Geoparks and national parks in South Africa: Two sides of the same coin

26 Mar 2015

The notion of national parks, nature reserves, conservation and heritage parks, as organised protected areas, has been in existence for many decades and at most two centuries in South Africa. The fairly new idea of geoparks, as initiated and defined by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has not found root and popularity in South Africa. The International Geographical Union?s Commission on Geoparks has adopted a perspective that incorporates national parks, protected areas and cultural heritage features as constituting the concept of geoparks. Many international visitors to South Africa, including tourists and conservation experts have expressed a grand and insatiable appetite to visiting national conservation areas such as the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg National Park [UDNP] and the Table Mountain National Park. At these conservation spaces, nature has carved a theatre majestic features and cultural tapestry of rock art. At these places tourists hope to experience and derive satisfaction, from what nature and heritage have to offer in South Africa. This paper explores the existing relationships between national and geoparks, as well as natural and cultural heritage attributes within the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg and the Table Mountain National Parks. The paper argues that, what can be called national park does represent what can be designated as a geopark. It gives some description and lists some attributes that make up the geopark landscape, with prominent geological and geographical values. In addition, the paper not only seeks to relate geopark activities to the national strategic frameworks for tourism development, but also reveals the intrinsic value of the geoparks, wildlife, and how land and natural features are sensitively protected as a source of spiritual and long-term sustenance for future generations.