July 2021 marks the Centenary of Wilderness and a public meeting to establish a Centenary Committee to facilitate the  festivities leading up to July next year,  took place last week with Covid-19 protocols in place. Marlene Barnardt, Ward Councilor with Dirk Wessels, Portfolio Councilor for Finance and Strategic Services and Joan Shaw, Tourism Manager shared ideas  with  the attendees. The idea of a Wilderness Centenary was initially suggested by Hugo Leggatt, well known Wildernarian to take place in 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic halted all plans in that regard and  George Tourism took the opportunity to support the centenary celebrations for 2021 as means to make up for the economic losses experienced by tourism service providers, following the impact of the the bans on domestic and international travel.

Cllr Barnardt noted that a festival will not make up for all of the losses experienced by the tourism industry, but it will go a long way to continue establishing Wilderness as a  destination of choice. “I would love to see a strong focus on wellness which could provide the sustainability to lead to ongoing annual events going forward. There are so many experts in the field of wellness living in Wilderness and with the unique and incredible scenic beauty at our disposal, I could not think of a better way to encourage visitors to Wilderness to enjoy the peace and serenity that attracted the residents in the first place. Wellness tourism is a world-wide trend that has grown tremendously and post Covid-19 will certainly peak interest in a wellness experience that embraces local culture, foods and the natural assets of an area such as Wilderness. I am very excited by the enthusiastic response to the proposed celebrations and trust that ongoing sustainable events that will keep Wilderness on the map, become my legacy as ward councilor.”

The concept for the centenary celebrations is to put together several events, possibly as many as 100, that take place over the next few months that lead up to July 2021.  All events that form part of the Centenary will be marketed with a Centenary logo and George Tourism will play a supporting role in terms of the marketing with the Wilderness Ratepayers Association (WRRA).  An event does not have to be a huge happening, it can be as simple as a beach clean-up, a musician at a restaurant or a wine tasting!  Organizations will be responsible for arranging their own events and these events will be coordinated by the Committee to form a part of the overall festivities.  Some of the existing events that have been suggested to form a part of the Centenary programme include: the annual SPCA Woof-a-thon; the Hoekwil Open Gardens, sailing regattas and music evenings.  Other suggestions from the floor included a Centenary Dinner, a soap box derby, beach yoga classes, an Island Lake swim and much more.  One of the highlights of the Centenary will be a launch of Hugo Leggatt’s book on the history of the area which is almost ready to go to print.

Cllr Dirk Wessels highlighted that he would like to see the festivities continuing for the whole of 2021.  “The Centenary should lead to sustainable, annual events that will generate an income for local businesses and create jobs, even on a temporary basis,” said Wessels who stressed that what makes Wilderness so special is that it is unique and pristine – a rare offering  that few other regions have.

The final committee consisting of volunteers was selected and which included representatives from the community and the Wilderness Ratepayers as members. Chris Boshoff, a local businessman and tourism expert has agreed to act as chair. Regular media releases will keep the public informed of events and activities.

Contact either Lindi Harley on lharley@george.gov.za or 044 877 0045 or Chairman Chris Boshoff on boardwalkadmin@global.co.za

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