He is a sucker for sleeping with the doors and windows wide open when visiting a game reserve, admits Jim Freeman, even if it makes him a midnight snack for a million mosquitos. Luckily, there are no mosquitos at the five-star Kuzuko Lodge in the Karoo …
Sleeping with the doors and windows wide open in a game reserve allows the sounds of the bush to enter the room and makes me feel if I am sleeping out in the open air. At Kuzuko Lodge in the Karoo there at least are no mosquitos, so it was not one of those nasty buzzy things that woke me so abruptly from a deep sleep a couple of hours before dawn one day in March this year.
I listened carefully and there it was again; one of the unmistakable sounds of Africa, the whooping laugh of a spotted hyena. Hear it once and you will never mistake it for anything else. Though I went out on to my balcony to look, there was no chance of spotting the animal. Sound travels far in the dark and, perched on a ridge in a reserve of 15 000 ha, the hyena could have been in the valley below me or over the next set of hills.
“The real beauty of Kuzuko”, says lodge general manager Catharina de Lange, “lies in space and isolation.” Isolated it certainly is: Though the lodge is less than 150 km from Port Elizabeth, it takes about two-and-a-half hours to cover the distance by car. It is a fascinating drive though, especially after one leaves the N2 at Nanaga Farmstall and proceeds northwards through Paterson towards Cookhouse on the N10.
If you are an avid road-tripper, you will probably own the estimable Book of the Road from Mapstudio, which indicates several points of interest along the way. Do NOT use GPS or SatNav to indicate the route as it will take you on a serious detour. Rather get directions from the Kuzuko website (www.kuzuko.com).** The last part of the journey is along a relatively well-kept gravel road and the ordinary family sedan will have no problem traversing it.
Kuzuko borders on the Darlington Dam section of the Addo Elephant National Park and was for years a contractual partner with SANParks. The reserve contains most of the Big Five. Construction on the lodge began in 2007 and the facility opened a year later.
Kuzuko Lodge comprises 22 free-standing luxury thatched chalets, three of which are wheelchair-accessible, all with panoramic views of the gnarled Karoo landscape. The views are particularly impressive at dawn and dusk, when the wind sighs through the spekboom planted liberally around the chalets or when lightning flickers on the horizon.
Birdlife around the lodge is prolific and, in the Summer months, you are rarely more than a few metres from swallows and swifts that nest under the chalet and lodge eaves. It is ideal for intimate, family, and corporate getaways, with conferencing facilities for up to 50 delegates and the glass-walled restaurant and adjacent verandah can accommodate wedding parties of up to 120 people. Additional facilities include a spa, swimming pool, and playground for children. An on-site bird hide is nearing completion.
Like all hotel, resorts, and tourist destinations, Kuzuko has felt the hammer-blows of the Covid-19 virus pandemic. If there is an upside for domestic tourism, it is that it is estimated that a post-pandemic landscape will see people hesitant to travel abroad and will be exploring their own countries instead.
“Most of our visitors are European or British,” says De Lange, “but nearly a third of them are local. What will get us through after Corona will be South African support.” While wildlife – such as Sylvester the roaming lion and the cheetah wilding conservation project – will always be the primary attraction, ancillary activities are available, and a number of initiatives are in the pipeline to attract visitors, especially families,” De Lange says.
Foremost among them is a challenging 4×4 route for off-road enthusiasts. The circular route will start at the lodge with two groups headed in opposite directions using roads that game drives rarely utilise for some seriously bumpy driving. The groups will meet roughly in the middle for a packed lunch before heading onwards away from each other again. Participants will reconvene for a spit braai at the lodge. The route is provisionally scheduled to open over the Father’s Day weekend in June.
“Family members who do not feel like roughing it can stay right here and relax in their chalets, around the pool, or enjoy pampering at the spa,” says De Lange.