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Category: Responsible Tourism

Home With The Wild

The spirit of safari comes alive at Ngala Private Game Reserve, the first private game reserve to be incorporated into the well known Kruger National Park in 1992. Spanning 14,700…

The spirit of safari comes alive at Ngala Private Game Reserve, the first private game reserve to be incorporated into the well known Kruger National Park in 1992. Spanning 14,700 hectares (36,300 acres) of game-rich wilderness, respect for nature overtakes human activity and development. From the minute we entered the Timbavati control gates into the national park, we were given strict instructions to travel not more than 40km per hour as animals roam free. My travel partner and I mused in delight as we spotted our first pair of giraffes munching on leaves and then a herd of impalas staring intently at our vehicle.

Ngala Private Game Reserve shares an unfenced boundary with the world renowned Kruger National Park, South Africa’s largest wildlife sanctuary allowing the free movement of wildlife along natural corridors. The private game reserve is formed by a three way partnership between the private sector, the state and a non-governmental organization (&Beyond, South African National Parks and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in hopes of controlling poaching and protecting the diminished number of animals in the park.

Ngala_Kruger NP (9)Ngala_Kruger NP (10)

“Reinstating nature to make it valuable, that is the approach we (&Beyond) took. It’s all about educating the locals about the value of their backyard,” Les Carlisle, group conservation manager explained. Poaching has since stopped within the private game reserve. Whilst demands for ivory, horns and sorts still continue in Asia, the locals have learned to respect and protect nature for what it is.

On arrival at Ngala, we were greeted with a friendly welcome of homemade lemonade and chilled towels by a host of friendly staff and then ushered to our cottage. Tucked away under large tamboti and mopane trees, 20 classic thatched cottages are well spread out within the vicinity. Tastefully designed, each cottage has its own private verandah. Cobbled stone pathways lead you from the cottages to the expansive dining area with rugged chandeliers and an elegant buffet table with fresh flowers.

The familiar hectic city life is long gone as you step into the spacious sitting decks decorated with plush Victorian sofas overlooking thick riverine woodlands and a watering hole. Jameson who greeted us at the reception told us to keep a lookout on the watering hole as elephants, cape buffaloes and impalas would frequent the natural pool for a gulp.

Home with the Wild at Ngala Lodge Sprint! Elephant reaching out

Ngala prides itself in the intimate and personalized service the staff extends to each guests. From arrival to departure, our needs and wants were taken care of regardless of how much effort or time it took. Our butler Patrick was always on his toes with a big smile on his face. The lodge manager willingly helped with clearing the dishes and rangers go beyond game drive conversations as they spend evening dinners with guests, getting to know them better.

Patrick chimed, “We are a community at the staff quarters. We play soccer and get along like family. We have a great chef and excellent food too. Sometimes I have to skip meals because I eat too much!” After much conversation with the staff, I soon realized that the sincerity and warmth that exudes from each staff member stems from the fact that their needs are well taken care of by the management.

Up to ninety percent of the staff at Ngala comes from the nearby village call Welverdiend where the local Shangaan tribe lives. Ngala has provided vast employment opportunities for the community at the Welverdiend, developed computer centers in several schools, and empowered individuals to set up small businesses to improve income levels.

Les Carlisle explained, “Our strategy is to work with communities, not for communities. That way partnerships between us are stronger and we work hand in hand, not one ahead of the other.” Building long lasting and trusting relationships with people of the land has proven testament to their success in sustaining community partnerships.

Visiting communities living in Kruger National Park

Safari Experience

Our ultimate wish was to spot the famous African Big 5; lion, buffalo, elephant, rhino and leopard. At 4pm, guests gathered around the spacious open deck for afternoon tea and bite-sized pastries and fruits. Our ranger, Mike Robertson introduced himself and briefly explained the history of the game reserve and what we would expect from the game drives.

Within the reserve, only a limited numbers of vehicles are allowed at a sighting and rangers are well aware of their boundaries between the animal and the vehicle. We were given prudent instructions not to make animal calls while on game drives and to respect the privacy of the animals in their natural surroundings.

