Andrea Abbott explores a sanctuary that reunites children and adults with nature and the great outdoors.
For various reasons, today’s children don’t enjoy the same freedom as we did, and many grow up estranged from nature. So who can blame the seven-year-old boy who had no idea peas grow in the soil and are packaged by nature in a pod? “They come out of a plastic bag from the freezer,” he insisted.
Happily, there is a place that can redress the balance – Alverstone Wildlife Park (AWP), just minutes from the centre of Hillcrest. Opened in 1997, it was the realisation of a vision of farmers Lindsay Moller and Ian Buchan to establish a reserve. Eight neighbouring landowners collectively set aside 100ha rich in biodiversity which include grasslands, forest and wetlands. These habitats provide a haven for naturally occurring populations of duiker, bushbuck, bush pig, civet, genet, mongoose and dassies, and herds of impala, blesbok, blue wildebeest and zebra have also been introduced.
Occasionally, some of the introduced animals are sold to other reserves, and the proceeds help to buy new bloodlines to ensure a healthy gene pool.
Fully fenced, the park is a safe place for children and has become a popular venue for family picnics and birthday parties. And while fun is a big part of the agenda, so too is education, which makes the reserve perfect for school outings.
In conjunction with Dave Padbury of the Wilderness Adventure Programme, environmental education courses are offered. Programmes are tailor-made for different schools but broadly, activities include obstacle courses, nature trails, fun interactive games, and survival skills. There are lessons in, among others, nature conservation, snake and reptile recognition, first aid, and water conservation. For many youngsters, it’s a first chance to roam free in nature while seeing, often also for the first time, wild animals also roaming free in their natural habitats.
It’s not only about kids’ play. Grown-ups also go there to play, for example on corporate team-building exercises, for weddings and other special celebrations or end-of-year functions. Photographic and birding clubs (bird life is prolific although a species count is yet to be done) are among the many other groups that visit.
For walkers, there are various well-marked trails, the shortest taking about an hour and the longest about four hours. Alverstone residents periodically gather there for a neighbourhood braai, to renew old friendships, or forge new ones. Considering that much of the park is prime land, it seems a hugely generous deed to not only set it aside as a green lung, but also to make it accessible to the general public.
There is a modest entrance fee, the funds going toward the maintenance of the park, and a braai and picnic area is available. The only rules are that visitors respect the park and its wildlife, and behave in a considerate manner. For best enjoyment, smaller groups are better than big ones. You can visit any day, any time (no overnighting though), but you need to book first.
Mother and daughter Moya Moller and Tracy van Niekerk, along with Ros Galway, see to the daily running of the place.
Contact Tracy on 076 852 0362Tags: Alverstone Wildlife Park, child friendly, environment, KZN