Gay Pages Autumn 2010: Gorah Elephant Camp

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Picture a scene straight from the movie Out of Africa… high tea on the verandah of a historic colonial farm house with a herd of elephant at the waterhole mere metres away. The sun is blazing overhead and the shrill chirping of cicadas mingles with the sounds of a host of creatures big and small. A short distance from the waterhole zebra males are fighting for possession of a small group of females, while numerous warthogs scurry around the dusty plain and around the waterhole, dodging big feet and trunks as they try to slake their thirst in the arid heat. Red hartebeest sniff the air for danger. And danger there is aplenty – a pair of large black-maned male lions and a female in oestrus are in the vicinity. The lion will not sleep tonight. It will hunt…

by ALAN SAMONS

With the highest population density of elephants on the planet, it’s no wonder that Addo is world famous. The rugged and varied Karoo landscape still bears testimony to farming activity – now long since ceased. The De Gorah farm has a history dating back to the 1700s. The house, earmarked for demolition not so long ago was rescued by Ian Hunter of Hunter Hotels and lovingly restored and altered to what it is now. The original house dates to 1828 and what is now the shop and office dates back to 1785. There is no electricity in the main house or the tents, but solar panels and a generator provides enough electricity to run the lodge’s computers, a few kitchen appliances and it means guests can charge their cell phones. Not that you’d miss electricity at all here. Gas is used for heating and cooking, paraffin lamps and candles provide atmospheric lighting and log fires ensure guests are never cold in Gorah House. Low voltage lighting is used in the tents – a total of four globes provide all the necessary lighting, and is enough to read by. Makes one wonder why we can’t live so simply in our everyday lives…

Guest accommodation is in eleven luxurious tents arranged around the main house and the central pool area. Each tent comprises a large comfortable living and sleeping area, a bathroom and a viewing deck. Built on raised platforms with thatched canopies, the tents are shielded from the heat of the sun and also serve to protect guests from uninvited wildlife. That said, lions have been known to hide under the platforms. The pool area and boma is the only part of the camp that is fenced, so you can relax in relative safety. 

When not lazing poolside or reading on your deck, the inviting verandah of Gorah House is the perfect spot from which to observe the comings and goings of the local wildlife population around the waterhole. General Manager Suzanne Vine is passionate about Gorah and her knowledge of the history of the farm and the original owners offers a fascinating glimpse into the property’s past and present. She heads up a fantastic team who see to it that no detail is overlooked in making your stay utterly magical. One of my favourite times of day must surely be dinner time. Two hundred and forty twinkling candles and paraffin lanterns matching the twinkling stars outside provide a suitably romantic backdrop for superb cuisine. And yes, Suzanne has counted them. While enjoying apéritifs, each guest is presented with a personalised copy of the evening’s menu starting with a thought of the day. In my case, I received a custom-made vegetarian menu. The food is simply exquisite and our chef never failed to impress. 

Game drives are always wonderful, but I’m not a morning person, so it was great to be able to go out after breakfast. Elephants are not morning creatures either, hence the later than normal departure time. Our ranger, Gareth, had a wonderfully easy nature and ready laugh. His sense of humour stood him in good stead when he repeatedly had to get out of the vehicle to remove branches tossed in the road by feeding elephants. The parched land would not recover quickly from off-road driving, so he sensibly kept to the road. Just after removing a large thorn bush branch from the road, he nearly ended in my lap. He’d just started the vehicle and was busy driving around the abovementioned bush, when one of the large resident male lions jumped up from his snooze in the warm road, next to said thorn bush. Gareth belted out something to the tune of “hiert jou bliksem” and just about leaped out of his seat. We all nearly leaped out of our seats too! The lion immediately settled down to resume his nap not far from where his friend, the dominant male, was having a post-coital nap with Gina, his mate. 

We were not only treated to the sight of the big and strong, but also the small and delicate. Hundreds of butterflies of all sizes and colours were fluttering about feeding on the nectar of the aptly named butterfly bushes growing on the side of the road. I don’t have a preference when it comes to animals and enjoy the sight of a brightly coloured insect, beautiful bird, or large carnivore equally.
That night, as the vehicles arrived in camp, we were informed that one lucky British couple had seen the trio of lions hunting a male buffalo, while having their sundowners. They were treated to the spectacle of one of the males leaping onto the buffalo’s back. The hunt was unsuccessful and the buffalo lived to see another day. That night we were all treated to a ferocious feline vocal display as the lions walked through camp. It was so magical that I didn’t even have time to consider the fact that there was only a thin layer of canvas separating me from the king of the animals. 

I always leave the bush with a heavy heart and Gorah House with its air of faded grandeur, the warm-hearted people who are now it’s new custodians and the wonderful Karoo landscape will remain a treasured memory. 

Gorah is a malaria-free, Big 5 reserve and is a member of Relais & Châteaux.
Hunter Hotels Central Reservations: + 27 (0) 44 501-1111 res@hunterhotels.com
www.hunterhotels.co.za/gorahelephantcamp

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