Does ostentation add to the bush experience?
A couple of years ago, a young violinist who flitted through my life for a while sat and practised yoga outside our tent at Quatermain’s 1920s Safari Camp in the Eastern Cape, eyes closed and unaware that a grey duiker was standing less than a metre in front of her.
The little antelope was unperturbed by the presence of a naked human but the same could not be said of the high-strung musician when she opened her eyes. I think that duiker’s still running and I don’t blame it a bit, given the amplitude of the shriek.
That night we teased her about being frightened by such a tiny animal till she came back with a defensive response that momentarily stilled the ribaldry: “They’re ALL huge at eye-level,” she said.
It was a jewel of a moment. But then, Quatermain’s is a jewel of a place that sparkles all the more because it is intimate (it can sleep up to six people in three colonial-style tents) and astonishingly affordable … especially when you compare its rates to the US$- based prices charged by glitzier neighbours such as Shamwari.
I’m not knocking luxury, far from it because I’ve had several amazing stays at Shamwari and other high-end wildlife lodges in that part of the Eastern Cape, but the entire experience is so beyond the financial reach of most South Africans that there’s little point in their even dreaming of a visit.
Picture: Quatermain’s Camp
Yet, I’ve asked myself even as I wallow in my private (heated) plunge-pool with a glass of something or other at my side, does the ostentation add to the bush experience? Can you actually return to New York and say you’ve been on safari in Africa just because you saw some animals?
For me, a couple of days spent at Quatermain’s, situated on Amakhala Game Reserve between Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown, feels more authentic. I feel that I’m communing with nature rather than marking time between game-drives in a five-star mini-villa whose walls are made of canvas rather than stone.
Quatermain’s is fairly typical of the fly-camps that served explorers and big game hunters such as Frederick Selous more than a century ago: comfortable, with all the essentials (ammunition, salt, tea, gin and tonic) and whatever luxuries could be born on the heads and backs of porters.
Selous was the inspiration for author H Rider Haggard’s adventure hero Allan Quatermain of the novel King Solomon’s Mines. Quatermain’s is off the grid except for a solar-powered unit for charging cellphones; heat and light are provided by wood, gas and paraffin.
Picture: Jim Freeman
Cuisine is hot rather than haute, with the emphasis on braai and potjie. The camp is owned and run by Riaan and Julie Brand, whose company is called Haggard and Brand Expeditions.
Like everyone in the tourism and hospitality industry, the Brands have taken a hard knock as a result of Covid-19 but their response not only bodes well for the recovery of their business but is also heartening for bush-loving locals.
Taking into account the social and economic realities and consequences of the pandemic – among which being that it’s likely to be some time before there’s any meaningful influx of foreign visitors – they’re offering a “self-catering” option … SANParks with pizzazz, if you will.
Instead of charging their usual all-inclusive daily rate of R3,510 per person, the entire camp can be booked out at a base rate of R1,800 a day for up to four people, with the additional two guests being charged just R250 per person.
“Though the camp would normally accommodate six people in the three tents, we can provide two extra mattresses at R125 a night if necessary,” says Julie. “The daily conservation levy of R125 per adult and R75 per child still applies.”
Optional extras include morning and afternoon Big Five game drives and walks conducted by a qualified field guide on the main Amakhala reserve as well as bush, birding and children’s adventure walks on the camp section (Big Five-free).
Amakhala Game Reserve began in 1999 as a joint conservation venture between the owners of six lodges who were direct descendants of frontier settlers who arrived in the Eastern Cape in 1820. Four additional properties added to the reserve, which not only hosts the Big Five but has lately seen the birth of two cheetah cubs.
Other optional activities include horseback safaris and a boat trip on the nearby Bushman’s River. Ice, wood, selected drinks and braai packs are available to buy at Quatermain’s.
For enquiries, e-mail Julie at email@example.com
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