30 May 2012 by Julienne du Toit

Out in the bundu

South Africa’s unspoilt tourism treasures include places that seldom see any visitors. Here there are off-the-beaten-track villages and vistas, and delightful and hospitable rural people. The government sees the value in boosting these areas and making them more accessible to travellers.

Off the beaten track lie scenic treasures and delightful people. Photo Chris Marais

The villages and far-flung settlements of South Africa are set in some of the most scenic hinterland.

Schoolchildren with the Amathole mountains in the background, at Cata village. Photo Chris Marais

Often the people here treasure interaction with people from the ‘outside’, and are delightfully hospitable. Sometimes they are custodians, knowingly or not, of great tourism assets. There might be a trout-filled stream nearby, for example, or great tracks for mountain biking, or a forest where rare birds may be seen.

These rural areas are a renewed focus of South Africa’s tourism.

There might be a trout-filled stream nearby, for example, or great tracks for mountain biking, or a forest where rare birds may be seen.

In fact, community-based tourism is already a fairly low-key, thriving industry in South Africa. Travellers and backpackers from all over the world, who want to give something and learn something in a beautiful place, are already familiar with these areas.

Cata village in rural Eastern Cape. People are friendly and life is quiet. Photo Chris Marais

Now leisure tourists are following, and it’s a trend that has not escaped the attention of the Department of Tourism. As the department recently noted, employment in the tourism sector in South Africa’s rural areas 'will require neither the capital needed for mining, nor does it have the seasonal nature of agriculture, essentially the only other tools available for rural economic development'.

The department has also noted the tendency to pour money indiscriminately into projects, resulting in several white elephants. Instead, it is looking at creating ‘iconic projects’ in areas where there is something uniquely appealing to travellers.

The greatest hurdles to such tourism development, in some areas, are the bad roads. Which is why nearly half of the millions set aside will go towards roads and transport.

I’ve seen a few of the white elephants, but I do agree with this vision. Having seen how successful tourism can be in helping turn around the fortunes of places like the little village of Cata, I can see what a positive difference the right kind of tourism can have for tourism gems lying off the beaten track.

Forests, mountains and undiscovered mountain-biking tracks await you. Photo Chris Marais

Category: Responsible Tourism

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