The Homestead: Building ultra-luxury in Nambiti Private Game Reserve

Where is the right setting for a luxury game lodge in South Africa? We are creating the best safari lodge and want it to be in what is arguably the most beautiful private game reserve in South Africa. Certainly the one with a huge variety of flora and fauna, as well as all of the animals that you would expect to see on your luxury big five safari in South Africa.

What differentiates Nambiti Private Game Reserve from other game reserves in South Africa?

Clarke Smith, Chairman of the Nambiti Private Game Reserve, explained “We are not the biggest private game reserve in South Africa; Nambiti covers just over 10 thousand hectares, however, our big selling point is our incredible diversity. We have river systems, grasslands, thick bush, different habitats that can hold and support a huge variety of plants, birds, insects, and animals. At times you can see 6 or 7 species at the same time. We’ve got rivers, waterfalls, cascades. We also have lots of historical sites. And of course, there is the diversity of people, from the people who live here and call Nambiti home, including local Zulu people to the people who have come here from all over the world, which means there are diverse cultures on the site.”

The Nambiti website states that on the reserve, as well as the big five safari animals, “there are currently over 40 other species of game, including cheetah, giraffe, hippo, hyena, impala, zebra and the majestic kudu. The Reserve’s 23, 000 acres boasts incredible biodiversity; including savannah, thornveld, riverine bush, acacia trees and extensive grasslands that mirror the plains of central Africa. In addition, the Reserve is completely malaria free, falling far outside the low-risk belt. Since the Reserve’s varied vegetation is incredibly nutritious”

Nambiti was founded in 2000 by Rob Le Sueur. Captivated by the beauty of the land he had explored on horseback, he decided to establish a big 5 game reserve that was relatively near to Durban. It is very accessible from multiple locations around South Africa. He started buying up cattle and maize farms to gather enough land to achieve the space needed for a big five game reserve. In the beginning, 15 – 20 people were employed on the reserve. That number has now grown to over 300 people.

Clarke Smith continued “This is rural development. We say ‘Protecting the land is good for the wildlife and also good for the people.’ It is ultimately sustainable forever.”

In the beginning, wildlife was introduced; internal fences needed to be removed and a big electrified game fence was placed around the reserve to keep the animals in.

First, the land needed to be rehabilitated and healed. Then, the big five safari animals were gradually introduced. In 2001, white rhinos were brought to Nambiti, after which the buffalo arrived. Then, in 2004 the first elephant arrived. The first lions came to Nambiti in 2005. The first buffalo at that time were only male, so the lions would not prey on them, as male buffalo are not easy for lions to take down. Then the female buffalo were introduced.” Clarke reminisced.

It took a lot of resources to create the Nambiti Private Game Reserve that flourishes in South Africa today. No money was made in the beginning. Then lodges were built, and guests started flowing in from all over the world. Each lodge offers a different experience, so there is something to suit all tastes and budgets.

Then, around 2009, a land claim was lodged. The land the reserve is built on was where Zulu people had originally come from and where their ancestors were buried. The owners of the lodges and Rob Le Sueur began deep conversations with the local people and the Government. Clarke Smith is an attorney with a lot of experience in this area so he came on board to represent Nambiti. “Nambiti negotiated with the Government and the Zulu people, which I think was the right decision,” he said, and continued “In July/August 2009 we acknowledged the claimants’ rights to the land, and reached agreements with the claimants whereby the land would remain a private game reserve. The claimants saw the benefits of that in terms of upliftment for their community through employment and other benefits.They also supported conservation of the environment in the area, so we reached an agreement whereby the land is leased to, and managed by Nambiti Private Game Reserve, with shares in that company held by the lodge site owners and by the community. The management company was given a 70–year lease. 138 families who form part of the claimant community receive regular benefits from the game reserve , with an outside accountant overseeing that the rental payments and other benefits go where they should go. Each of the lodge sites has the right to traverse the entire game reserve.

After 2009 we worked on improving the animal herds. Then we started seeing birds, insects and plants coming back as the habitat healed and was regenerated. Some of the game reserve used to be farmland which had been over-utilised, so lots of work was done to rehabilitate that land.

The Nambiti Private Game Reserve has been held up as a model for rural upliftment and development. Our structure works because it is a win-win for everyone and importantly the local people receive rent,jobs and other benefits. Skills are built up within the local communities.

The Nambiti assistant general manager used to work in a call centre in Johannesburg. The people who grew up here were not originally exposed to the ecotourism industry or big five safari animals. They have upskilled themselves with some becoming guides on the reserve. We have outreach programmes: we have set up a bakery and give donations of food, freezers and other items to local schools.

Clarke continued “We provide a very secure stable environment for the community in the area, in terms of providing jobs, which is generally uplifting. Local businesses also benefit from work within the reserve and the lodges.

The anti-poaching unit is almost exclusively drawn from the local community. We provide extensive external training, then internal training. We have our rhino monitors. We are part of the black rhino range extension expansion programme run by the WWF. Because of poaching, we don’t publish any pictures of rhinos, unless they are recently dehorned rhinos. As a preventive measure we have a policy of dehorning all of the rhino within Nambiti, which is not a silver bullet against poaching, but certainly helps as part of our rhino protection program. Horns grow back after 6 or 7 years and we often get people, our visitors, involved in the dehorning process which is overseen by experienced wildlife vets .

We have rhino monitors and anti-poaching units to make sure they are all safe. . To help fund our anti-poaching efforts there is a rhino protection levy that all pay, and of course, the APU is also funded by the Nambiti Private Game Reserve.

We also monitor our habitat and the different species of plants on an ongoing basis. We have 50 research sites around the game reserve that are monitored every year so all the species of plant and tree life within those sites are assessed and we can monitor any changes.

At the moment there are ten lodges in Nambiti Private Game Reserve; with The Homestead there will be eleven. The Homestead is shaping up to be a super luxury safari lodge.”

The original Homestead was established in 1860, possibly by a British soldier. Its ruins have been preserved and redefined to express The Homestead vision, which is composed of three key elements: peace, love and understanding.

There are many, many, more historical sites dotted around the Nambiti Private Game Reserve that guests can explore during their luxury South African Big 5 safari holiday at The Homestead.

Clarke Smith has some quirky tales to tell concerning the history that is attached to the Nambiti Private Game Reserve.

“During the time of the Boer Wars, a train carrying supplies to the British garrison in Dundee was captured by the Boers at the nearby town of Elandslaagte. Amongst the goods on the train was a whole lot of whisky and champagne and cigars. So, that evening they all had a party and invited their British prisoners, who were told they could not run away as they were all having a party — and the prisoners did not abscond. The evening ended with the singing of God Save the Queen and the Transvaal Republic's National anthem, the Volkslied. After the battle a Scottish soldier wrote in a letter home that the Boers had ‘recovered’ a whole lot of whisky from the train that they had liberated after successfully taking the field. . The brand he mentioned in the letter was Dewar’s. I wrote to Dewar’s who confirmed that they were indeed suppliers to the Queen’s armed forces at the time.”

So, now you know some of the reasons why we wanted to set The Homestead in the Nambiti Private Game Reserve.

It has everything you could possibly want from a luxury big 5 safari holiday in South Africa: from history; to the beautifully conserved and varied landscape; to an incredible diversity of plant life and wildlife. A commitment to sustainable community living, all wrapped up in peace, love, understanding and outstanding natural beauty.