I was recently invited to participate on a blog trip with Fair Trade in Tourism (FTT) in celebration of their 10 year birthday campaign. It’s an organisation I’m passionate about, not only because I am a former employee, but because they are the leaders in responsible tourism in southern Africa.
FTT has certified accommodation establishments and tours around South Africa and Madagascar. Although I would love to visit all of them, my blog trip focused on 3 properties around the Eastern Cape – Safari Lodge and Woodbury Lodge (both in the Amakhala Reserve) and Camp Figtree in Addo.
Safari Lodge at Amakhala
Safari Lodge is located in a valley of indigenous bush at the northern boundary of 7 200 hectare Amakhala Game Reserve, on the N2 just 60 km from Port Elizabeth. This was my first time staying in a private game reserve in the Eastern Cape. It seemed that most of the guests has come via Cape Town to have their safari experience in the malaria-free Eastern Cape rather than make the long trek to Kruger.
The romantic Safari Lodge is graded 4 stars and sleeps 24 people in 11 luxury suites complete with private plunge pools and separate lounge areas. My thatched roof suite was spacious yet intimate with a gorgeous deck opening out into the bush. I loved the open air shower!
We had our meals in common area (which has wifi!). The staff was most attentive and the meals delicious. The rate at Amakhala is all inclusive so all meals and game drives are included.
The highlight of my stay at Amakhala was our game drive. We managed to see a cheetah, lion, wildebees, buffalo, giraffe and had a very close encounter with a young bull elephant!
One of the German tourists in my safari group took this video of the elephant approaching our safari vehicle. I was the one closest to the elephant – you can hear me giving a nervous squeal as the elephant came towards me. His tusks were barely 20cm from my face!
Responsible Tourism iniatives at Safari Lodge
The main reason for my stay at Safari Lodge was to learn more about their responsible tourism practices. At my coffee table in my suite was a folder with detailing an array of responsible tourism iniatives undertaken by Safari Lodge and the Amakhala Foundation.
Being Fair Trade in Tourism certified changed our mindset on how we buy and employ… – Eliste, manager at Safari Lodge
The Amakhala Foundation, established in 2009, runs the social projects of the Amakhala Game Reserve, as well as the educational projects of the Conservation Centre. The Foundation is funded by outside donor bodies as well as through the payment of bed levies from Amakhala’s lodges. The Amakhala Foundation focuses on the following projects:
- Education and Skills Development – Staff members have been put through various in-house training programmes on an ongoing basis, to enable them to take on new positions and responsibilities. Some of them have been involved in Hospitality Learnerships, field guide training. and leadership training.
Safari Lodge has also sponsored one of it’s employees to participate in the African Angels programme, which gives bursars the opportunity to study beauty therapy and start thier own micro-business. The lodge now has a qualified beauty therapist who earns extra income by givine beauty treatments to lodge guests.
- Amkhala Craft Centre – Unemployed members of the community are given an opportunity to generate income through the Craft Centre, where locally made crafts are sold. The beaded items are made by a group of local women working from their homes, while the sewing is done on site by a Feziwe Keye who operates her own small business within the centre, sewing uniforms for the Amakhala Lodges. Items from the Craft Centre are also sold at the souvenir shops at the lodges.
- Isipho Charity Trust – The Isipho Charity Trust is an independent charity operating through a Centre in the nearby town of Paterson. It supports over 300 children through 2 preschool classes, an after-care programme, feeding scheme, materials support for schooling, and psycho-social support. It also provides HIV/AIDS education in the local community.
Amakhala has been part of Isipho’s development by assisting with food parcels, raising half the funding required for the Trust to buy its own property, and giving time and expertise through the services of two Amakhala members that serve on the Isipho Board. The Amakhala Volunteer programme also provides manpower to assist with general maintenance of the property, the after-care programme and the running of computer classes, and beading afternoons.
- Environmental Education – Local primary school children attend education days at the Amakhala Conservation Centre (ACC), thus increasing envrionmental awareness. High school pupils are sponsored to enjoy a day of learning about habitats and ecosystems as well as experiencing the animals in their natural environment while on a game drive, while university students from Rhodes and NMMU have the opportunity to run selected research projects on the Reserve. The ACC also offers volunteer programmes for international students who assist with the development of the Centre and to participate in its various projects.
The staff at Safari Lodge
My stay was made by the friendly staff at Safari Lodge. I chatted to Mnoneleli Caga, who started working as a barman at Safari Lodge when it opened in 2000, and is now a field ranger as a result of the training he’s received while at the lodge. Mnoneleli says he appreciated the open door policy of the management at Safari Lodge. “There are opportunities to learn and for promotion here.”
Simphiwe Tembo has been working at Safari Lodge for 7 years. He welcomed me with a cold drink and cold towel and was the most wonderful host during my stay. He constantly checked up on me, ensuring I was want of nothing.
My one night stay at Safari Lodge was definitely too short, but I did manage to get a sense of the place. I was impressed with Safari Lodge’s responsible tourism practices, and mesmerised by the quietness, the sounds of the bush and the open spaces. Most of all, it was the happy staff who made my stay most memorable!
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