Babanango Game Reserve

Tucked away in the rolling hills of northern KwaZulu-Natal, with a history dating back to the origins of the Zulu nation, Babanango Game Reserve is an unique success story that’s protecting a vast African wilderness while uplifting rural community in the process. Some three years in the making, Babanango Game Reserve is the realisation of the communities' dream to create a wilderness area that would attract tourism and stimulate the local economy. The starting signal for the implementation of the project was given at the beginning of 2016. Babanango is the first project being undertaken by African Habitat Conservancy (AHC), established by German philanthropist Hellmuth Weisser and seasoned South African conservation and safari industry veteran Jeffrey van Staden to support the conservation of African wildlife in the north-west regions of KwaZulu-Natal through investment and community development. It's seen several private game farms and land owned by the communities brought together to form the reserve. Babanango Game Reserve is home to three lodges, some of which are already open or will open at the end of 2020: Babanango Valley Lodge, Zulu Rock Lodge and Matatane Lodge. A further two 4 and 5 star lodges are planned to open in late 2022 and other accommodation options are also being planned. With a range of habitats and varied topography, the Reserve offers excellent mammal sightings, including buffalo, giraffe, nyala, zebra and impala. The Reserve is also home to rich reptile and invertebrate life, and more than 400 species of bird. Babanango is also home to a National Heritage Site. The area is also rich in history - nearby sites include the Isandlwana battlefield, Rorke's Drift, Devil's Pass, the grave of Piet Retief and the site of the Battle of Blood River.

Located 50km from the town of Vryheid, high on the breathtakingly beautiful mist belt grassland plateau, with rolling savannah, thornveld and 23km of river frontage on the White Umfolozi River, Babanango is home to a diverse range of wildlife species and mixed biomes. It's a game reserve in the making and a trailblazing one at that.

Location

Babanango Game Reserve is in the Umfolozi Valley in Zululand, between Ulundi and Vryheid, located in a malaria-free zone. The GPS location is 28° 10 30 S, 31° 05 19 E. Guests can fly to either Johannesburg - OR Tambo International Airport or King Shaka International Airport in Durban. From there they can drive themselves to Babanango Game Reserve or alternatively take a private charter to Ulundi airport where the Babanango Game Reserve team will pick them up. The game reserve also has a helipad in case guests want to fly directly into the Reserve with their own helicopter or a charter flight.

The nearest town is Nqutu with basic Supplies. Other cities in the area:

  • Dundee 1h 39 min (113,5 km) via R68
  • Newcastle 2h 30 min (186,6 km) via R68 & R34
  • Richards Bay 2h 24 min (158,7 km) via R68 & R34
  • Empangeni 2h 8min (143,8 km) via R68 & R34

The story behind the project

Conservation is at the heart of Babanango, with the aim of restoring the land to a pristine wilderness filled with the species that would have been found here hundreds of years ago. This started last year with the release of a seed herd of 23 disease-free buffalo onto a 945ha section of the reserve. Leopard already occur naturally in the area, so Babanango plans to reintroduce the remainder of the Big Five species (elephant, rhino, leopard, lion and buffalo) over the next two years, by the year 2022. There are already good numbers of giraffe and key antelope species from impala and kudu to wildebeest. Hippo and bushbuck have also recently been added.

The reserve is also home to 281 bird species, as well as more than 200 different species of plants; whilst a recent biological survey has found a few interesting amphibian and butterfly species.

Using a conservation model underpinned by sustainable tourism, Babanango helps generate revenue streams that are critical to the upliftment of the reserve's partners - the Emcakwini, KwaNgono and Esibongweni communities - through job creation, skills development, and training. To this end African Habitat Conservancy (AHC) has created the African Habitat Conservancy Foundation (AHCF) to work on various community projects.

Focused on attracting tourism to the area as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic allows it, the development of Babanango and its first accommodation offering - Babanango Valley Lodge - has thus far created 110 new jobs, 90 of which have been filled by local people, with another 150 new, permanent posts in the pipeline.

But this is not all, as the African Habitat Conservancy Foundation’s (AHCF) objective is to address education, employment and entrepreneurial opportunities through the funding of selected projects such as schools, infrastructure, agricultural initiatives and other ventures. The opportunities for locals furthering their prospects are exciting with many new “spinoff” businesses and procurement opportunities in the pipeline. Ideas include a shuttle service providing staff transportation, a refuse removal company and the growing of fresh produce for use in the lodges.

Accommodation

Babanango Game Reserve is currently home to three lodges: Babanango Valley Lodge, Zulu Rock Lodge and Matatane Lodge.

Each lodge is tucked into its own slice of pristine bush and has distinct offerings, activities and facilities to better cater to your wants and needs. The entire reserve forms a 22,000 hectare conservation area encompassing mistbelt grasslands, thornveld and river frontage. A further two 4 and 5 star lodges are planned to open in late 2022 and other accommodation options and facilities are also being planned.

Babanango Valley Lodge:
Situated in a remote valley in the south of Babanango Game Reserve, Babanango Valley Lodge offers four-star catered accommodation in a relaxed bush setting. The lodge overlooks the picturesque Nsubeni River valley with its granite koppies, sandstone cliffs and quartzite ridges stretching into the far distance.

