Big 5, moon light, forested dunes & beaches all in one event
10 October 2016
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Brad Brown: Welcome back to yet another edition of Old Mutual Live, awesome to have you with us. Pretty chuffed to be chatting to our next guest about a part of the country which I absolutely love. I see there’s a new trail run that’s going to be taking place there next year. What a pleasure to welcome onto the podcast today Andrew Zlouismis.
Andrew welcome, thanks for joining us today. Andrew, touching base obviously today is about a trail run that you guys are putting on there next year. But let’s talk a little bit about the area itself, I’m talking about the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, it was the first World Heritage Site in South Africa. A beautiful, absolutely magnificent part of the country isn’t it?
Andrew Zlouimis: Absolutely, when you get listed as a World Heritage Site, you’re the best among the best. But you also have to see where else in the world is a place the same or similar. In the Cape, iSimangaliso, the studies and the submission to UNESCO showed clearly that there is no other place the same.
It’s a global one-off, its name reflects that. iSimangaliso in Zulu is a miracle or miraculous. It really is a wonder because you’ve got a fantastic, warm, Indian ocean, side to side, some really interesting land areas, mountains, plains and coastal lakes.
The uniqueness of iSimangaliso
BB: It’s pretty diverse, it’s obviously up the North Coast of KZN, bordering on the Mozambique border. It’s a very large area as well. For somebody who hasn’t been up there, tell us a little bit about what does make it so unique and what makes it so special?
AZ: It is a large area, it’s approximately 8% of South Africa’s coastline or KZN coastline. But what I like about iSimangaliso is you can swim with coral reefs and jump back into your vehicle. On the way back to where you’re staying, you can see the Big Five.
Then if you like the little things, you’ve got everything from red Duiker to chameleons. It’s a park you can do things in. We encourage people to swim, we encourage them to dive, there are walks you can go on. You can go on boats and horses. So you’re not sitting in a car watching TV, driving through a park. You actually can get out and do things.
You quickly become part of nature and for me the ultimate is always a wilderness trail. Where you go out, you walk the trails, the paths of the animals and you get to sleep under trees. That’s really what we’re trying to enable through the trail run. Is give people that kind of access to see their heritage.
BB: It sounds absolutely amazing. You’ve got Andrew and Lauren Booth from KZN Trail Running involved as well. We chat to Andrew fairly often because of the Wild Series events that Old Mutual are involved with here on Old Mutual Live. But the association with Andrew and Lauren and KZN Trail, their track record speaks for itself doesn’t it?
AZ: Absolutely, they’ve got a proven track record. I think they were looking for an event that was different, in their package of events. It’s a three stage-event that we’re looking at putting on. Parts of it are in big game area and other parts are beautiful, wide open beaches. Again, you go through ancient coast climax forest.
One of the special features of iSimangaliso is a sense of place, or its beauty, it’s been in Miss World or Mr Universe. That’s these coastal dunes, forested coastal dunes, among the highest in the world and no development on them. When you’re out there, it’s pristine, it’s wilderness going back in time.
A taste of what’s to come in 2017
BB: You mentioned the experience and you encourage people to get out and dive and swim and that sort of thing. This trail run I think will be truly unique, I know you had a few people up there a week or so ago, just to test things out and see what it was like. What’s the response been like from the guys that were on that trip, that initial trip?
AZ: People came, a group by invitation. So they were the hot running snakes that came, as well as people at the other end of the field and there was generally a very good, in fact not generally, there was an overwhelmingly good response.
I think people found it diverse. The first leg we did was under the full moon, the second leg was through forest and dunes and beach. Then the third leg is a special leg which is from St Lucia to Cape Vidal. Parts of that go into the big game area. There we get the groups together and we run in what we jokingly call a herd, for safety.
When you’re on top of those dunes, the highest dunes on the coast in South Africa and the second highest in the world. You look down on whales and on the other side you look down on flamingos. You get these open grasslands, little bony trees bent over from the wind and it’s very special. I think people are very excited and during the run as well, there’s periods where you’re on your own. You just experience nature and it’s just sucker for the soul, you just suck it all up.
BB: It just sounds absolutely incredible and I’m just sitting here thinking, sign me up, I want in. When are you planning on doing the first one?
AZ: We haven’t set the date for next year, but I expect it will be around May. There will be announcements going out, with some of the media. What also makes it very nice, you stay together in a camp site, the last night you’re at Cape Vidal. So you spend the afternoon there, you get an evening in the camp.
Events in support of Rare and Endangered Fund
Numbers will be limited, partly because of the experience and managing people around game, but also environmental issues. There’s a very careful environmental plan that goes with any of our events. I think the bottom line as well, when you run here, it has a meaning. Because percentage, a fixed percentage of the entry fee goes into what we call Rare and Endangered Fund. iSimangaliso in the last 10 years since its listing as a World Heritage Site has been going through a very big re-wilding process.
