Community rally against use of Blyde River Canyon Reserve for filming
There’s been a simmering discontent within the Hoedspruit community about the continuing use of the Blyde River Canyon Reserve for filming the Australian version of ‘I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!’. The annual closure of a large part of the reserve to local people and tourists alike, made worse by the lack of communication, was becoming a serious problem. Increasing concern has also been raised about the environmental impact on one of the most unspoilt, pristine areas in the country.
A group of Hoedspruit residents, under the aegis of Kruger to Canyons Biosphere, met this week with Oloff Bergh, Director of Triosphere, the South African production company in charge of the filming. On the agenda was how the closure of the Blyde reserve affected the community, the environmental impact of having a film crew and set on site, as well as the deterioration of the interior and exterior of the visitor centre. The facilities at the visitor centre, such as the toilets and braai areas, are in a very poor state, as is the access road.
Oloff Bergh was keen to stress the positive sides of having the film crew in our area, with which everybody readily agreed. They bring a substantial amount of business to lodges, restaurants and shops during the otherwise quiet season for tourism in January/February. They bring jobs to between 50 and 100 people from local communities during the time of production. They use only local businesses as suppliers, and to boost this further, Hoedspruit Chamber of Commerce will provide them with a list of local suppliers.
On the negative side, there were several complaints about the state of the waterfall walk after the company had left. The walkway has expanded from a narrow path to wide enough to take a quad bike, and new paths have been made to connect the waterfall walk with the studio area, leading to erosion. Sand of unknown origin has been brought in, and cables were left in the area between production times.
The environment is in good hands, Oloff assured the meeting. His company started as wildlife film makers, and are environmentalists at heart. An environmental officer, appointed by the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA), is always on site and has to approve any work done in the area. The production company is only allowed access to areas already in use, and anything left on site is there because it would be more harmful to the environment to keep removing it and bringing it back again. Cleaning and personal care products used in camp are all biodegradable and environmentally friendly. Oloff pointed out that tourism also has an impact; before starting to film they have to spend several days removing rubbish left by the public, whereas the film crew’s impact is carefully managed.
The poor state of the road, and the visitor centre and its facilities, had raised a lot of criticism, but Olaff explained that this is not the responsibility of the production company. They pay MTPA, but have no influence on how this money is spent. In particular, the state of the roads is a major, multi-million rand problem well outside the context of the film production. The company upgraded the interior of the visitor centre during the first two years of production, including providing display units and screens, but the screens have since been stolen.
A major point for discussion was the access for local people. Oloff said that the production company is prepared to be flexible on times and give access for joggers and cyclists with prior arrangements. There will however be some tight restrictions so as not to interfere with live broadcasts. A schedule for public access will be worked out by Oloff and his co-directors and communicated to people in Hoedspruit through local media, and to lodges and other businesses who deal with tourists. Public access must however still be restricted, both by time and area, and any transgressions will lead to the area being completely closed off again.
The meeting ended on a positive note: communication is the key, and opening up both access and communication will benefit everyone involved.