Wilderness National Park, also called the Wilderness Section, is located around the seaside town of Wilderness between the larger towns of George and Knysna, in the Western Cape.
It is a protected area of South Africa forming part of the Garden Route National Park.
This natural area stretches from the Touw River mouth to the Swartvlei estuary and beyond, where it links with the Goukamma Nature Reserve, giving protection to five lakes and the Serpentine, which is the winding strip of water joining Island Lake to the Touw River at the Ebb & Flow Rest Camp.
The wildlife in this natural area is varied, and includes the Knysna seahorse, pansy shell, pied kingfisher, Knysna lourie, grey heron, and little egret.
This park protects three major zones of indigenous forest, four types of fynbos (wild shrubs), plus various lakes and winding waterways. There are also a number of archaeologically significant sites.
The Touw River connects a series of three lakes: Eilandvlei, Langvlei and Rondevlei, which host a variety of aquatic species and have been designated as a Ramsar site (wetlands of international importance).
Dolphins and whales can be seen from Dolphin Point. Sports within the park include canoeing or bicycling, abseiling, kloofing, paragliding, boating, fishing and hiking.
The part of the Wilderness National Park that contains the Serpentine, the Ebb & Flow Camp, and much of Langvlei originally was part of the Kleinkranz farm, which was granted to JJ Viviers in 1818.
Not much is known of that era, but in 1845 the land was transferred to Paul Gerber who moved there with his wife, two daughters, and four sons.
By the time of the third generation of the Gerber family, there were 37 people living on this still undivided parcel. In the early 1900s, the western section was sold; the Dumbleton family of Oakhurst and Fairy Knowe acquired the westernmost section on both sides of the Touw River, and Donald McIntyre of Oudtshoorn bought a portion bordering Island Lake.
Here he built “Glentyre”, the original name of the large house above the north shore of the lake.
Landscape scenery in the park
The land adjoining the Touw River and north of the railway was administered by the George Divisional Council for much of the 20th century.
Originally a public camping ground, it became the Ebb and Flow Nature Reserve, featuring an overhanging forest canopy, abundant bird life, and slow-flowing waters”. This is now Ebb & Flow North.
On the south bank of the Serpentine where it joined the Touw, the Siesta Caravan Park was run by Jack Nixon in the 1960s and 1970s.
This spot, which originally belonged to the Dumbleton family, is now known as Ebb & Flow South and serves as the headquarters for the park and its main restcamp.
Preserving the waterways of the Wilderness Lakes complex has been in process for a long time, starting with the proclamation of the Lakes in 1968.
This process eventually resulted in the formation of the Wilderness National Park in the 1980s, although this was not the end of the process, which is still active.
With the formation of the Lakes Area Board in 1975, suitable land for preservation was identified and acquired. This was initiated by the takeover of pieces of land near the river mouth, followed by 450 Ha which included the first two lakes and Duiwerivier kloof. In 1983, the country’s first national lake area was announced at Wilderness.
At that time it was under the jurisdiction of the Lake Areas Development Board with the National Parks Board taking over in 1985 and the Wilderness National Park assuming control in 1987. In 1986, the year prior to proclamation, Swartvlei was brought into the area controlled by the Parks Board.
With the inclusion in 1991 of the Lakes Nature Reserve at Rondevlei, from CapeNature, the Park now formed a single unit stretching from the mouth of the Touw to the mouth of Swartvlei, including an important research facility at Rondevlei.
The lakes included drowned lowland, Langvlei; a drowned river valley, Swartvlei; and a wind-formed and later flooded hollow, Rondevlei.
In trying to manage an area which is under pressure from developers, one of the actions of the Park involves regulating the hydraulics of the system so that the inhabitants in low-lying sections can be protected against high water levels, while simultaneously protecting the ecological functioning of the area.
The Wilderness Park was joined with other areas to form the Garden Route National Park system in 2009.