrances, now officially documented in the environmental impact assessment (EIA) scoping report.
Having a new gate 7km from the existing Orpen gate will mean that fences can be removed between the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve and Manyeleti provincial game reserve on this stretch of road. Elephants frequently pose a fence maintenance problem in this area. A combination of speeding traffic and wild animals moving through the broken fences has had unhappy consequences in the past. The scoping process for the environmental impact assessment called together many roleplayers in the area around the gate.
It was discovered that the initially proposed location for the new gate would be extremely difficult to provide sufficient electricity and water to. A seepline in the area could also pose problems to buildings and the intended relocation of the filling station to the site.
Access to other properties that use the intervening stretch of road would also be challenging. The scoping report now recommends the construction of a small security control point at the original site, which will be manned 24/7, plus a new gate and reception area that will be directly south of the new day visitors area.
This more comprehensive facility will link up with water, electricity, sewage and other infrastructure already existing in Orpen, and it is here visitors to the park will have to pay entry fees or present their Wild cards. However, before this plan can forge ahead, the scoping report recommends that all the landowners who will need to access their land through the security control point meet with the KNP to devise a security protocol for the area. Also, it appears that when the road was deproclaimed by Roads Agency Limpopo, one of the farms that uses the road for access was not given the same access rights as the other affected land.
The scoping reports recommends that, "The Kruger National Park is to issue an irrevocable letter of authority" to the landowners so that their access rights are not legally compromised. With these two hurdles out of the way, construction can begin. All the new buildings are planned to blend in with the environment, and only domed and flat roofs will be built.
The Total garage will be moving about 500m from its present location, and will no longer have a bright red canopy - the new station will have a roof made of treated gum saplings (latte/lathes). Round buildings will have domed roofs, similar to that at Phabeni, but constructed out of concrete to help prevent the roof leaking.
One other project identified in the EIA that has to take place before construction begins will be the relocation of golden brown baboon spider burrows. An intensive search will be made in a 60 by 100 metre area, and all the burrows found will be relocated to help conserve this protected species. Total budget for the two gates and additional services comes to about R1.2 million, from environmental affairs poverty relief funds.
Construction is expected to start as soon as the department of environmental affairs gives the go-ahead, with the building of facilities in the camp itself expected to start before the construction of the security access point. Orpen has seen increasing numbers of visitors over the years, and also serves the Tamboti tent camp and Maroela camp. By adding extra parking facilities and moving the filling station, a more streamlined visitor experience will be had, and there will also be less noise for guests staying in the camp.
By Melissa Wray
In Kruger National Park