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March 10, 2022

A sustainable Eco Lodge in the Drakensberg Mountains

Sustainable tourism simply involves taking into account the probable and possible impacts of tourism on the present and future social, environmental and economic structure of a destination. It includes taking measures to conserve the biodiversity and cultural heritage of that destination.

Sustainable and responsible tourism is the lifeblood of Antbear Eco Lodge and is the basis of just about everything we do. We have realized our dream of a self-sufficient lifestyle which has resulted in the development of our lodge. Our passion for sustainability has become our purpose and our lifestyle.

Antbear Eco Lodge is situated in the Drakensberg region of KwaZulu Natal near to Giants Castle. What makes our lodge particularly special is that we offer accommodation in a luxury cave. This is an accommodation unit built under a rock. Glass doors open onto a wooden deck with hammock chairs and a spectacular view of the Drakensberg Mountains.

This is a luxury eco experience. The cave is cozy and comfortable with features like a Jacuzzi spa bath and a fireplace and even has rock art on its walls.

We also offer a private dining experience where we setup a table on the deck of your cave and you dine by candlelight under the stars.

Antbear Lodge is one of those smaller, owner run establishments with 15 accommodation units as either Mountain View suites or Garden view suites.

We subscribe as much as possible to the farm to plate concept. We cook all our meals from scratch and have our own organic vegetable garden. We have our own chickens for eggs, cows for milk and bake our own bread and we even make our own cheese.

Antbear Lodge also offers horse trails ideally suited to beginners. Hot air balloon flights that launch from the lawn in front of the lodge and our newest attraction is our star gazing hammock camp where a local villager tells his grandmothers folktales of the stars.

The area offers a lot with spectacular hiking trails with dramatic views and waterfalls. And then there is the impressive bushman rock art where you can see some of the best examples in the world.

Our journey here started some 22 years ago where we left our corporate lifestyle in Germany and moved to an abandoned ruin in the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa. It started with a desire of living self-sufficiently, growing our own potatoes an collecting our own eggs. The first step resulted in the construction of a straw bale building. This alternative building method uses local resources with a low impact on the world. Even the thatch for the roof was cut on the farm and the main costs of this construction type are labour keeping most of our money in the local economy.

Since then, we have built from sun-dried bricks, rammed earth, cob and locally sourced stone from the farm. Some people think I am obsessed with alternative building and they could well be right.

Slowly our vision at Antbear Lodge has developed into our current concept of responsible tourism. This includes fair wages and working conditions, fair distribution of benefits, ethical business practice, and respect for human rights, culture and the environment.

Upcycling materials that have seen their end of life is something we do with passion. There is something that is good for the soul about giving new life to something that has expired. We have used broken tiles for the bathrooms, home made acid tints for the concrete floor finishes and a lot of up-cycled wood and alien wood species. One of the features that we included is a truth window. A glass frame that allows our guests a glimpse of what’s inside the wall of the staw bale building. Its has become almost like an interactive picture and always seems to be a real conversation starter.

Every detail of the lodge has been hand crafted and artistically created, from the bottles embedded into a wooden door in the main lodge entrance to the winding staircase leading up to the second story. The chandeliers are made out of teacups, the wooden hinges on the doors are one-of-a-kind, the window frames paint their own pictures, and we even tell our story of putting our heart and soul into creating Antbear Eco Lodge through a wooden photo album that rolls for one drum to another. The woodwork is spectacular and you will see unique, personality-driven pieces throughout all of the different rooms too.

We make an effort in conservation too and take our responsibility as stewards looking after this farm seriously. We try to remove alien invader species like wattle, hawthorn and american bramble. We keep poaching to a minimum and that is mostly due to our relationship with our community. Our latest project in partnership with a neighbour farm is establishing a vulture restaurant together with a vulture hide. The hope is that the vulture hide will be taken on by tourists wanting to photograph vultures and the funding can be put back into new vulture conservation efforts.

The education of young people holds the most promise for social and economic transformation in their community and South Africa. We have therefore sponsored the farm school library, built a class room, donated fencing materials for the school garden, built a school playground and set up basketball nets, and regularly supply stationery and school shoes.

Skills development is important and we have put in huge effort here. Antbear Eco Lodge employs people from the local area. Most have little previous work experience or formal training. We provide continues training and skills development with workshops and practical training. Not only hospitality training and what is required to run our lodge but skills like wood working, refrigeration, electricity, plumbing, alternative building, up-cycling, permaculture and so much more. Its inspiring to see how these skills are slowly being introduced in the local community and our very alternative way of seeing things is becoming the new normal. We also operate a volunteer program where we take on people for shortish periods in an exchange of labour for accommodation and meals. We mostly teach woodworking and alternative construction but we have also done natural horsemanship.

Our latest program is to attempt to uplift the local economy by developing entrepreneurial opportunities for people from our local communities. We are using our already established customer base as a market source The first of these programs is up an running with a local villager who has built a star gazing hammock camp where he tell his folklore tales that came from is grandmother. Its loved by tourists and is a real authentic experience. We paid for the development costs and Mlendeni contributed his own labour to build it. The idea is that Mlendeni is responsible for running his own business. Already we can see that some business mentorship interventions are needed and are now starting to work on that. This has resulted in the partnership with an NGO called Indalo Inclusive who support developing smmes that have a green and inclusive basis. I am sure this is a long-term program as we are working with general education levels that are pathetically minimal.

The tourism crisis created by the pandemic hit us hard as we saw all of our hard work of building the business disappear overnight. It affected our community as much as it affected us and our relationship and responsibilities became even more profound as we realised that we were responsible for 120 people’s livelihood’s. It’s been an uncomfortable responsibility and one that has been difficult to carry at many times during this pandemic. We have however managed to survive without retrenching even a single employee. This is probably our proudest achievement through our pandemic struggles. The highlight of the last year has been the creation of a water pipeline to the community who now have running water for the first time ever. This has been achieved though another of our entrepreneur development programs which will result in the sale of botted spring water eventually.

As the international market slowly returns to explore the magnificence of South Africa, we hope that the worst of this crisis is behind us. We look forward re-establishing our Eco lodge and providing the authentic holiday experiences that we are so known for.

T: 076 4412362
E: Reservations
W:Ant Bear

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