Africa’s travel and tourism industry has a projected growth of 4,9 percent and accounts for nearly 9 percent of the continent’s GDP, according to the World Economic Forum. The sector has incredible potential to help generate growth, create jobs and enable development, and all in a sustainable way. The bottom line is no longer singular profit – business now operates using the triple bottom line, also measuring the positive effects on people and planet. In a triptych of African luxury getaways, KATHY MALHERBE explores how sustainable luxury can and does work.
KUZUMA IRONICALLY MEANS ‘hunter’ in Matabele. We are told by the owners that Botswana’s president, Ian Khama, was so incensed about poachers that he decided to institute a military task force as an antipoaching unit. Not only is Khama admired for this, but the whole of Botswana seems to be behind him in his thinking. Certainly the tourism industry is thriving largely because of his leadership.
Particularly in Camp Kuzuma. Just under two hours’ flying from OR Tambo gets you to Kasane Airport, and a further 45 minutes to the solitude of the camp in a forest reserve. It is in the centre of the busiest elephant corridor that joins the Chobe and Hwange national parks. This three-hectare land concession has been turned into a five-star luxury lodge that promotes ecotourism. What makes Camp Kuzuma special is the proximity of the 200 000 elephants that roam this vast playground. Whether you are having an outdoor shower, sitting on the deck with a sundowner, or having a back massage in the open-tented spa, they are never more than a short charge away. The gentle instrumental background music ubiquitous in city spas is replaced by the rumble of elephants, the sound of occasional locking of tusks and the extraordinary expulsion of flatulence. It’s hardly surprising when you consider they consume 200kg of roughage a day.
Humans are way lower on the evolutionary scale when it comes to hearing. Elephants communicate continuously in a symphony of higher-frequency snorts, barks, roars, cries and idiosyncratic calls. Which means it can get pretty cacophonous when up to 140 elephant gather at the lodge’s watering hole. Camp Kuzuma pumps 35 000 litres of natural drinking water a day into the elephants’ ‘play pool’. Not only for the 180 litres a day they drink, but to ensure there is sufficient mud for them to bath in – essential to prevent the sun from burning their skins.
The young males gather around the drinking hole like adolescent boys at break, jostling, beady eyed, and generally staking their claim as immature adults. However, when the matriarchs and mothers arrive with the clumsy calves in tow, the young males respectfully move aside. It makes sense. When you have to endure a pregnancy of 22 months and give birth to a 120kg baby, you deserve to wear the proverbial pants.
From the decked central area of Camp Kuzuma, photographers and twitchers alike need move no further than the comfort of an armchair to watch the game or some of the 196 bird species living around it.
There are only five luxury 50m² tented suites at Kuzuma – all facing the bushveld and designed for privacy. They are connected by an elevated walkway, purportedly to give you a height advantage if you were to meet a lion passing through the camp. Each suite has a sundeck and you’re in a late 19th-century time warp among the Victorian high-backed baths, silver trays and teapots, leather couches and super-king-sized beds draped with mosquito nets.
As isolated as it is, you can still enjoy meals prepared by top-notch chefs in the elegant dining room open to the bushveld breeze, in the boma around the fire, or in the form of a private dinner next to the pool under the stars.
Visit campkuzuma.com for further information.
NINE DEGREES SOUTH
Imagine a game reserve bigger than Switzerland. The Selous in Tanzania is 44 000km², one of the largest protected areas in Africa and a tapestry of open grasslands, riverine forests, swamps, miombo woodlands and sandy river beds in summer that morph into raging torrents of life and growth in the rainy season. The reserve is named after naturalist Captain Frederick Courteney Selous, explorer, early conservationist and soldier after whom the legendary − or notorious, depending on your side of the political coin − Selous Scouts were named. Azura Selous Game Reserve, 9º south of the equator and a 45-minute flight from Dar es Salaam, is owned by Christopher and Stella Bethany who say that it is the wild nature of the area that captured them.
It makes having your Maasai soldier or ‘askari’ escort you to your rooms after dark and before dawn more than a charming service. If you have doubts about his authenticity then you need only witness his hippo whispering. He shifts a 1 500kg animal with a mouth capable of snapping a body in half by uttering a series of soft ‘choo choos’ and, remarkably, the hippo rises and lumbers off into the night.
The askari is assigned to protect, but the reserve’s trackers are there to hunt experiences. Guide Vitus follows fresh spoor with an uncanny sense of timing. We see a baby giraffe with umbilical cord still hanging from its belly; come across an elephant with a new baby; experience the thrill of a mock charge by a bull elephant; watch lion cubs following their mother with an invisible lead; a tripod of giraffe drinking delicately from a river, and come face to face with wild dogs.
