At almost 40 metres high the Big Tree in Tsitsikamma’s Garden Route National Park in the Eastern Cape, towers over the forest. It was officially reopened to the public during a launch with Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane.
Locals and tourists can visit the ancient Outeniqua yellowwood, estimated to be about a 1,000 years old, after it was inaccessible for almost three years due to roadworks in the area carried out by the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral).
The Department of Tourism pumped R17 million of funding into the project as a way to improve the park and bringing it on par with international tourist attraction standards.
Kubayi-Ngubane told News24 that it was important for the department to invest in the site because the Big Tree was situated close to the busy N2 and it attracted many tourists locally and internationally.
She said this, in turn, would assist in driving economic development in the area and benefit the locals with employment opportunities.
“In terms of this site, previously there were no facilities of international standard,” she said.
The wooden kiosk and ablution facilities did little to make people comfortable, she added.
A seed as big as a 50 cent coin
The park’s manager, Nomvuselelo Songelwa, told the audience at the launch that management was thrilled to finally be able to reopen the upgraded facility, which also coincided with Tourism Month.
“Who would have thought among us a seed as big as 50 cents would result in the big tree we see here today,” Songelwa said adding that it has enhanced tourism in the area and education for school children and researchers.
A beneficiary of the newly built facility is the owner of the Big Tree Café, Lesley-Ann Cola, who told News24 that she jumped at the opportunity to set up shop at the national park.
“We started operating in December 2019. My husband and I both have a love for nature. So being part of nature and this product was more appealing than just being in a busy mall which just has walls and windows,” Cola said.
However, the eatery owner said the nationwide lockdown dealt them a huge blow as they had to completely close their doors. They are still unable to operate due to the fact that it’s not viable while tourism activity in the area is still slow.
“Before the coronavirus hit we were in the peak of the tourism season. Business was not booming as such because people didn’t know that the actual precinct was upgraded but we had some people here. The biggest loss was having to retrench staff. So, after Covid-19, it has been dead but we are hoping with the launch and exposure, [we] will attract more people to come visit the precinct. We have also engaged suppliers for some reprieve,” she said.
The tree will be open to viewing all year round.