Baby Hyenas at their hideout

We hopped onto our open 4×4 safari vehicle where our tracker, Elvis greeted us. Elvis spent most of his life in the bush. The national park was his backyard and as a child he would follow his father hunting for rhinos and buffaloes. Today, hunting is not his game, instead he finds pride and satisfaction in showing guests around his backyard.

Mike turned the engine on and turned around to ask us, “What would you like to see today?” Instantaneously we replied, “Lion.” He nodded and we were off on our first game drive. It was soon learned that ‘Ngala’ means lion in Shangaan and the reserve lives up to its name, as we spotted several prides of these majestic cats in wide open plains and on the dirt road catching a few winks before the sun sets. The spectacular diversity of wildlife that moves through this immense wilderness was truly awe-inspiring. During our three hour morning and evening game drives we spotted elephants, spotted hyenas, buffaloes, hippos, white rhinos, giraffes, impalas, zebras, kudus, warthogs and wild cats.

Ngala_Kruger NP (68)Tracks Sharing space with the Kings In his element - King of the Jungle Giraffes

Our game drives were always punctuated with a break at a chosen stopover; either a watering hole or in the wide open grasslands. Safety is always a priority as the ranger and tracker kept a close eye on the surroundings. We savoured the sights and sounds of the wild whilst sipping on wine, juice or a hot cup of coffee. Being on foot in the wild offered a different experience as we watched the elephants and buffaloes waddle in water just a few feet away. Our senses became more sensitive to the slightest of sounds; birds chirping, cicadas whistling and the scent from the tiny aniseed plant.

Most of our evening game drives lasted through sunset and into the night. This was when nocturnal animals like the bush babies, owls and termites come out to play. As the skies transformed into a black velvet blanket filled with glittering stars, Mike, our knowledgeable ranger stopped the vehicle and unraveled a dozen stories about the constellations, Greek legends and astronomical wonders.

Tea at Kruger National Park

African Culture through a Gastronomical Affair

At Ngala, it is all about guest experience. Having stayed three nights at the lodge, not one of its dinners were at the same location. From the elegant candlelit dining hall to the romantic glow of the courtyard around the blazing bonfire and the lamp-lighted open deck with a choir of dancing Shangaan women, dinner was an anticipated affair.

Meals are created to give a wholesome and traditional flavour with choice ingredients, fresh produce and locally sourced meats bought from the local village or the nearby White River town.

Food at Ngala Lodge

Lettuce Mokoena, head chef of Ngala Lodge greeted me at the lunch buffet table as he explained his quite recent passion in cooking. Before he became the head chef, Lettuce started as a security guard at &Beyond lodge. He applied for a position as a waiter and soon found joy in serving guests. He soon tried his hand as a kitchen staff and found that his skills in cooking blossomed quickly. Now 8 years after, Lettuce is one of the most respected and well-loved chefs among the &Beyond family, of which Ngala Lodge is a part of.

“I love my job and it gives me great satisfaction serving guests an unforgettable meal,” says Lettuce. Attention to detail is the key to this mouthwatering experience. Lettuce and his team give extra attention in picking only quality ingredients and sticking to precise cooking methods.

One of the ways to ensure this is by growing and harvesting vegetables from their own ‘shambar’ or garden. Vegetables such as carrots, beetroot, onions, spinach and pumpkin are homegrown and tended with care.

Hearty breakfasts and healthy lunches feature traditional Pan African flavours such as slow roast pork, ‘Bobotie’ -a curried mince meat dish covered with an egg based topping, ‘Pap’ – a traditional porridge made from ground maize, ‘Boerewors’ – homemade sausages, butternut pumpkin soup and ‘Melktert Pudding’ – a custard based tart topped with cinnamon.

We had a wonderful experience in South Africa’s famous wildlife sanctuary and hope many others can enjoy it too. We have full confidence that it will continue to thrive for the simple reason that sustainability takes precedence over profitability. &Beyond’s model ‘Care of the Land, Care of the Wildlife and Care of the People’ is a wholesome cycle that protects, respects and sustains the ecosystem.

As light fell over the safari, we caught the glare of a lion before it flicked its tail, turned and walked into the horizon. I realized without a doubt that the reality of this experience is not only in the viewing of big game, but the simple magic of building unforgettable connections with those who have served you and our mutual love and respect for nature and wildlife.

