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A Responsible Tourism Destination Winner

Issue no.: 34

Gansbaai. Pronounced with the thick guttural ‘G’ that highlights the linguistic evolution of Dutch to Afrikaans, it’s a small fishing town on South Africa’s southern Cape coast that will leave many pawing at a map. Those who are aware of the name will associate it with the large and fearsome-looking great white shark.


It’s this fear, splashed with liberal daubs of curiosity, that keeps tourists coming back to this southern edge of Africa. They set off in powerful, purpose-built motor-boats at various times of the day to experience the thrill – that’s what it is, unless you’re throwing up – of observing a sleek apex predator up close in that primordial, predatory mode.

evidence of bushmen

But they come for a lot more, as partly explained by the Gansbaai tourism region being recognized as Responsible Tourism destination of the year for 2015; and that’s largely due to the mix of people who chose to run their operations here.

Characters like Wilfred Chivell of Marine Dynamics and the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, who I can’t help thinking of as ‘Mr Gansbaai’ (Wilfred’s operation is actually based two kilometres down the road in the holiday village of Kleinbaai, but in destination-speak it’s all the same).


I respect him. Probably because I’ve interviewed him a few times, and know of the esteem in which he is held in South African environmental circles. But it’s his passion, work ethic and his ‘vat nie kak nie’ (Afrikaans for ‘don’t take crap’) attitude that really won me over. And his humanity

A qualified skipper who grew up in the area, his company website says “he has been a spear-fisherman and wreck diver for over 20 years”.

It was sharing space while diving wrecks that Wilfred developed his love for the great white; this history is responsible for driving awareness of the immediate threat to the animal, and the consequences of its population decline. To this end, back on land at his Great White Shark House headquarters he has employed academics and enthusiasts to embark on and publish ‘groundbreaking’ studies around the movements and habits of the creature.

Group enjoying the sunset

Maintaining a keen interest in the sustainability of the marine environment, he also started the Dyer Island Conservation Trust; with corporate sponsorship it rehabilitates threatened African penguins, which are eaten by the locally abundant Cape fur seals, which in turn are the reason the sharks love these waters.

That speaks to nurturing biodiversity, and up on the ridge above Gansbaai Francois and Melissa Krige speak the same language, albeit with trees and plants. He a tree-surgeon and feller with forest experience from Congo to Germany, and she a horticulturalist; through a rustic, solar-powered camp and indigenous nursery they gently and guardedly tend to Platbos, Africa’s southern-most patch of forest.

I say ‘guardedly’ because the Kriges are aware of the threat posed to our natural habitats by increasing cultivation and development down below on the southern Cape coastal plains. It is down there in Gansbaai, where their two small children attend school.

For them the long drive is worth it; they say while the kids don’t necessarily know what’s on TV, they can identify most of the trees, animals and birds in the forest.

evidence of bushmen

A burly character with facial growth designed for a forester, Francois touches his ancient milkwoods with tenderness and love, Melissa standing by as the protective mother hen.

The Kriges have taken it upon themselves to conserve this forest. One practical method is though their association with Greenpop – which is dedicated to ‘Urban greening and reforestation projects in Africa, planting trees in schools for social upliftment of communities…’.

Every year there is a ‘sold-out’ Greenpop family festival during which enthusiasts camp for the weekend and help plant new growth.

 bed outside

There are a few more such operations in the area that helped secure the Responsible Tourism destination award for 2015. Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, a previous BA Tourism for Tomorrow award-winner and, with Wilfred, a driving force behind the progressive thinking in the area, deserves more than a mention.

Through the reserve’s Green Futures Horticulture and Life Skills College, about ten unemployed young adults receive educational training each year; the highlight being that those who pass can go on to study horticulture at a Cape Town university – without having finished school.

To my thinking, these are the sort of places needed to raise our collective consciousness, about growth of our minds and the natural world of which we are part, to start making things right.


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Gansbaai Information

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