Selous is home to over 40 000 hippos and the Great Ruaha River is teeming with them. What initially appear to be large, smooth boulders, suddenly immerse themselves then reappear. They honk, groan, wheeze and emit a cough not unlike a lifelong smoker. The highlight of the viewing, though, was the wild dogs – an endangered species and rarely sighted in the wild, but Azura Selous has three packs of them. We sit for hours and watch the 11 pups and nine adults left behind at the den as the rest of the pack hunt and kill an impala. From kill to fill is around 15 minutes and on the pack’s return, the pups and the alpha male and female vocalise until the successful hunters regurgitate the undigested food. Until the pups are about 10 to 12 weeks old this is how they are fed.
The design of the camp centres on ‘bringing the outside, inside’ and the large wooden decks around the villas are like private hides from where you can watch, listen and feel quite alone in the African bush. It is not unusual to hear the sound of a lion in the camp.
Luxury and wilderness is a fine balance and Azura Selous does it well. For this reason they ascribe to the philosophy of ‘luxurious sustainability’ with the focus heavily on ecotourism. Solar panels heat the water and batteries run the lodge for most of the day. Organic waste is burned while anything that can be recycled is trucked to Dar es Salaam. The sewage water is treated and used to keep the garden alive and all building materials are locally sourced. Fresh water from the borehole is decanted into glass jugs to save plastic.
The signature excursion of our stay turns out to be a barbeque in the bush – an open area, a central fire, Good Luck the game ranger patrolling with his rifle, and cuisine you would expect at a top urban restaurant.
The black night is hazed with a smattering of stars and gas clouds, long gone before the light reaches us. Lanterns in the bush, as if floating in mid-air, push back the dark and the wild. We are safe for the moment.
Visit azura-retreats.com for more details.
YOU NEED CHUTZPAH to create your own time zone when you are a mere blip in the Indian Ocean. Benguerra Island, 14km off mainland Mozambique, is 55km² with a population of less than 2 000 people. The time dodge is to maximise daylight hours, according to Faizel Kara, frontof- house manager for luxury lodge Azura Benguerra and the manager of the CSI Rainbow Fund. Cheeky enough to tweak the Greenwich meridian, he is ‘waiting for the Mozambique mainland to get with the programme…’
Arriving at Azura Benguerra Island is like being a terribly privileged castaway. A 10-minute flip in a Eurocopter from Vilanculos deposits you gently on the island. The central area and the villas are designed for maximum privacy, with a fusion of indoor-outdoor living and ‘mullet’ cuts of the roof thatching designed to maximise the view but ensure you are screened from your neighbours. You need only share your infinity pool with a riotous palette of tiny exotic birds as they do their toilette in the fresh water at dusk. If birding is your thing, venture to the island’s only vlei, which is dotted with flamingos churning up the mud for delicacies with their feet in a kind of choreographed moonwalk.
Like any island, catering for guests on a luxury scale means ‘little somethings’ on demand. Here supplies are delivered late at night, the dhow landing softly on the beach and fresh goods being carried by the locals, balanced on their heads. The service at Benguerra is just as discreet. Each guest is assigned a butler who ensures that you want for nothing and yet are left in absolute privacy. From the cocktails and snacks delivered to your villa at sunset to breakfast and dinner, you, and only you, are his focus of attention. The service, the excellent local cuisine, including fresh local seafood and a selection of the owner’s wines, especially flown in from their chateau in the Loire Valley, is utterly seductive.
But the lure of the island and the available activities is incentive enough to get off your sun bed and take a tour. See the school that the Rainbow Fund has built, or the neat villages, or take the island’s signature excursion by boat to the reef and then Pansy Island for a private lunch on the beach. The dolphins are playful marshals as the boat heads out to sea.
It’s a small slip off the platform and you are snorkelling above the reef, just metres from the fish and turtles. Pansy Island is next and, considering the rarity of this sought-after shell, is a little like being overwhelmed by a well-stocked candy store… The shells lie half exposed on a small sandbank the size of a living room. Even though there are hundreds of them, you are told to admire and leave them in this marine national park (and tread very carefully).
The staff set up lunch on a private stretch of beach – the décor artfully sculpted in the form of 3D turtles and a border of small shells, while flowers adorn the table and umbrella. Replete with a chilled French white, fresh fish and fruit, all that remains is to enjoy the peace until you are nudged gently back onto the boat.
Set against the experience of the guests is the incredible work that is being done on the island by the community and the lodge. Azura Benguerra positions itself as the first luxury eco-boutique retreat in Mozambique. Everyone understands the working of an ecosystem with great clarity. In the unlikely event that a local or visitor doesn’t understand the importance of preserving this little gem in the Indian Ocean, ex-army personnel guard the small island – fiercely.
Because the island is isolated, every commodity is precious. Candles are recycled, the lodge bottles its own still and sparkling water (saving the 50 000 plastic bottles a year they might have used), they use grey water on the vegetable garden and refillable bottles for shampoo and shower gels in the villas. Kara says they are starting a chicken farm to produce the 8 000 eggs they use annually and the chicken manure will be used as fertiliser.
The 100 or so employees at the lodge are all from the local community, and Sujado, our guide round the island, believes the symbiotic relationship between the lodge and the local community is what makes it survive.
Visit azura-retreats.com for more information.