Ah, Zululand. A destination that entices with a bit of everything- cultural heritage, historical gravitas and an exceptional natural environment. This past November I finally returned after about 40 years, true story. This time I was headed for the all-new Babanango Game Reserve in Northern KwaZulu-Natal, a world-class, sustainable and fully-fledged safari and tourism destination, attractive to both the local and international market.
ONGOING DEVELOPMENT, challenges notwithstanding
In a year where the global pandemic has wreaked havoc on the South African tourism industry, Babanango’s ongoing developments, perseverance and absolute commitment to protecting and preserving the pristine environment that directly and positively impacts local communities and will benefit future generations for years to come.
Pic by Ryan Enslin / My Lime Boots
TERRAIN, FAUNA & FLORA
Let me begin with the surroundings. The prevailing climate in this Province is sub-tropical which gives rise to interesting landscapes that fluctuate between thorn veld, grassland, open plains, riverine thickets and acacia woodland, each one as interesting as the next.
I particularly loved the lanky Marlothii aloes, groves of stately sentinels, their tall stems dressed in petticoats of dry leaves. The installation art of the bushveld.
PRISTINE, ANCIENT ENVIRONMENT
Located in Zululand’s Umfolozi Valley between Vryheid and Ulundi, the Reserve rests in a pristine and ancient wilderness of divergent topography marked by plateaus, bouldery rock clusters and cliffs, and gullies and ravines shaped over eons by the coursing waters of the milky White Umfolozi.
WILDLIFE & SAFARI
Such differing habitats and geography guarantees a cool safari experience with regular sightings of, among others, buffalo, giraffe, nyala, zebra & impala, creatures that thrive in these protected ecosystems. And Babanango is paradisiacal for twitchers, sheltering more than 300 bird species including the exquisite Blue Crane, and an abundance of reptile and invertebrate life.
Under the custodianship of German investors Barbara and Hellmuth Weisser, and Jeffrey van Staden of African Habitat Conservancy, Babanango- meaning ‘Father there she is’ in Zulu- is a thriving conservancy preserving 22,000 hectares and counting. To this end, the Reserve partners with various like-minded community leaders and stakeholders.
As mentioned before, guests can see plains game like kudu, zebra, bushbuck, giraffe, hippo, leopard, buffalo, rhino and hyena and there are plans to reintroduce the remainder of the Big Five over the next two years.
Management is also heavily invested in the anti-poaching activities, using hi tech equipment and trained personnel to ensure high value game is protected 24/7 and that the fence line is under surveillance at all times.
COMMUNITY- a thriving partnership
The Reserve has created solid connections between game reserve conservation and the upliftment of the Emcakwini, KwaNgono and Esibongweni communities. It is a genuine and successful endeavour that is creating and sustaining economic opportunities to bolster social development and foster harmonious relations, and it’s not uncommon to see tribal Leaders and Headmen visiting the lodge.
The Reserve currently comprises several private game farms and community land owned by the Emcakwini Community Trust. Additional community owned land in the area has been earmarked for incorporation into the Reserve, thereby bringing on board other Community Trusts and their respective beneficiary members. These communities will benefit from the project through various initiatives undertaken by the dedicated African Habitat Conservancy Foundation (AHCF).
The AHC Foundation is a non-profit organisation through which African Habitat Conservancy’s corporate social responsibility programmes can be implemented. These include the AHC Bursary Programme and support of community-based projects, such as the sponsorship of schools and clinics in the region.
EDUCATION & SCHOOL-IN-THE-WILD CAMPS
School camps at Babanango are great tools for education and consequently self-discovery, development and growth. Babanango Outdoor Education events can accommodate up to 120 students at the Main Camp in permanent canvas tents that come equipped with comfortable camping mattresses, electric lighting and hot water. 24 hour security is provided for peace of mind and Babanango also fully cater for all meals.
The offering is diverse too with excellent battlefield and educational tours. Students can visit the historical sites of South Africa’s famous battles, while getting to see what life was like during the reign of King Shaka. They learn about nature and wildlife in Zululand and take part in self-development activities.
I stayed at two camps on this visit. Last week though saw the most recent lodge unveiling, that of Matatane Camp – ‘a rustic, back-to-basics camp aimed firmly at the local market’, according to the website, guaranteed to further expand the reserve’s tourism appeal.
~ ZULU ROCK
Zulu Rock has undergone a complete revamp. The camp location is prime, commanding 360 degree views and come sunset the sky transforms into a sensational, cerise spectacle. The experience is all the sweeter when you’re fireside with a G&T in one hand and homemade sweet potato crisps in the other. Oh, and the tapas assortment is beyond delicious as well. Let it be known that the culinary team at Zulu Rock impressed at every turn and all service across the board is exemplary.
DESIGN & DÉCOR
Chalets are designed to reflect the locale and that they do, with aplomb. Each has been built with its own patio and some offer private splash pools too. Suites are about coolness, clean lines and flow. In my room (3),the neutral palette was interrupted here and there with a pop of colour, rustic tones to offset the ecru shades. The raw stone wall was a well considered follow- through from the outside area, and in the bathroom a huge window invites a heavenly slice of Africa into the space, making an indulgent bath even more of a luxurious spoil.
~ BABANANGO VALLEY LODGE
(Rim-flow pool pic by Di Brown /The Roaming Giraffe )
This camp is in a relaxed bush setting in the Nsubeni River valley. Design-wise, it successfully merges style and comfort and one of the great drawcards here is the food – simply AMAZING! Most people don’t go on safari for the cuisine but at Babango Valley Lodge you’re in for a treat as Chef Khumbulani takes his menu and his plating very seriously. (I’ll leave it there for now and a more detailed post and interview with Chef will follow next year on the Daily Maverick).
There are 9 rooms, situated one next to the other, capacious throughout, and the honeymoon suite is dreamy, set slightly apart from the rest and fabulous for anyone wanting to steal away for a romantic sojourn in Zululand!
Little paths lead to the rooms through a conversation-worthy succulent garden and the rim-flow pool beckons on those lazy, hot afternoons that call for a siesta.
ADDITIONAL INFO IF TRAVELLING TO THE REGION
Nearby landmarks include the Isandlwana battlefield, Rorke’s Drift, Devil’s Pass, the grave of Piet Retief and the site of the Battle of Blood River.
To book your vacay at Babanango Private Game Reserve: firstname.lastname@example.org | +27 31 1000 362. WiFi is available throughout the lodge and all rooms have plug and adaptor points for the modern traveller.
A FEW BASIC WORDS IN iSiZULU 👉 ENGLISH
It’s always courteous to try and say a few words in the language of the people of your destination. Here are a few of the basics –
Hello: sawubona | How are you?: Unjani | Goodbye (to someone leaving): Hamba kahle (Go well) | Yes: Yebo (pronounced yeah-bo | Thank you: Ngiyabonga (nee-a-bonga)