At the Heart of a Safari

an ideal spot to enjoy natures 'wild garden' (© Motswari Private game Reserve)

An ideal spot to enjoy natures ‘wild garden’ (© Motswari Private Game Lodge)

Our encounter was brief, way too brief in fact, but a few short hours was all we needed to catch the heart of what the family-owned Motswari Private Game Lodge is all about.  The core values that are summed up in the phrase ‘Arrive a visitor and leave as a friend’ are evident wherever you go and with everyone that you interact with.

Brunch with Kathy and Steve Bergs, Motswari Directors, was a relaxed affair with sumptuous food and flowing conversation.  My attention was drawn to the one grassy patch of lawn, a little weathered and brown, what you would expect for mid-winter in this part of the world, but certainly not what you’d expect from a lodge of this calibre… Steve explained that although lush emerald lawns are aesthetically pleasing, they are invasive, require ongoing maintenance and vast amounts of water to keep them green, and they destroy the growth of other plant species.  Motswari has committed to operating according to a scientific Environmental Management Plan, and part of this is the recreation of the gardens into an entirely indigenous environment, which will ultimately return to its original state.

The pleasure of this is evident with the crunching sound of leaves underfoot, and the delight of the squirrels as they romp and forage in the leaf matter.  The goal is to create a natural environment that conforms to the natural laws of the bush, in this way fewer resources are required to plant and maintain the ‘gardens’ and the guest experience is enhanced, as animals are attracted into the camp area to feed off the plants.

The 15 thatched, en suite bungalows, built in the traditional African shape of rondavels, are designed for minimal impact on the environment, using natural materials, with bush and river views.  Should you be lucky enough to stay in either “Cheetah“ or “Rhino“ bungalow, you may be fortunate to ‘share’ your bath-time with a few wallowing pachyderms, as the bathtub overlooks a waterhole that is regularly frequented by elephants and the occasional hippopotamus.

This is one of the many waterholes and pans that are fed by using recycled water from the lodge.

Motswari has an integrated management system in place to conserve and recycle water used at the lodge and to prevent potentially negative impacts on the surrounding vegetation and wetlands.  Wetlands function as natural water filtration systems, with the aquatic vegetation within the system acting as a filter of sediments, pollutants and chemical loads.

Motswari has attempted to create as large a wetland system as possible, not only for their aesthetic value and the animals and birds they attract, but also because a larger and shallower wetland system allows for greater filtration and improved functionality.

Guest suite (© Motswari Private Game Reserve)

Guest suite (© Motswari Private Game Lodge)

Nature's art...

Nature’s art…

The Tswana translation for Motswari means to “keep and conserve”, this philosophy which began with the Geiger family, owners since 1979, has been faithfully adhered to. Their ethos of conservation and community development has had a profound effect on surrounding communities – from chefs to trackers, maintenance staff to game rangers, almost everyone employed at the lodge comes from the local villages, each staff member supporting, educating, motivating and nurturing numerous others.

Motswari began empowering disadvantaged people long before it became trendy, and Black Economic Empowerment became legislated.  This is evidenced in their being awarded the highest grades in the coveted Fair Trade Certification Awards for fairness, community upliftment, and standards of training and mentorship of the 45 dedicated people who work there.

Take Godfrey Mathebula, Head Field Guide and Assistant Manager, born on “Java’ the original Geiger farm to Sandros, a farm labourer and his wife – Mr. Geiger paid for Godfrey’s schooling, and then on completing school offered him employment.  Godfrey worked in the workshop at Motswari, he was smart and worked hard, and had soon worked his way up to the position of Head of Department – the first Shangaan to achieve this position.

Although he had reached a high point in his career in the workshop, Godfrey’s dream was to become a guide, with the assistance of management, he ‘moonlighted’ to learn the art of guiding – workshop by day, and studying by night.  He cracked the level one exam, and took every opportunity he could to help with driving.  Soon the opportunity arose for a permanent position as a guide – and although this was a great loss to the workshop, he was allowed to follow his dream. He set the standards high, with his polite, knowledgeable and witty manner, and having achieved his FGASA (Field Guide Association of Southern Africa) level 1, 2 & 3, he was promoted to Assistant manager. Continuing to set his standard high, Godfrey is now working on a specialist birding qualification.

“I got the full support I needed – advice, tips on how to deal with bad situations and turn them to good situations. That’s why every time going on leave I can’t wait to come back to work” – Godfrey’s words sum up what I am sure would be true for all the workers at Motswari, some like Godfrey now second or third generation employees.  A wonderful example of the impact that the Geiger family has had on this community, Godfrey being just one of the many lives and hearts that they have touched.

Ellies crossing the road (© Motswari Private game Reserve)

Elephant with baby crossing the road (© Motswari Private Game Lodge)

The enthusiasm of guests returning from their game drives testifies to the fact that this piece of African wilderness is truly a sanctuary for the magnificent wildlife that abounds at Motswari.  With no fences between Motswari and the famed Kruger National Park, the flow of game is constant, yielding good sightings of elephant, buffalo and many antelope species, as well as a variety of bird species and a number of little creatures and critters. With some of the highest densities of lion and leopard in Africa, and the expert skills of professional rangers and trackers, a sighting of the elusive leopard is almost guaranteed.

We will definitely be back to experience this first-hand, I am told that I should get to see my first leopard with the intuitive tracking skills of Johannes Mkhari, Motswari’s renowned Leopard Man, but that, as they say, will hopefully be another story.

(words – Tessa Buhrmann / pics – Tessa Buhrmann, Motswari Private Game Lodge)

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