Parks Beyond Borders: Car-Free Park Travel in UK, Luxe Hotel Debate In South Africa's Kruger National Park, "Overnight Visitor Center" for Russian Arctic
Car-Free National Park Travel Is Possible In Britain
Now is peak time for national park travel in the UK—especially perhaps if you want to get out of London and avoid the Olympic throngs. Luckily, a recent two-part series of articles in The Guardian, a major British daily, offered an overview of easy and affordable ways to use mass transit to visit national parks in England, Scotland, and Wales.
The British National Parks promote mass transit but the premise and promise of The Guardian’s articles was that there are very doable complete trips available for parks using a variety of new or expanding services.
Beyond the usual use of the UK train system there are boutique and heritage rail lines “with vintage carriages” that can get you to places where bicycle rentals and even dedicated bus services exist either for sightseeing or as shuttles dedicated to particular park areas.
It also seems e-bikes are being rented and used on national park paths, meaning that you don’t need to be an animal to get out into nature (and there are charging stations at pubs and other stops).
Have you ever ridden an e-bike? I tried one in the Austrian Alps last fall—and it was a great experience! It's all you until you come to an uphill stretch. You can select varying amounts of "assist" so there's no need to just "go along for the ride." They make climbs more doable for the less fit but they can also offer a big dose of exercise.
One such new e-bike network is located in South Downs National Park. Another new e-bike program started last February in The Lake District where there’s also major new investment in bike paths and a dedicated bike bus. And yet another such "scheme," as the Brits say, is available in Exmoor National Park.
The Guardian article even touted an overnight horseback riding circuit in North York Moors National Park, one of the largest areas of heather moorland in UK.
Wales is a good example of how park-oriented buses make car-free travel easy. The Snowdon Sherpa buses in the area of Snowdonia National Park, “carry people and bikes on circular routes around Snowdonia from Porthmadog eight times daily on weekdays, or four times on Sundays, and hourly from Caernarfon to Pen-y-Pass for the Snowdon ascent (many single fares £1).” That makes it easy to pursue activities as diverse as exploring Caernarfon Castle and taking the summit train up Snowdon.
The Wales Coast Path just opened last May and a variety of coastal bus services make it easy to hike portions of the trail and get back to your lodging. One such option is called the Poppit Rocket. Another is the area’s “award-winning, vegetable oil-fuelled Puffin buses” which sounds akin to the propane powered Island Explorer buses in Acadia National Park in Maine. At Brecon Beacons National Park, also in Wales, there's a service called the Geopark Circular bus system.
Similar scenic and shuttle routes exist in Dartmoor National Park.
If you’re heading to UK with national parks on your mind—as well as saving money and taking advantage of mass transit travel options largely unavailable in the United States—check out The Guardian’s stories; part one and part two.
New Park Hotel Plans Spark Debate in South Africa
South Africa’s massive Kruger National Park is embroiled in a debate over hotel development. A new luxury hotel “will be built near the Malelane Gate, the most convenient entrance from Johannesburg and the airport in nearby Nelspruit,” says an Agence France-Presse piece published on Canada.com.
The controversy has racial overtones in that SANParks seems to be targeting “the so-called ‘black diamonds’ of the new (black) middle class, who officials hope will help make national parks more commercially viable. ‘Our assessment has shown that this group does not like staying in camps or lodges available in the park,’ parks tourism boss Glenn Phillips told AFP.”
The article says the intention is to attract more black South Africans to the park.
Conservationists have objected to the new hotel. “Retired Kruger park manager Salomon Joubert described the hotel plans as a ‘dramatic deviation from national park philosophy. National parks are there for their scientific, for their spiritual and educational values. They are not here as resorts,’ Joubert told television news show Carte Blanche.”
The piece quoted another ex-Kruger manager, Harold Braack, who “supported the hotel, saying the parks must evolve with the times. ‘I believe that the hotel development will be a benefit to Kruger and to local communities — this is important if we wish to have a Kruger National Park in the future.’”
The irony is that only 0.3 percent of the huge park—“nearly the size of Belgium”—is developed. The debate seems to be part of an overall move by SANParks to develop hotels in South Africa’s national parks to stimulate domestic visitation and “help make national parks more commercially viable.”
Russian Arctic National Park to Get “Overnight Visitor Centers”
Russia’s new Arctic National Park, established in 2009 on northern archipelagos of Franz Josef Land, is so remote that a planned visitor center/museum will likely be a hybrid facility that includes visitor accommodations as well as offices for park personnel.
The Moscow Times says the area is so inhospitable that the park offices are currently located hundreds of miles away in Archangelsk. The Russian government recently solicited bids to clear the islands of Cold War military debris in hopes that ice breaker-borne tourist traffic would eventually establish a modest travel industry to support the park.