FISH RIVER CANYON VIEWPOINT

The previous Fish River Canyon viewpoint facilities consisted of run-down thatched umbrellas, broken stone walls and rusted railings, with a filthy stone rondavel pit latrine. Because of the expected visitor increase resulting from the 2010 World Cup, MET decided to completely upgrade the viewpoint. A small tourism survey done by the architects as well as MET feedback resulted in a brief for shaded seating with tables for which can accommodate different groups of people, as this is a well visited tourist destination and people stay for picnics or sundowners, upgraded ablutions and an interpretation display.

As the viewpoint is located in an extremely flat landscape, the concept focused on echoing the horizontal line of the canyon edge on the horizon, with a flat raised platform. Toilets are concealed underneath. On approach, the visitor is confronted with the platform wall on which a pole structure is mounted to shade the interpretation display panels. A split ramp leads left down to the toilets and right up to the viewpoint.

The platform is retained by a stone gabion wall, with a slimline steel handrail bedded in the gabions. The top of the wall is edged with in-situ concrete panels. To keep the balustrade as unobtrusive as possible, cables were used instead of more solid materials.

On the platform, four leaf/ fish-shaped steel-framed canopies, clad with timber “latte”, emerge from the ground and project over the rim towards the Canyon. The dappled shade is welcome on a hot summer’s day, but the gaps between the poles allow turbulent winds to escape, preventing the canopy from blowing away. The canopies are also intentionally not rain-proof, as rain there is often accompanied by lightning storms, and the safest place for visitors would be back in their vehicles.

The tables and benches are made from a steel frame with marine-ply tops, clad in galvanised steel sheeting as a more durable and sustainable alternative to the ubiquitous concrete picnic tables. The legs are bedded in concrete footings sunk below ground level, to prevent removal or tampering by people or baboons. Similarly, the seating between the canopies are slatted steel benches with backrests, also bedded in concrete.

Special care had to be taken to make the structures baboon-proof, as the canyon cliffs house a large number, and their natural curiosity causes detailed investigations of the structures when there are no people around!

To reduce the water consumption and the disposal of wastewater on site, water-recycling Enviroflush toilets where installed, provided with water from tanks up on the platform, which need to be refilled by truck from time to time. However, some problems are being experienced with the design and supply service that provided them. It may be necessary to change them in the near future to a conventional septic tank and French drain system.

The passage to the ablutions is closed with a decorative security gate, with a lock based on a coded number. A sign tells visitors what the code is in 5 different languages, not including baboon.