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Soneva Fushi In The Maldives

Fringed by coral reefs that meet soft white sand, rings of blue hues from crystal clear waters surround the 1190 islands of the Republic of Maldives. Soneva Fushi, located idyllically…

Fringed by coral reefs that meet soft white sand, rings of blue hues from crystal clear waters surround the 1190 islands of the Republic of Maldives. Soneva Fushi, located idyllically on Kunfunadhoo Island of the Baa Atoll, offers all the charm one would expect of the Maldives in utter sophistication and luxurious comfort.

Soneva Fushi (1)Soneva Fushi (2)

Tucked away in lush tropical vegetation, 65 villas stay cool from the hot and humid Maldivian weather. The limited villas allow for exceptional service by attentive hosts, predominantly male, at a guest to host ratio of 1:4. Generously spaced out for privacy and nestled in nature, the villas and other buildings are constructed and crafted from renewable and certified-sustainable sources.

Fast moving towards its ‘Zero Carbon’ goal by 2010, Soneva Fushi had a carbon footprint audit carried out and a suite of carbon emission reduction strategies are being implemented. One ambitious experiment worth highlighting would be the Deep Water Cooling of villas and other buildings using nature’s renewable resources – i.e. cold deep seawater, resulting in 70% energy saving through more efficient air-conditioning.

Soneva Fushi (3)Soneva Fushi (5)Soneva Fushi 6Soneva Fushi 7Soneva Stars

Other carbon reduction (and waste reduction) measures include growing the resort’s own food in the organic gardens and sourcing produce from local farms and fishermen, thereby reducing air miles and non-biodegradable packaging, not to mention rewarding the human gastronomic sense with the freshest ingredients.

0.5% of Soneva Fushi’s annual revenue goes into their Social and Environmental Responsibility Fund (SERF), which supports national and international programmes on health, education, conservation and community development.

Soneva Fushi (4)

Whether you decide to go barefoot and stroll along the beach or jungle paths, star-gaze at the Observatory or dive into the depths of the sea, or even indulge in their award-winning spa treatments, one is bound to embrace Soneva Fushi’s “S.L.O.W. L.I.F.E.” concept – Sustainable, Local, Organic, Wholesome, Learning, Inspiring, Fun, Experience…The real experience guests repeatedly return and stay on for.

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Tourism Emerges In Thailand Post-Tsunami

Relief is the immediate step after a natural disaster. Then what? An uncertain future lays ahead for communities whose livelihood and surroundings have been directly affected. Fisherman villages in Southern…

Relief is the immediate step after a natural disaster. Then what? An uncertain future lays ahead for communities whose livelihood and surroundings have been directly affected. Fisherman villages in Southern Thailand had to rebuild their lives and look for new opportunities to sustain their families after the 2004 tsunami.

Andaman Discoveries (AD) previously known as North Andaman Tsunami Relief (NATR) stemmed from tsunami relief pioneered by Bodhi Garrett to serve communities he had lived with and respected. After the initial rebuilding of homes through community-driven tsunami relief, it soon progressed into long-term post-tsunami development programs. Participatory workshops and community meetings sparked the idea of potential tourism as a means of economic renewal. Villagers wanted to welcome tourists in a way that will not bring negative and harmful impacts like that of mass tourism.

Since then, AD works closely with interested villagers on vocational training (covering aspects of tourism, guiding, hospitality, small business management, community development, English and computers). The idea was to maximize and utilize local knowledge and local people as a means of tourism. Villagers return empowered to set up home-stays and design a holiday experience for guests.

Now, guests can choose from six villages to stay in – mostly fishermen communities. Accommodation is simple and clean often with a fan, mattress and mosquito net for a good night rest. Guests are assigned to different host families whom they will spend their time with. Often times, guests leave with great memories of relationships being made. Some even stay to volunteer.

Activities in each village are focused on preserving the culture, religion and environment within the village. Busy your day with big net fishing, batik and soap making, cashew and fruit harvesting or even teaching English to villagers. Conservation programmes such as mangrove and orchid replanting are also encouraged to educate guests on the natural surroundings.

