Rocherpan Nature Reserve’s Phase 2 accommodation follows in the gentle footsteps of its Phase 1 development predecessor. While increasing the offering to guests visiting the reserve, Phase 2 also includes upgrades to the rainwater harvesting system and provision for universal access – all while maintaining a sensitive ecological footprint.

Reserved for nature

The heart of the 930ha Rocherpan Nature Reserve – the seasonal pan – is usually dry between March and June, and originally formed when farmer Pierre Rocher closed off the mouth of the Papkuils River in 1988, forcing the water to flow behind the dunes, thus creating a buffer between the sea and strandveld. The strandveld, which is endemic to the Western Cape coastal areas, is an endangered species and one of CapeNature’s priorities is to protect this precious part of the West Coast’s natural heritage.

The reserve was relatively unknown until it was earmarked for redevelopment by CapeNature, which completed the Phase 1 development on an existing site within the reserve in 2012. Rocherpan’s unique location, its untouched stretch of coastline and its abundance of natural birdlife, as well as its unmatched beauty, makes it an attractive location for local and international tourists.

Tourism manager Ramese Mathews says Rocherpan signified “a good candidate for investment”, and a great opportunity to bring people closer to nature.

A phased development

The development was phased to minimise its impact on the sensitive surrounding environs, Mathews explains. The Phase 1 accommodation (see earthworks issue 10) was built on the footprint of existing dilapidated buildings, which contained a lot of asbestos. These were replaced with two staff houses, four new cabins, and a new office building and stores.  A rainwater harvesting system with storage tanks was also installed to provide water to the off-grid site. Phase 2 was completed toward the end of 2015 and included four more cabins, additions to the offices, a new roofed parking area, a new picnic area with bird hide, braai area and ablutions, and a 400m-long raised boardwalk. With the increased roof area, upgrades to the water harvesting system were implemented and a new swimming pool was completed in the beginning of 2017.

As Phase 2 included adding new buildings and infrastructure beyond the existing footprint, an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was required, explains architect Justin Cooke of Architecture Coop. A key consideration of the EIA was building within the existing impacted area, which is fairly close to the road.

The lightest touch

“The key was to minimise the impact on the existing ecosystem, on a footprint basis but also from a visual point of view,” says Cooke when discussing the “language” of the design concept. The buildings are single-storey low-level lightweight timber-framed units slightly raised from the ground, appearing to “float” surrounded by the 1.5m strandveld vegetation.

The modest structures are clad with grey corrugated sheeting, combined with timber latte screening and a corrugated roof with a low rounded ridge. The choice of corrugated aluminium cladding was guided by the need to make a durable building envelope in a harsh coastal environment and be easy for CapeNature to maintain.

Rocherpan’s tourism liaison officer, Tania Beattie, says almost every part of the units can be dismantled and removed with little impact on the ground, “almost to the extent that if you were to come with a giant forklift and pick one up, there would be no residual”.

The Phase 2 guest units were designed at the start of the project to be the same as the two staff houses built in Phase 1. However, the new cabins are larger than those of Phase 1, accommodating up to five adult guests.

In Phase 2, more attention was paid to the water collection system and solar pumps were added and retrofitted to the older units. The rainwater harvesting system was expanded to include collection of the run-off from the new roofs. Cooke says Phase 2 is all about universal (wheelchair) access via raised timber boardwalks.

Natural by design

Cooke says each building is first and foremost a passive entity. The environment on the West Coast is harsh, with hot sun during the day, and strong cold winds and lots of moisture in the air in the mornings.

Cross-ventilation is created by tall slotted windows that act as fins when open, scooping in the air from the south and quickly cools down the space. An efficient fireplace in the lounge area can be used to heat the building when required and the large openings on the north side allow in plenty of natural light. The timber is grown locally, FSC-registered South African pine and easy to replace. Although a small amount of electricity is used for the lights and fridge, the geyser runs off solar power and the stove runs off gas.

A water scarce environment

Both Cooke and Mathews say water scarcity was one of the project’s greatest challenges. Beattie explains that the reserve is currently trucking in water from nearby Dwarskersbos (a 25km round trip) with their 5000l transportation tank. The lowest rainfall on record in the past 10 years was just 258mm and with the Western Cape’s current drought, prospects for rain are not looking good.

When there is rain, the water is filtered through rain runners and sent to the storage tanks. There are ten 10 000L tanks outside the offices and each cabin features two 5000L tanks and the cabins also feature dry composting (waterless) toilets, which further reduce water consumption by at least 30% (compared to conventional flush toilets).

The greywater from the older units is filtered through soakaways, and grease traps in the newer units. It then runs out via a pipe under the unit and back into the ground. Water meters have been installed in each unit for guests to observe their water consumption. Beattie says they are talking about limiting guests’ consumption to a certain number of litres per day/stay, thereafter requiring guests to pay for more. This will encourage guests to be mindful of water usage.

Close collaboration

Cooke has worked with CapeNature on a number of projects, including the multi award-winning Oudebosch camp at Kogelberg Nature Reserve. “CapeNature’s tourism team is very open to looking at new technologies and trying something innovative. All of these things have come about because of a unique collaboration between us,” he says.

Mathews says in a few more years and after a few more developments, CapeNature hopes to “lead the pack” in environmentally sustainable tourism products.

By Mary-Anne Constable

See earthworks magazine issue 39 August-September 2017 for the full feature.