With nine tastefully decorated and spacious two-sleeper suites, each bedroom has a garden outlook with views over the reserve. Two rooms have interleading doors to create a comfortable four-bed family unit. The generous honeymoon suite, slightly separate from the lodge, offers the perfect retreat for newly married couples or those looking to indulge in a little alone time.

With Chef Khumbulani at the helm, South African-inspired cuisine is on the menu. Guests can look forward to four-course traditional meals featuring bobotie, milk tart, malva pudding and more. With a few culinary tricks up his sleeve, Chef will also wow guests with his duck a l’orange served up with a distinctive local twist. Traditional boma dinners, bush dinners and breakfasts are also offered.

At Babanango Valley Lodge, guests can do as much or as little as they like. If you are looking for pure relaxation, the suites offer an incredible view. The glittering swimming pool also invites you to lounge. For the adventurous, this private nature reserve boasts a large diversity of animals, birds, trees and wildflowers to discover, and contains more than 30km of self-guided trails. Morning and evening nature drives are conducted daily while guests can also join one of the guided bird walks. Trail running is also available, and history tours of the nearby battlefields and a visit to the eMakhosini Valley (Valley of the Kings) can also be arranged.

Zulu Rock Lodge:
Situated atop a mountainside on the outer reaches of Babanango Game Reserve and overlooking the White Umfolozi Valley, three-star Zulu Rock Lodge offers sweeping views across a sensational wilderness and an immersive bush experience. It will open in November 2020. A nature lover’s paradise, the terrain at Zulu Rock includes mist belt grasslands, thornveld and many kilometres of White Umfolozi river frontage.

Decorated to minimalistic tastes with clean lines and curated Zulu artefacts, the lodge’s stone clad chalets are spaced out for privacy and designed to maximise the views, allowing the natural surroundings into the built space. Featuring seven units and sleeping up to 18 people, guests will fall in love with this intimate bush setting while sitting at the lapa (recreational space) or cooling down in the pool. Set back from the hillside, the family unit sleeps four people and boasts its own pool and lapa area with space for children to play. It also has a back veranda where guests can enjoy the bush. There is also a dining room and a bar. Dinner, bed, breakfast and lunch plus two game drives are included in the price. The lodge’s honeymoon suite also has its own pool and private deck. With majestic views extending towards the White Umfolozi River in the distance, this romantic corner of the reserve offers that ‘on-top-of the-world’ feeling.

Guests will have the chance to see buffalo, giraffe, hyena, zebra, several species of antelope, and if they’re lucky, the elusive aardvark and aardwolf. Teeming with birds, the reserve boasts half of South Africa’s birdlife species including nine breeding pairs of blue crane, black eagles, the lappet faced and white backed vultures, crowned eagles and the shy narina trogon. Guided nature drives are available from the lodge twice daily while guests can self-drive to the nearby battlefields areas of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift. Even doing nothing at all is an absolute treat with just the area’s dramatic hillsides and valleys offering a feast for the eyes.

Matatane Lodge:
Matatane Lodge is situated in the White Umfolozi Valley, close to the impressive Nhlazatshe Mountain. If you’re after an outdoor adventure, the Three-star accommodation Matatane is the place to be with its hiking, game viewing, mountain biking, birding and soon to be completed Activity Centre with adventure activities such as abseiling and zip-lining. Matatane accommodation includes, two tented villages sleeping 6 per tent on stretches in a catered or self-catered capacity. Chalets are offline until December 2020. Tented village accommodation opened on the 1st July 2020. Guests can spend the evenings around a crackling fire in the spacious Braai area and enjoy the magnificent view of the Milky Way on a clear night.

Leisure

STARGAZING – A one-and-a-half hour guide to the Milky Way and the constellations that feature in the fabulous, velvety African night skies. Includes a hot beverage.

GUIDED MOUNTAIN BIKING - Boasting 25 km of exciting trails. Trails available with a guide excludes equipment. Own equipment to be used. Times range between one to four hours (if the whole course is done with an entrylevel fitness).

GUIDED NATURE WALKS - Nothing feels quite like a scenic walk through the bush. The guided walks can range from 1 - 3 hours depending on guest fitness levels and needs.

GUIDED COPPER MINE TOURS – Guests can enjoy a unique historical experience visiting the nearby copper mine. Here visitors learn more about the geographical importance of the mine and its mining methods, and then embark on an exploration of the shaft itself. This tour lasts 2 hours.

GUIDED HISTORICAL TOURS - Take dive into local history with the guided tours. Guides can be arranged within a 24-hour notice period. There is an additional charge if transfers to sites are required.

GUIDED TOUR TO ISANDLWANA & RORKE’S DRIFT - From the lofty heights of the Nqutu Ridge, guests can enjoy a panoramic view of both the Isandlwana and Rorke’s drift battlefield. During this 8-hour history tour, guests will be hands-on in role-play and with visual aids.

GUIDED PHOTOGRAPHIC DRIVES - Guests can enjoy the beautiful landscape during a 2.5-hour photographic tour.

GAME & NATURE DRIVES - Am: 05h30 – 08h30 (summer) / 06h00 – 09h00 (winter); Pm: 16h00 – 19h00 (summer) / 15h00 – 18h00 (winter)

Do you have any further questions about the hotel?

Astrid Oberhummer
Astrid Oberhummer
Sales Owner / Managing Director
Friederike Bührdel
Friederike Bührdel
Communications Senior Communications Manager