There’s something special about this place in northern KwaZulu-Natal. That much is clear. #CountryRunner will have the pleasure of visiting Three Trees Lodge after taking part in the inaugural Run the Berg. It may be primarily a quiet portal to the region’s historical battlegrounds, but there’s far more to it than that. The owner-management team of Simon and Cheryl Blackburn explain…
What brought us to Three Trees ? Well, we’ve worked in the safari industry full time since 1994, guiding and managing. We’re both seriously passionate about guiding! We had always worked for someone else, never wanting to own our own lodge. At the time it seemed like too much stress, admin and financially way beyond our reach!
Then, when we moved back to SA from a spell in Botswana, we came across this little lodge that was for sale and fell on love with it. The owners were really keen that whoever took over should carry on running it in the way they had envisioned. We saw eye to eye with them and then at the end of 2007 became the new owners of Three Trees at Spioenkop.
Our vision is for this to be a world-class eco-lodge, owner-managed with a unique brand of luxury that you might not see advertised in glossy magazines. We want to offer time, peace and tranquillity, all with personalised service on a first-name basis and tangible benefit accruing to the local community.
Initially we carried on running it purely as a battlefield experience, but realised that the niche market we were appealing to was just too small. The bottom line on this (and any) industry is that if you’re the best-kept secret, you’re dead in the water.
We realised that with our proximity to the N3 (20mins) and being halfway between Joburg and Durban, we were ideally situated to appeal to a market that could use us as a base to access the Drakensberg, as well as enjoying activities here.
We negotiated access for game walks into Spioenkop Game Reserve, which has excellent game, including white rhino. Then we brought in mountain biking, jacked up our horse trails, and started to market the lodge into Europe. This has been a real win for us, producing nice growth, especially with Europe’s increasing taste for a fair trade product such as ours.
The bottom line regarding conservation in Africa is that ‘if it pays, it stays’. So the first objective as a business is to survive financially. The next truism is that the future is determined by the level of tangible benefit felt by the people. And I can tell you, living in such a remote area, you have to rely on the people in your community and build relationships with them.
Of course, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but we are building mutually beneficial, real relationships with our local community, so they have a vested interest in our survival and vice versa. We don’t have any fences here, practically no security at all (just a few dogs as pets), we leave everything open all the time and trust one another a lot.
Part of a Community
In terms of specific projects, we have focused out attention on the Zamakuhle crèche as a starting point. We have several complete and ongoing initiatives there. We’d love to show you when you visit. At the high school in Hambrook we have built a computer room with 25 workstations (sponsored by Coke) and have sponsored free Wi-Fi internet access at the school, too.
Quite simply, the quickest way for South Africa to leapfrog itself out of education depression, is the internet – give everyone internet access and they can simply teach themselves.
Battlefield Tours and More
The Drakensberg hikes, horse trails, mountain biking and game walks are awesome, too – viewing rhino up close and on foot is a special experience. But the battlefield tours are a big attraction.
We look at South Africa’s history in general, but we focus on the Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902, which saw the Boers teaching the British a lesson which they – and the world – would not forget for some time. In fact, the single best and most efficient fighting force in the world in 1914 was the British Expeditionary Force inserted into Northern France – they held their own, at times facing odds of 10:1 – purely because of the lessons learned and reforms introduced into the British Army after the Anglo Boer War.
There are a number of crucial battles and historical sites in and around our area which we visit, including the Battles of Spionkop, Colenso, Elandslaagde, Vaalkrans, Tugela Heights, Ladysmith and Talana. We also have a number of Voortrekker sites. We find storytelling the most enjoyable medium through which the history can be taught. Sadly, it is a dying art these days, but it’s what our team of guides all love to do.
Three Trees Lodge at Spioenkop and #CountryRunner are pleased to announce a superb prize on offer to readers. Follow the campaign online and you could win a weekend for two at this magical spot. More details here.