Why owner-run lodges really matter

A holiday in Africa’s about the animals right? Well, to an extent- but it’s also about the people. Africa attracts some pretty wonderful characters and the owner of your safari lodge can make as much of a difference to your trip as the wildlife can.

The owner’s the person who can ignore the rules, who can give you the fun, because, frankly, she’s enjoying your company and wants you to have a great time. The owner’s the guy who can help you meet an elephant because he’s been here for 20 years and knows them. The owners’ the guide who tells you the outrageous stories that you’ll tell your friends for 20 years to come. And the owner’s the person who might just say “Ah, you’re travelling with Alex. We had a few drinks in Durban a while back- have an upgrade.”

So, I’d like to introduce some people who made my most recent holiday in South Africa especially wonderful:

Lindsay and Catherine (pictured here with their Dad, Anthony) owners of Montusi Mountain Lodge

Owner run Montusi Mountain Lodge

Lindsay, Catherine and Anthony in the hills

Montusi Mountain Lodge was the surprise treat of my road trip around KwaZulu Natal. I arrived mid thunderstorm, and was the only guest eating in that night. “We’ll bring dinner to you”, I was told. So instead of trudging to the rain to sit in a lonely restaurant, I snuggled up on my sofa beside the fire, with the curtains drawn wide watching the lightening crackle across the top of the Drakensberg. Would a hotel manager have done the same? Maybe….

Ant and Tessa, owners of Ant’s Nest and Ant’s Hill

Ant and Tessa

Ant and Tessa

Visiting Ant’s Nest is very much like visiting someone’s home (in fact, when we visited the lodge was so full we actually stayed in Ant and Tessa’s home, and couldn’t have been made more welcome).  Meals at are eaten around one big jolly table and the rapport between the staff is so strong Ant’s been heard to joke that he’s running a marriage bureau as a well as a safari lodge.  Having Ant and his wife Tessa on site creates an incredibly fun and welcoming atmosphere for a family safari one that we think would be impossible to recreate without themOn top of this, as Ant’s family first settled here over a century ago, taking it from cattle ranch to wildlife conservancy, chatting to Ant and Tessa is a fantastic way to properly understand the land and the challenges they face- not something you’d find in an every day hotel. We learnt more about rhino conservation in our stay here than I have done in 10 years of taking safaris in Africa.

And, of course, there’s the safari camp owner who told us the tale of the unfortunate guest found roaming the camp the nude in the wee small hours, but he’d better remain nameless…