*As seen in The Logbook
Undeniably, providing guests with the romance of turn-of-the-century safaris that combine colonial nostalgia with modern sophistication is a winning formula for any hotel, but Gorah Elephant Camp offers something extra. Because, as of yet, there is not a word that can aptly describe the sense of awe and privilege one gets when sitting in the lap of luxury admiring the African horizon and a herd of elephants happen to casually wander over for a visit.
It is an extraordinary place with an extraordinary story, and we were very fortunate to catch up with Ian Hunter, CEO and founder of Hunter Hotels, to hear it.
Hunter Hotels owns and operates many hotels and lodges across South Africa, combining breath-taking surroundings with incredible luxury and customer service. The business’ reputation within the tourism industry in South Africa is so impressive that they were able to secure the first ever private concession to establish and operate a lodge in a South African National Park.
“This was in 1998,” he recalls, “And although we were initially searching for a location to build a brand-new lodge, we were always drawn back to Gorah Manor House which was built in 1856 and is the very embodiment of what has become the presiding spirit of the camp today.”
Historically, due to hard work and the boom in ostrich feathers, Gorah was one of the wealthiest farms in the district and prospered through the years under the firm hand of Catharina Hester Vermaak. Known as Hester, she arrived in the Eastern Cape in 1854 as the thirteen year old bride of Thomas Anthony Mueller Vermaak who was a kind and respected farmer.
Hester was known far and wide for her lavish parties and warm hospitality and has long been known as the legendary matriarch of the Gorah. After her passing, the Gorah farm had a succession of farmers and their stoic wives who tried in vain to eke a living from the hills. Alas, it seemed that the lavish prosperity of the farm had passed with Hester and eventually the Gorah was incorporated into the Addo Elephant National Park and the grand farmhouse of Hester Vermaak fell to ruin.
“This is what we found,” Ian remembers, “The original farmhouse was a grand old lady that had fallen on hard times and was looking for a saviour. And so, the Gorah Elephant Camp was born. The manor house was immaculately restored, and period furnished, recalling the opulence and romance of the noble safari and we opened on the 28th December 2000.”
It is a bit of an understatement, but Gorah does have a lot going for it. Not only does the hundred and seventy thousand hectares of Eastern Cape bushveld host the legendary big five and provide a home to the densest population of elephants in the world, it is also completely malaria free. And for those nature lovers who revel in the finer details of their surroundings there is even more to be excited about.
Ian says, “Today this finely tuned ecosystem with seven biomes is a sanctuary to over five hundred elephants, countless Cape buffalo, lion, black rhino, hyena and a variety of antelope species, as well as the unique flightless dung beetle which is found almost exclusively in Addo.”
Eleven spacious safari styled tents with en-suites boast private decks and recall a luxurious time where the elite, while on safari, still indulged in the extravagance of crystal, polished silver, white linen and G&T’s in the afternoon.
“There was a specific time period that we wanted to recall and recapture,” Ian says, “A golden era of safari that existed in the early 1900s.”
South Africa has a world famous reputation for hospitality excellence, and the 47 staff members at Gorah Elephant Camp have been carefully selected and trained for their attention to detail and commitment to the spirit of the location. After all, visitors and guests alike are seeking to enjoy the unique experience and atmosphere that this place can provide.
And, Ian adds, as one of the ambassadors for the South African hospitality industry, Gorah Elephant Camp makes no apologies for their strict attention to standards of cleanliness and hygiene.
“Not only are we graded and inspected yearly by the South African Tourism Grading Council, but we also have our own company Health and Safety Teams who inspect the property quarterly and we are further inspected annually by our supplier appointed Health and Safety inspectors.”
Their continued efforts to not only offer the best in hospitality but also in experiences has garnered many certificates and awards over the years.
These include the Yearly TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence and the Relais & Chateaux Welcome award for the highest guest feedback satisfaction scores. The SANParks Business partner of the year, which was received twice, the Andrew Harpers Travel award for the Best Safari Lodges & Camps, the Readers’ Choice Award and the Lilizela Tourism Award.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE GUEST EXPERIENCE
Ian explains that customer relations are not simply important to their business but is the very substance that they have built it out of. And it isn’t just the guest relationships that are important. Ian explains that any successful hotel, lodge or camp will recognize that relationships with your suppliers and staff directly affect your guests.
“It is all interlinked and has to be carefully and committedly managed,” Ian says, “And, the results of this management speak for themselves, not only in the awards we’ve received year on year, but in the repeat business we see with guests and their word-of-mouth referrals. We also see the results in the reliable standards and commitment of our suppliers.”
WHAT GUESTS CAN EXPECT
Guests can expect to be delivered into an unforgettable atmosphere of unique 5-star luxury and adventure. Returning guests will inevitably find that there is something new and interesting to be excited about. Be it their favoured whisky or G&T awaiting on arrival, a new onsite development or a new opportunity to engage with the marvellous wildlife.
“Some hotels offer just a bed, pillow and a shower to their guests,” Ian says, “But Gorah Elephant Camp is an experience and that spirit of adventure that comes with any visit to Africa is important. To make sure this stands out, we always aim to include some surprises with small, unique touches that make our guests aware of how much we care about them and how important they are to us.”
In keeping with this philosophy, in 2020 the camp will be erecting four new tented suites and a new dining room experience to enhance the Gorah offering.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND
A single night is too short to get the full experience that is on offer at Gorah Elephant Camp and Ian suggests that three days is the ideal length of stay to ensure the best cross section of adventure with relaxation.
“The African experience we offer is just too big to take in all in one sitting,” Ian says, “And some things cannot be rushed.”
PRICE. From R18,500.00 per tent per night for 2 sharing inclusive of all
meals, game drives, safari walks, non-alcoholic beverages and mini-bar.
ADDRESS: Addo Heights Road, Addo Elephant National Park, Addo, Eastern Cape, South Africa
TELEPHONE NUMBER: +27 (0)44 501 1111 – central reservations