Permits: All you need to know about access and activity permits for the Table Mountain National Park
Last updated: 18 March 2021
With an array of cards and fees, permits and access to the Table Mountain National Park can be rather confusing. We try to clear the air a bit and delve into all you need to know before your next venture into the park - whether it’s to walk the dog, pedal along mountain bike trails or head out for a picnic.
Managing socio-ecological spaces is a complex undertaking. There are numerous considerations to take into account to ensure that people have fair access, and that maintaining ecological integrity and biodiversity conservation, the core functions of protected areas, are maintained. To throw another spanner in the works, Table Mountain is a recognised natural wonder of the world and a part of a World Heritage Site and is slap-bang in the middle of one of South Africa’s biggest metropolises - Cape Town. Like many cities the world over, Cape Town has crime issues, with the one of, if not the highest rates of murder, robbery and property-related crimes of any South African city. Nonetheless, Cape Town is also tourism hotspot, with the Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) receiving over 4 million visitors annually. TMNP is not a continuous land unit but is fragmented among the urban matrix and distributed across three managerial regions which span the length of the Cape Peninsula. Taking these factors into account, managing such an area is unenviable task.
TMNP is one of 19 National Parks managed by the South African National Parks (SANParks). SANParks is a Schedule 3(a) “public entity” in terms of the Public Finance Management Act, 1 of 1999. It is important to know that (according to SANParks, our emphasis in bold):
“The core mandate of SANParks is the conservation and management of biodiversity through a system of National Parks. It functions primarily under the ambit of the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act (PAA), 57 of 2003 (as amended).”
However, heritage and tourism management are core business mandates of TMNP, in line with their vision of TMNP as ‘A Park for All, Forever.’ This is a delicate balance by SANParks that requires rigorous and sound management. The “regulations for the proper administration of Special Nature Reserves, National Parks and World Heritage Sites” (GN R.1061, 28 October 2005) issued in terms of section 86(1) of the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act (NEMPAA) govern all visitors and users of the park. These regulations cover various management aspects including, but not limited to; admission, entry points, overnighting, pets and permitting activities within National Parks.
In order to minimise impact and ensure the sustainable protection of the natural environment, regulations and permits are implemented for certain activities. These are largely based on Environmental Management Plans (EMPs) which are conducted by authorities in consultation and collaboration with interested parties and stakeholders. In TMNP, current regulations are based on research and EMPs dating back to at least 2002 and permits have been in place for over 10 years already.
Why then do permits receive so much flak? Whilst there may be a perception that natural spaces should be ‘free’, invariably people dislike permits because they feel that they do not see the benefit of them or that they are a scam. Users are reassured when they see that their money is being spent wisely, although not being aware of what one’s money is going towards negatively affects perceptions. It is important to bear in mind that permits are in place primarily to protect the environment and allow conservancy managers to carry out that mandate. All that is very well but ongoing crime incidents within the TMNP as well as recent outrage over a local who was fined for not having a My Activity Permit for their dog, pits park users against authorities, disenchanting people to pay to acquire permits.
Mountain Biking and Dog Walking in TMNP
A significant challenge faced by TMNP management is to provide for and administer these diverse recreational activities without compromising the experience of other visitors and users and to conserve the integrity of the unique biodiversity and heritage resources of the Park. A key issue for TMNP is the need to accommodate reasonable access to the park for responsible mountain biking but without compromising the ecological integrity and heritage value of the park or the experience of other users of the park. TMNP is one of the few National Parks in South Africa where recreational dog walking is permitted. Following a comprehensive visitor survey conducted by the Park during 1999-2000, it is estimated that some 78 000 dog-owners use the Park for recreational dog walking.
The tables (screenshots from the linked EMPs) below, state the potential environmental impacts of both mountain biking and dog walking respectively, which management, with permits as one method, seek to minimise or mitigate:
Access Fees and Permits
At certain access points to TMNP you are required to pay. This is a cover charge as a ‘Daily Conservation Fee’. This fee can be paid via three methods, either simply with cash on entry, through a Wild Card or a TMNP My Green Card. These cards exclusively cover the ‘Daily Conservation Fee’. Should you wish to participate in other activities (e.g. dog walking, mountain biking and sport climbing) you further require a valid My Activity Permit or a My Activity Card.
SANParks recently revised their tariffs and are in fact now more local-friendly. The prices are tiered according to nationality - South African citizens, SADC Nationals and Standard Conservation Fee (for Foreign visitors). In order to qualify for the appropriate tier you need to have the qualifying documentation, i.e. South African citizens need to have an ID and SADC Nationals need to have their passport.
It is important to remember that Activity permits are required for all areas of TMNP where the activity is permitted, and not just access points where entrance fees are payable. Spot checks can and do occur, even at some of the most remote areas in the Park. Additionally there are areas where dog-walking and mountain biking are strictly prohibited and these can be viewed on the Forge Mobile App and website.