The majority of the money of each trip goes directly to the villagers and 20% of guests’ in-village costs are donated to the community fund which funds community-led projects. AD helps provide communities with new sustainable livelihoods to replace those they lost in the tsunami.

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Lamai Homestay

A five hour drive away from busy Bangkok, Lamai Homestay offers its guests the simple yet authentic experience of living in the rice village of Kho Phet in North-eastern Thailand….

A five hour drive away from busy Bangkok, Lamai Homestay offers its guests the simple yet authentic experience of living in the rice village of Kho Phet in North-eastern Thailand. Jimmy White and his wife Lamai Ormnock run the homestay. From dawn till dusk they accompany guests on tours within and outside the village – tirelessly explaining the Isan way of life, making sure guests are well fed with mouthwatering Thai cuisine and even changing bed linens to ensure a comfortable stay.

The homestay only allows 6 guests per visit usually spanning between 3-5 days to ensure personalized attention and minimize impact on the environment and daily routines of the villagers. The house was built on barren land mindful not to take up precious rice planting space. There is an eco-dwelling hut just few steps away from the main house made from mud and rice husk bricks and supported by bamboo structures. The homestay also encourages biodiversity by surrounding the land with native trees and plants to promote that habitation of various species of insects, birds, lizards, snakes, butterflies and frogs.

Energy and water conservation comes as second nature to the homestay as Jimmy and Lamai operate the homestay similar to any household who has savings in mind. Water is vital to the village as this season of drought posed critical to the paddy fields. The homestay goes the extra mile by channeling all grey water from the guest rooms into the flourishing garden.

With the inclusion of the homestay, surrounding villages have benefited economically through income generated from tourists – from buying locally hand-woven silk to contributing to the upgrading of the local school. The homestay plays a vital role in educating guests on the cultural diversity of the village folk. Guests are encouraged to participate in the daily routine of villagers to avoid disrupting their schedule. Choose to food forage with the villagers in hunt for scorpions, beetles and frogs with spades and shovels or watch the delicate process silk making from boiling silk worms, spinning, dyeing to weaving the silk – this is truly a genuine and unique Thai village experience!

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Shangri-La Tanjung Aru

Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, may be a large sized resort renowned for its impeccable service and beautiful surroundings; however it is what happens behind the…

Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, may be a large sized resort renowned for its impeccable service and beautiful surroundings; however it is what happens behind the scenes that makes this hotel outstanding. The resort has been recognized by Wild Asia as one of the finalists for the 2009 Responsible Tourism Awards because of an array of best practices that have been adopted and applied.

One of the best practices of responsible tourism is “Their participation and Support of the Local Community through a range of philanthropic activities”. They sponsor many schools in the area, including La Salle secondary school, Sabah College, and Seri Mengasih, a school for mentally challenged students. They have adopted 4 students this year and have helped to provide an education for these children. They have raised funds for and donated various items to the schools, such as books, magazines, play grounds, recycle bins and others. The resort has also involved students in environmental activities, such as beach clean ups and recycle buy back centers within the school.

Another responsible tourism best practice worthy of noting is “their strong commitment to local employment and worker’s welfare”. Shangri La’s Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa guarantees excellent staff conditions, as well as extensive training in environmental management for all employees. Over 90 percent of staff is from Sabah, and many of them have worked at the resort for over 20 years. It is not uncommon to find two generations of a family working at the hotel.

Finally, Shangri La’s Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa is involved in a range of “innovative environmental activities that promote conservation”. They have adopted Zero beach, a public beach located adjacent to their resort property. They have accomplished a dramatic cleaning of the beach area, and try to promote local environmental awareness through education in surrounding schools. The resort has an organized and efficient recycling separation process, as well as composting all organic waste with Bokashi, a microbe enzyme that speeds up the composting process. Recently, the hotel has taken the initiative to involve both local schools and hotel guests in making EM mud balls containing this microbe in order to release into polluted streams. The mud balls slowly dissolve and release microbes into the water stream to help improve water quality. The resort has also taken on the immense uphill battle of helping to clean up the neighboring water village, wrought with layers of rubbish.

Shangri La’s Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa understand the importance of being a leading role model in local environmental conservation and social empowerment. They have a long uphill battle presented before them, but are committed to improving the surrounding natural and cultural heritage.

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