I relax a while on our private deck, contemplating Africa and how blessed I am to live here. I gaze down the rugged hillside, pausing to take in the splendour of a large Aloe ferox, its dried seed head testament to the splash of colour and nourishment it would have brought to the winter landscape. All I am short of is a glass of bubbly, which I am sure could be arranged, given the friendly smiles and attention to detail we have seen since our arrival.
Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge is a privately owned community partnership concession on the western boundary of the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park in Northern KwaZulu-Natal. It is a project many years in the making, with a number of roll players and financial input from a variety of sources.
It is fitting that the Gehren’s were part of this unique partnership, their love of Africa and her people evident in the way they developed, market and manage the other five Isibindi Africa Lodges, all of which have a very successful record of partnering with rural communities. Their story just proves that good business and community development can, and should, go hand in hand.
The result is the spectacular Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge, which in addition to commanding views, sports contemporary design, natural finishes and organic forms – in the main lodge as well as the 18 rooms that are nestled into the hillside and surrounded by natural bush. We were soon to find that we were to be staying in one of the honeymoon villas, with its own private plunge pool!
We were soon to find that we were to be staying in one of the honeymoon villas, with its own private plunge pool!
On arrival we were led out onto the deck. Here we deal with the formalities of check-in, a cool facecloth wipes away the heat of the day and a wonderfully fruity drink quenches the thirst. We are asked to wait awhile as the finishing touches are being made to our luxury (honeymoon) villa – but that’s ok, the bar is open and the binoculars are close at hand. We quickly spot white rhino, nyala and a couple of zebra… that’s to add to the great sightings we had on our drive up from the main gate.
The Lodge is set high on a hill overlooking rolling hills dotted with aloes, acacias and other indigenous vegetation. The drought is evident, the parched earth desperately crying out for rain. The upside of this is that game viewing is a little easier with animals frequenting waterholes and the bush not too thick.
We watch giraffe craning their necks to snack on the tender new growth of acacia trees, and delight at the antics of numerous antelope
Our ranger Warick, points out trees, birds, and other interesting things – it’s not just about ticking off the Big Five. We see an encouraging number of white rhino (given the current rhino poaching crisis in South Africa), a herd of elephant, plenty of buffalo, and zebra with young. We watch giraffe craning their necks to snack on the tender new growth of acacia trees, and delight at the antics of numerous antelope – the majestic kudu, posing for a moment before dashing for cover; the families of nyala that seem oblivious to our presence and impala males ‘having it out’ for the title of ‘main man’. The big cats are elusive – as cats often are, but that’s the delight of being in the bush… anticipation and expectation are part of the experience.
Arriving back from our late afternoon drive we are welcomed with a glass of Amarula, before freshening up and then being guided to our table for dinner. The food is beautifully presented, as locally sourced as possible and accompanied by a great selection of South African wine.
In addition to the fabulous food, beautiful villas, stylish décor and great game viewing, the people are wonderful – happy to share their experiences, their ups-and-downs and the benefit of having the Lodge as a source of employment and livelihood. Rhino Ridge is a great example that when tourism is done right it benefits shareholders, guests and the local community.