Keeping a watchful eye over 58 000 hectares of wilderness, four lodges and a huge complement of 160 staff is no small feat. We chatted with Sanbona Wildlife Reserve’s General Manager Paul Vorster, who has a background in conservation, about what makes Sanbona a special place, the different accommodation options, and how they’re involved in the local community.
What’s your background and when did you join Sanbona? I have been a conservationist for all my professional life. I joined Sanbona in 2003 to assist with the conservation side of what was then a new reserve. I was very fortunate to get involved with the development of what Sanbona currently represents. The process of defragmenting a landscape and reintroduction of animal species (some small, and some massive) is what I was part of from the get go. It was of great importance for the conservation team to share information so that there was an undivided, uniform experience to present to the marketplace. It was because of this that I first became involved in the development of the hospitality department. With the establishment of a sustainable tourism and conservation product, this allowed me to become involved and hands on in all aspects of running the reserve and hospitality side, as well as marketing and sales.
What makes Sanbona a special destination? It’s close to Cape Town, malaria-free and offers an incredible wilderness experience with free-roaming Big 5. Additionally, it is ideal for families to enjoy and we do our utmost to educate guests, young and old, on the importance of wildlife and conservation.
Is there anything that your team does that is a little different from others? We do our very best to make sure that each guest has a personalised experience and try to educate them about the uniqueness of the Karoo. Bespoke turndowns await guests every evening and on arrival, guests can also advise us of any special occasions they may be celebrating so we can ensure their stay is even more memorable, such as private in-room dining or alfresco, if weather permits etc. Our Kids on Safari programme is really appreciated by parents and our younger guests. It goes beyond the regular options of a similar nature at many places. It’s filled with educational activities that really light the passion in children for nature and conservation and the importance of both. It is inspirational and something they remember for a very long time.
What differentiates each of the lodges at Sanbona?
Tilney Manor is an old 1800s manor homestead and the rooms and grounds are based on that Georgian colonial style. The location was chosen back in the 1800s for comfort and ease at the time, as it was the last outpost with water before venturing into the dry interior.
Gondwana Family Lodge is based on the site of an old Karoo farm and is built with that farmstead style in mind but modified to be luxurious and family oriented.
Dwyka Tented Lodge is built on a site chosen for its seclusion and embraced by the spectacular surrounding rock formations. It is a modern and luxurious take on the traditional African safari tent, but with stone walls, air conditioners and spa baths. Dwyka is more secluded and is popular with honeymooners and those looking for a romantic safari setting.
The Sanbona Explorer is a unique two day, seasonal, walking safari with tented accommodation. It really takes guests back to the original walking safari concept.
Please can you tell me a bit about the staff and the structure at the lodges? Around 160 staff between hospitality, maintenance and wildlife. Everyone lives here during their work shifts. Some are weekly workers that go home on the weekend, most are monthly that work 21 days on with 7 days off and a few more senior staff, or those from further afield, live at Sanbona permanently.
People are hired with the qualifications and experience needed to do their initial job, but training and internal development is common and we will promote or hire internally if and when possible. Skills development is vital for not only their respective, and existing, careers but paves the way for them to grow and set the foundation for possible future career choices. We have seen growth and development within our own ranks due to opportunities, such as scullers trained to head chefs, housekeepers studying to be therapists, with conservationists growing their expertise in hospitality.
How are you involved with the community? We like to use opportunities to bring children from the area out to the reserve where they can get close to nature, animals and be made aware of their environmental responsibilities like recycling, resource conservation etc. We recently built an eco-friendly school on site, which not only offers great facilities but enables the school children to learn mainstream subjects and also helps them to develop awareness and feel part of their natural bush surroundings. Our Spa Retreat Therapists visit local pensioner’s community centres to simply pamper them and check on their general well-being.
To read about our experience at Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, click here.