Bird's eye view - our Valley



Bird's eye view - our Valley

Bird's eye view - our Valley

Bird's eye view - our Valley

Bird's eye view - our Valley

Bird's eye view - our Valley

Bird's eye view - our Valley

27 September 2016

Bird’s-eye view : Perspectives from above - Montagu and our surrounding areas,

A couple of times I’ve had the honour to fly in a small Denney Kitfox two-seat high-wing airplane with Richard Knipe, a man who knows our skies and the landscape like the palm of his hand. This is such an extraordinary experience, not only for the thrill of flying, but also to gain a more open minded and larger perspective of what is happening in Montagu and around our surrounding areas.

From the Kitfox, you are enlightened by a renewed sense of our area’s development, population growth, the state of our natural resources etc. It is easier to identify larger trends to construct an idea of themes broadly at play. And of course, some are positive, others negative, and many packaged in the form of opportunities.
Here on ground level, we so easily get caught up in our short term successes, problems and challenges, so much so that we sometimes lose perspective of what is needed to reach our personal, business, community and tourism objectives and dreams. I have compared some of my observations with the latest Langeberg IDP (Integrated Development Plan) and SDF (Spatial Development Framework) for reference. I can recommend that everyone have a look at these documents, it’s very insightful and can be downloaded from the internet.

I have identified a few topics that stood out for me, from hundreds of feet above ground, including the state of our natural resources, development and population growth, agriculture and tourism in general.

Our natural resources

From high above, overall dams across the Langeberg seem to be at relatively medium levels. We have been blessed not to have been as severely affected in the past year by drought compared to the rest of the country. The Langeberg has been on alert, but nothing critical. It is said that to break the drought in the rest of the country, they need about 5 years of good rain. For us, the outlook is better, with our many mountain catchment areas our aquafers and dams collect water much more efficiently and faster.

Our rivers also look good from the skies. In some areas, excess reeds are a concern and in other areas they work as an excellent bio-filter (especially where they pass settlements), slow the speed of water (especially during floods) and act as habitat for various birds and other animals like otters. The major concern regarding rivers is invasive alien species spreading rapidly.

Water issues are critical for our tourism industry, whether it’s about agri-tourism, water for human consumption or the impact of floods. There is a small group of people in Montagu making a big difference, the Montagu Hacking group, who are eliminating alien trees and weeds from our riverine system and nature reserves. They keep doing what they can with limited resources, and as we all know every bit helps. Join them if you can!

In general our fauna and flora seem to be in a healthy state from above, all thanks to our protected areas. As I always say, this is the greatest long term sustainable asset we have with regards to tourism. For those who cannot make the connection now, in a few years it will be as clear as daylight. Let us not wait, and do what we can now to maintain and protect our pristine fauna and flora. If you would like to be more involved, contact the Eco-club.

Unfortunately, when you get your feet back on the ground, you are quickly reminded of the many tortoise victims, especially this time of the year until late next year, and also snakes being unnecessarily killed. Please keep an eye out for our tortoises, snakes and all other animals. We have the SPCA, a tortoise group FOOT and also various capable snake catchers. You can get all these details from the tourism office.

Lastly we are aware of illegal harvesting and selling of indigenous medicinal plants from the mountain reserve. The ideal is if it can be regulated, or even turned into a community project under good management and supervision, this can even bring forth a tourism opportunity. Until then, please report illegal activities.

Development and population growth

Looking down from the Kitfox windows gives one the most complete picture of development in the area. Where you previously remembered open land in and bordering the town, you now see more buildings, mostly homes. Montagu South is nearly developed to its full capacity with only one area left behind the secondary school; Montagu West only has Piet se Pad left that is developing at a good pace, and the town centre has basically reached its full capacity with only potential densification left and Ashbury has densified and expanded quite dramatically, with a vast area left for further development. Beautifying is essential, especially along roads. In the larger area you can see many farms prospering with new buildings and infrastructure, especially in the Robertson wine valley. Agri-tourism has grown and the accommodation and activities are all visible from the sky.

Development, building expansions and restorations are generally in good taste and adhere to our town’s character and the guidelines of the Aesthetics Committee. It’s important that we all understand that, although the town is growing and developing, we must make sure we do not lose our heritage and character. The kind of middle and upper income groups who buy into Montagu, really invest into the collective look and feel. This look and feel does attract the type of people that can potentially also uphold and maintain our heritage and character. The day we lose this collective look and feel, we will sell ourselves short and regret it for future generations. We have the aesthetics committee in place and they provide great guidance.

Regarding infrastructure, one of the major projects is of course the road upgrade between Ashton and Montagu. We are more than aware of the many businesses (and residents) especially along Long street that are severely affected by the roadworks. You have our full empathy and believe us when we say that we do what we can to help. This is a sensitive and difficult subject, because so many of us have been affected somehow, but I’m sure we all can agree that once completed, we all will benefit in the long term. From above the Kogmans Kloof one can comprehend the scale of the project and the long term benefit. This upgrade will open the door wider for more prosperity and tourism growth. As they say good roads bring more people.

