Alien Plants the Root of Job Creation in Babanango

In January 2019, alien plants took on a useful role for the Babanango community in northern KwaZulu Natal. The invasive alien plants in the area are a major threat to biodiversity in catchment areas, potentially disrupting the delicate natural balance in ecosystems. With the likes of Zulu Rock Game Lodge and Babanango Outdoor Education (BOE) being under new management as of late 2018, there has been a renewed drive in the Babanango region spearheaded by Zulu Rock Lodge’s Director, Jeffrey van Staden, and his team to not only preserve the flora and fauna that call it home, but to partner with conservationists, non-profit organisations and the local community to educate people about the value of this eco-system.

The Zulu Rock Lodge and BOE management team partnered with Emcakwini Community Trust at the start of 2019 to recruit locals from the Babanango area to become part of an official alien plants removal team. This partnership created jobs for 37 trust beneficiaries who, under the leadership of Ryan Andraos from Zulu Rock (Deputy Reserve Manager), have been equipped with the necessary training and skills prior to undertaking this five-year project. “We depend on biodiversity for water, food, wood, clean air, medicine and much more, which is why it’s vitally important that we protect this resource. Alien plants can have a severe effect on water resources and as it is South Africa is a water scarce country, with drought conditions already having wreaked havoc in various parts of the country and placing an important spotlight on the sustainable use of water. An estimated 3 million m3 of water is lost in this area due to invasive plants. The aim of clearing these alien vegetation plants is to turn this space in Babanango into a secure catchment area, which will also improve biodiversity and eventually make the land more productive, as a result, they are unmanaged plantations at this stage. Although the local team has only recently started work on removing the identified plants – they have already made significant progress and demonstrated the community’s commitment to conservation in the Babanango region,” stated Andraos.

Zulu Rock Game Ranch is situated in a place of extraordinary biodiversity, which lends itself to the reintroduction of game, including buffalo and other big 5 animals, which is on the cards for 2019. It also forms part of the Umfolozi Biodiversity Economy Node development, a chain of linked private protected areas, private game farms and communal land, with the potential to create a conservation of 20,000 hectares.

“We are taking our role very seriously to ensure the local community also reap the benefits that will come with the refurbishment and reimagining of lodges like Zulu Rock and Babanango Outdoor Education in the area. Our goal is to play a key role in securing much-needed local employment for the community by creating long-term jobs in hospitality, conservation and management. Through our alien-vegetation removal programme, we have successfully upskilled people from the community not only on plant identification but imparted other useful skills and knowledge to them such as chainsaw use, health and safety, personal finance, site management, educating peers, and field safety and survival skills. The establishment of this locally based alien plant removal team is a great example of how important it is for private businesses and the local community to work together and be aligned in their objectives to successfully achieve a mutually beneficial situation for all affected parties,” concluded van Staden.

Introducing Nadia – Our Lodge Manager

We’d like to introduce the newest member of the Zulu Rock family, Nadia du Preez, who joined us as Lodge Manager on 16 October 2018.

Nadia grew up in Amanzimtoti on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, completing her schooling at Kuswag before studying an Advanced Diploma in Hospitality Management at Varsity College in Westville.

After completing her studies, she worked in various hotels and guest houses, most notably Protea Hotel Umfolozi, Babanango Valley Lodge and Leopard Mountain Game Lodge.

Nadia was seemingly born for the hospitality industry, such is her passion for working with people.

“I just love creating memorable experiences for people, whether that be a great holiday or a great individual experience,” says Nadia. “I love this job – there are always new people that you meet from different walks of life.”

Nadia strives to create ‘wow’ experiences for her guests – something she puts a great deal of time and thought into planning. And she has a lot to work within Zululand and at Zulu Rock:

“The view at Zulu Rock is incredible – it’s ideally placed and offers a dream view of Africa. The people here are also fantastic – no matter where you go in Zululand you are always greeted with enthusiasm, smiles and friendliness.”

Nadia is on a mission to continue Zulu Rock’s aim of offering outstanding accommodation and service, and an unforgettable experience complemented by big smiles. We’re so glad to have her on board!

Introducing a Reimagined Zulu Rock

Nothing can compare with the sounds and calls of the bush. I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be at sunset or sunrise, especially on a warm evening when the birds are calling, crickets are chirping and animals start to move towards the water to drink.

Zulu Rock is Zululand’s newest game lodge on the northern bank of the iconic White Umfolozi River. Only a stone’s throw from the mighty Nhlazatshe Mountain, we’re nestled in the Umfolozi Valley in a malaria-free zone brimming with incredible biodiversity.

The potential for conservation, assisting the community and creating a safari experience for guests – this is what a reimagined Zulu Rock means to me and my team! We’re starting a new chapter and couldn’t be more excited to share it with the world.

From small beginnings…

Zulu Rock Game Ranch was a game farm and lodge owned by a local farmer; it had basic accommodation and very few activities. We fell in love with the location, right on the northern bank of the White Umfolozi River, which originates just west of Vryheid, KwaZulu-Natal and flows eastwards towards the Indian Ocean. A well-recognised area of outstanding beauty, we knew Zulu Rock could offer so much more.

We officially launched under new ownership on the 1st of September and, together with the existing staff, opened our doors to guests and day visitors right from day one. Now, only a few weeks in, we’re already working towards creating a fully-catered African-style lodge. We’re in the first phase of upgrading the existing self-catering accommodation into stunning units that celebrate the heritage of Zululand and our landscape. Outdoors, a local team is busy building hiking, mountain-biking and horse-riding routes to appeal to families, nature-lovers and adventurers.

… Come great things

You’ll see for yourself when you visit, Zulu Rock is the perfect setting for a luxury lodge. We have incredible views from a sloped cliff-face, abundant fauna and impressive flora. Each unit offers an ideal private outdoor space from which to enjoy this unique landscape, including a lapa, fire pit and open-air shower. Visitors can also expect an en-suite bathroom, fully-equipped kitchen and air-conditioning.

We already have an educational centre and the facilities to host conferences and weddings, as well as some routes for game-drive safaris, bird-watching and a small (but perfectly formed) dam for fishing. Soon these facilities will be on par with other private luxury lodges around Kwa-Zulu Natal, but with the added bonus of outdoor pursuits like horse-riding and mountain-biking!

As stewards of a remarkable piece of Zululand, our goal is not only to preserve the flora and fauna that call it home, but to partner with conservationists, non-profit organisations and the local community to educate people about the value of this ecosystem. The fully-fenced tract of land with its abundant water and food is ideal for reintroducing game, including buffalo, so we’ll be working closely with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife to do just that in the coming months.

Zulu Rock also forms part of the Umfolozi Biodiversity Economy Node development, a chain of linked private protected areas, private game farms and communal land. Together, as a community, we have the potential to create a conservation area spanning 20,000 hectares in the next three to four years. This is just the beginning…