During the bumper flower season in Namaqualand this year, one of the prime destinations was Skilpad Nature Reserve near Kamieskroon.

Skilpad has been around for years and is well known among annual spring-flower pilgrims. But what few visitors know is that Skilpad is just a tiny section of South Africa's newest national park.

The 55000-hectare Namaqua National Park was proclaimed in 1998, but don't rush off to make your booking just yet. Save for the Skilpad section, it's not open to the general public and is unlikely to be in the foreseeable future.

Can South African National Parks afford to run a park that is generating no visitor income? "We can't afford not to," is the comment of park manger Matthew Norval.

"It should have been here for the last 20 years." According to Norval, the purpose of the park is to preserve the area's unique bio-diversity which is severely threatened by years of mining and overgrazing, widespread in Namaqualand.

The park's plant list is in excess of 600 species with a high degree of endemism. Basically it includes all the veld types of the succulent Karoo biome.

In time it is hoped that Namaqua may be joined to the proposed Groen-Spoegrivier coastal park.

But the current funders, World Wildlife Foundation and the Leslie Hill Succulent Karoo Trust, will have to dig deep to buy up the necessary farms.

In the meantime, it's a good-news conservation story that a large tract of Namaqualand is finally being preserved, says Norval.

- GetawaytoAfrica

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