Population growth in the area is somewhat of a concern, because our economic growth is slower in relation to population growth. The reality is that only a handful of new jobs are created, but exponentially more people need to make a daily living. Tourism is one of the major employers and I believe will become even more so in the very near future. In this regard tourism also plays a major role having a positive impact on social problems.
The latest available 2011 Montagu census for you interest:
Population: 15176
Households: 4029

From the aircraft one quickly realises - just looking at the number of additional houses and densification - that the figures must be very different now compared to 5 years ago. On Google Earth it’s also possible to look at previous years’ satellite images and that clearly supports this. According to the SDF about 30ha is required for additional housing.
Unfortunately the formula of faster population growth in relation to job growth can lead to undesired social-economic effects. As for tourism, factors such as crime is a major threat but it's managed quite well by our authorities and community initiatives. Montagu has various community neighbourhood watch organisations - make sure to get involved! The surrounding farm areas have also joined hands to establish farm watch organisations. The tourism office can put you in contact with these various organisations. In cities crime is now out of hand, but here we are still in control. The best thing you can do is to simply take a photograph of anyone or anything suspicious with your cell phone and report immediately. This alone makes a huge difference.

Agriculture

It’s amazing to get a birds-eye view of agriculture - as they say in Afrikaans, “dit lyk soos ‘n lappies kombers”, translated, ‘it looks like a patchwork-blanket’ with its ever changing colours and textures. I include agriculture here, since I also mentioned agri-tourism. Our town and greater area is dependent on agriculture for many reasons, from food and job security to the fine wines and activities we enjoy. One can also see that agriculture is expanding and diversifying. Agriculture remains one of the major employers. Our area boasts the ideal climate and we do have ample water supply, thus the prospects are positive.

One area that still needs more work is making sure that locals as well as visitors have easy access to fresh produce. The Saturday village market has always been the ideal space for this. Whenever there is oversupply, please remember those in need!

Tourism

From the skies it’s clear that we are located in the most ideal location. Fly 5 miles north and you are in the Karoo, 5 miles east and you're in the Klein Karoo, 5 miles south the Overberg and 5 miles west you are in the Boland. Our area is beautiful and diverse with much to offer. It is also the heart of the famous Route 62.

MATA (Montagu-Ashton Tourism Association) has been working beyond the normal hours in the effort to make sure that tourism stays alive and well. The manager Mareletta and the office ladies, Anne-Marie, Mariza and Marilyn have yet again done an incredible job this year. The evidence lies in the number of projects, events, publicity, new members and number of visitors they serve. I can say will all confidence that they are exceptional at what they do.
The MATA committee has also proved fit to sail the ship especially during some storms. It’s never been easy with the omnipresent funding limitations, but we have managed to increase our income with better systems and money management. We do however still require more funding and it remains an ongoing battle.

Montagu’s Tourism Statistics are still showing positive growth with regards the number of visitors we are receiving. At this stage the statistics do not show a negative impact due to the roadworks, but businesses in Long Street are being severely affected. We ask all residents and businesses to go out of your way to support these businesses in particular.

To conclude
Frankly, although we face many challenges, relative to similar sized rural towns in South Africa, we are extremely fortunate. There are not many towns in South Africa that are receiving upgrades in their infrastructure like improved roads and new bridges, reasonable community, business and municipal collaboration, future economic prospects that glitter compared to the rest of the country’s economic growth, a true and effective sense of community and an abundance of optimistic, energetic individuals and organisations that are willing to give beyond themselves.
As for all the negative factors, this town has proven that it has the ability to overcome and survive, as long as people stand together. This town has an interwoven community involvement and support system, and we should always embrace it.
As for tourism, the future remains brimming with growth and potential. We do need to remain positive at present, since we have generated a lot of momentum in the past few years, and it’s that momentum that can help us survive through the challenging times.

When Richard is not flying, he also enjoys riding his motorcycle and his advice is simple, “stand up, look up and open the throttle”, that’s how you remain on your bike and get to the other side.
I thank MATA and all members for entrusting me with the Chairmanship for the past 3 years.
As from tonight my term has expired. Thank you for your participation in making our town and valley such an extraordinary and special place.

o o o 0 O 0 o o o

(And from the MATA Committee and Members Petrus, our grateful thanks for your valued input these past years too. We could not have wished for someone with a better disposition to fill the position as Chairman .... always friendly, always willing to help where you can, enthusiastic about Tourism and about our Town. Above all so often the "calm in the face of our storms" - glad you availed yourself to remain on our committee for the year ahead!)