Plantations have been taken out, military have been removed and we’ve put in all the original occurring game. There’s one species to come, that’s Eland. That Rare and Endangered Fund really supports the rhino work, procuring of game and the kind of things that’s not easy to get money for, satellite collars.
So on the run we did, the pilot this year, we saw buffalo. We saw quite a few signs of elephants and that’s where it’s very exciting. It’s reassuring to know they’re on satellite collars, so we kind of know where they are and you get the experience without the danger.
BB: It sounds magnificent, but it’s not the first time you guys have done these sort of events, trail maybe, but there’s a pretty special mountain bike event that you guys host there as well. That I’ve just heard amazing things about.
AZ: The mountain bike event is special because it goes through all eight eco systems of the park, from the mountains to the sea. It’s over four-days and at the end of it, you’ll know the difference between a rhino and an elephant and a hippo path. Because you get to ride all of them. It’s all in park and it includes Phinda. At one point in the event you can see both the start at St Lucia and the finish in uMkhuze Game Reserve.
Again, numbers are limited and it’s not a ride that’s designed to knock people out, it’s a ride that you walk away knowing that you’ve ridden a place that’s bigger than the ride. Again, the money we raised there this year was just under R300 000 that went into the Rare and Endangered Fund.
Effort to empower the local communities
Also out of it, it’s supporting schools around the park. We have 22 schools that can see the park and we work very closely with them. These events support both the conservation efforts as well as the development and empowerment community effort. It’s in its sixth year, there’s also half marathons we do, there’s also a paddle that we do. There’s also what we call Sodwana Bay shoot sight which is a photographic underwater event every year.
We don’t call these events races, we call them events. So it’s MTB Ride, the run will still get a name, at the moment we’re looking at iSimangaliso Adventure or something like that. But they’re not designed with a time, there’s no time, there’s no clock, your time is your own, it’s natures time.
BB: In a place like iSimangaliso, that’s what you want. You want to go out there and just experience it. It’s not about winning, it’s about being one with nature. It is, it’s just such an amazing place.
AZ: Absolutely and it gives us a chance to actually get people into sections of the park they can’t normally go, so it’s very unique. As a manager, to see the park through people’s eyes coming in is also very exciting, it reminds you what a special place this is and why we have staff dedicated to fighting rhino poaching and all the other challenges in today’s world.
The environmental challenges we are fighting
BB: Let’s touch on some of those challenges. Obviously the rhino poaching is front and centre because there’s a lot of people talking about it. But what are some of the challenges over and above that, that as a park you guys are struggling with?
AZ: At the moment we’re in the worst drought in 65 years. Lake St Lucia is Africa’s largest estuary lake and it’s the oldest proclaimed lake estuary in the world. It contains more than 50% of South Africa’s water birds, just as an example. After 10 years of good science we’ve shifted a management strategy to get the Lake St Lucia hydrology improved and get water flowing back into it from the Umfolozi River.
That work is underway at the moment through, there’s Global Environmental Facility and the World Bank, it’s a $6 million project. We’re removing stuff at the moment that was put there from 50 years of dredging by previous management who thought that they needed to keep the Umfolozi River out of Lake St Lucia because of the silt, specifically because of farming. That’s our biggest conservation project at the moment.
From a community side, we have 640 000 people within reach of the park and 80% of them live below the poverty line. Only 15% of the economically active population here actually has a formal job. A big drive for iSimangaliso is really about enabling people to improve their lives and prosper. Lake St Lucia now accounts for 8 000 tourism jobs. We’ve grown the tourism economy here to 8% of KZN tourism GDP.
There is hope, but there’s a lot more work that needs to be done. Both in terms of global warming, you need to enhance nature, so nature is more resilient. But you also have to enable people around the park to have a real stake in the economy of the park so they defend it. They become your rhino ambassadors. Your defence for a Park and your sustainability actually starts outside the fence.
How to get in touch
BB: Andrew, I think what you guys are doing there is amazing, if somebody has never been to that part of the world, they really need to because it is spectacular. I look forward to seeing when the race is going to launch and like I said, sign me up, it just sounds absolutely incredible and I’m sure a lot of people listening to this will feel exactly the same way. If they want to find out more about the park or the events that you do host, where can they get more info online?
AZ: If they go onto iSimangaliso’s website, www.isimangaliso.com, they’ll be able to get information. All our events, there’s newsletters on the Park. They can send an enquiry. Equally, they can phone the office as well, it’s 035-5901633 and they ask to speak to Lindy.
BB: Brilliant. We’ll put those links and that number in the show notes to this episode as well so people can link straight through. But you guys are doing an amazing job there, keep it up and we look forward to seeing you on the ground and just come and experience that amazing event.
AZ: See you next year.