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A look at some of SA’s top responsible lodges

Last week I highlighted the great work being done by Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa (FTTSA) in setting the benchmark for sustainable and responsible tourism in South Africa’s safari industry.

So this week and next I thought I’d take a look at a few of the outstanding FTTSA certified safari lodges and what they are doing to lead the way in eco-tourism.

Tswalu Kalahari

Tswalu Kalahari is where the award-winning BBC documentary “The Meerkats” was filmed, and guests at either of Tswalu’s two lodges – The Motse and the exclusive Tarkuni – enjoy close encounters with these delightful creatures.

At just over 100,000 hectares, Tswalu is South Africa’s largest privately-owned game reserve, located at the foot of the impressive Korannaberg, some 300km north of Kimberley.

This is the heart of the Northern Cape, and Tswalu sits on the edge of the vast Kalahari Desert, an incredible and completely unique eco-system full of rare and endemic fauna and flora.

Owned by the Oppenheimer family, Tswalu has restored the spirit of the Kalahari to the region by rehabilitating what was once farmland into an international award-winning eco-tourism destination.

And by pioneering the reintroduction of rare species like the desert black rhino and roan antelope, the future of this incredible place is looking brighter than ever.

Tswalu is equally committed to its community of staff and their families, most of whom grew up on the farms from which the reserve was originally formed.

With a pioneering environmentally friendly and fully “green” staff village, sports facilities, registered pre-school and fully equipped primary healthcare clinic, Tswalu also runs adult literacy programmes and skills development for the entire community.

Djuma Private Game Reserve

With superb game viewing, outstanding cuisine and eye-catching decor, it would be easy to forgive Djuma any shortcomings in the “responsibility” department, but thankfully its commitment in this respect is exceptional, with owners Jurie and Pippa Moolman championing socio-economic development in local Shangaan communities, helping to establish the Buffelshoek Education Trust for which Djuma has built two primary schools, a media training centre and the N’wa Tumberi Day Care Centre.

Located in the northern reaches of the Sabi Sands private game reserve where the Mpumalanga lowveld meets its Limpopo neighbours, Djuma’s luxury Vuyatela Lodge and exclusive self catering facility at Galago Camp are arguably among the best in the country.

Indeed, Vuyatela has to be one of the most original, “off-beat” and welcoming safari lodges in South Africa, with zany styling, a vibrant colour palette, amazing artwork, invigorating spa treatments and first-class service.

Pippa and Jurie’s commitment to people also extends to the workplace, where the ethics of mutual respect and recognition of individual initiative and excellence clearly demonstrate that responsible tourism is not just a business model, but a life choice.

Buffalo Ridge Safari Lodge

A far-sighted and inspirational partnership between the local Balete Ba Lekgophung community and local tour operator The Madikwe Collection, Buffalo Ridge in the Madikwe Game Reserve is staffed entirely by people from a local village, thanks to a visionary training programme operated by the lodge designed to ensure that the community has the skills required to run the lodge within a 15-year time frame.

So before you even unpack, it’s great to know that your hard-earned holiday spend at Buffalo Ridge is having a fantastic ripple effect on previously disadvantaged and disenfranchised people.

One of the first wholly owned community-based safari lodges to be developed in South Africa, Buffalo Ridge represents the future of safaris in South Africa.

Which for many is good enough in its own right, but add to this “feel good” vibe and an incredible location on Tweedepoort Ridge overlooking the plains and inselbergs of the western section of Madikwe, eight beautiful thatched suites, breathtaking views and first-class Big Five game viewing and you have a winning recipe for sustainable success.

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