Some three years in the making, Babanango Game Reserve is the realization of the surrounding communities' dream to create a meaningful conservation area, attracting tourism and stimulating the local economy. Located in the heartland of the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, Babanango Game Reserve is the first project undertaken by the African Habitat Conservancy (AHC), established by German philanthropist Hellmuth Weisser and seasoned South African conservation and safari industry veteran Jeffrey van Staden. The AHC successfully secured over 22,000 hectares of protected wilderness to form the reserve through contributions from several private game farms and land owned by the surrounding communities. The clients, Hellmuth and Barbara Weisser, have appointed Luxury Frontiers for the architecture, interior design, procurement, and project management for Babanango Game Reserve’s newest accommodations, initially called Babanango Travellers Camp but renamed Madwaleni River Lodge. The tented camp pays homage to the intersection of the culture, travel, storytelling, local terrain, and architecture of the KwaZulu-Natal region.
KwaZulu-Natal has a rich history as a multicultural attraction for explorers and settlers dating back to the origins of the Zulu nation. In 1497, the Portuguese leader Vasco Da Gama arrived in Natal, next the Nguni tribe traveled from Central Africa to Natal in the 1500s, then in 1824, the British reached the port of Natal, developing a sugar plantation along the coast which in turn brought the Indian settlers in 1860. Today, KwaZulu-Natal carries the footprint of travelers from Britain, Portugal, Central Africa, and India, all woven into the fabric of the local culture.
Encompassing lush grasslands, narrow valleys, and rolling hills, Babanango Game Reserve is rich in biodiversity and a haven for nature lovers. Through conservation efforts, the reserve harbors an abundance of unique game, including a stupendous 285 species of birds, and plans to introduce all of the Big 5 in the coming years. Some of the many animals you can find are buffalo, aardvark, giraffe, zebra, and hyena. If you are lucky, you may catch a glimpse of some of South Africa’s rare birdlife, such as the Blue Crane, the Black Eagle, and the White Backed Vulture – three of the nine rare breeding pairs.
Site Discovery & Selection
At the end of a day exploring Babanango Game Reserve's endless beauty, the Luxury Frontiers and AHC teams arrived at the site they would ultimately select for the new camp along the banks of the White Umfolozi River. Upon returning to the site the next morning, the team witnessed for the first time the breathtaking views of the sun rising from where they would site the future camp Boma (a traditional corral used for community gatherings).
The architectural narrative translates cultural symbols into contemporary expressions. Below are original concept sketches of Madwaleni River Lodge by Luxury Frontiers’ Head of Architecture, Murray Hardman, who was inspired by the Zulu warrior shield. The slender yet strong spear, the bold yet elegant curvature of the shield, and the ebb and flow of the river all inspire the light, sensitive, yet striking architecture we endeavor to stitch into Babanango’s landscape. Through the architecture, our team wishes to illustrate the story of the people, place, and time passed – a tribute to the terrain and all those who have shared in it.
During the initial concept phase, our design team imagined Madwaleni River Lodge as the setting for an explorer writing a letter to a loved one back home in a distant land. He writes at the crack of dawn when the air is covered with a thick blanket of mist settling before the glorious morning sun shines through it, bringing about the new day. He sits on his Roorkee chair, with his traveler’s trunk filled with collectibles resting on a moody deep Persian rug. He writes of his exploration and adventures while he rests his eyes on the African horizon.
To ensure the intricacies of the design translated into true physical form, the design team created a full-scale mock-up of the accommodation tents for the camp. From there, the team created an off-site model room to ensure that the innovative form and engineering of the accommodation tents would perform before commencing construction.
Slated to welcome its first guests in 2023, Madwaleni River Lodge is currently under construction. In keeping with the ethos of AHC and the Babanango Game Reserve, community involvement and enrichment remain the priority. Luxury Frontiers is currently working with local townships and tribes, procuring bespoke artifacts from local artisans, and providing employment opportunities.
South Africa's Next Big Eco-Tourism Project
Madwaleni River Lodge is a project we at Luxury Frontiers hold close to our hearts. It is an embodiment of our values to promote conservation and sustainable development while enriching remote communities through tourism projects. We are fortunate to work with visionaries like Hellmuth and Barbara Weisser who are dedicated to preserving places of cultural significance and natural beauty for generations to come. Stay tuned for more updates from us as we continue to tell the story of South Africa's next big eco-tourism project.