"Added value" is a concept that we are all familiar with, and when we buy something that has added value that we were not expecting, inevitably we are pleasantly surprised and happy about our purchase.
Filling the car up with fuel is a "necessary evil" which we all have to do, but a little like going to see the Dentist, there is no pleasure in it. In terms of running a Lodge, there are many examples of things we have to do to keep everything in "tip-top" shape for our guests, which we gladly do, but these are "necessities" in our mind, not "nice to do" kind of stuff!
So we thought, what can we do here at Bush House that is different from anywhere else in Madikwe and the majority of other Lodges in Southern Africa, which will bring added enjoyment for our guests and ourselves?
These three thoughts led us to the idea of building a hide at our waterhole. Whilst game sightings can never be guaranteed, the waterhole in front of the Lodge at Bush House is one of the best supported by a variety of game and bird species. Guests currently view game at the waterhole from the comfort of the chairs on the lawn, or the loungers at the swimming pool - imagine if they could get even closer to the waterhole to take those magic pics.!
Building this hide would be a big, but different challenge (unlike visiting the Dentist or filling the car with fuel), and the added pleasure at no extra cost to our guests would certainly be "added value."
In the original planning process, there were two main stumbling blocks to the idea of building a hide at our waterhole.
Firstly, where do you position a hide as close as possible to the waterhole without blocking the stunning view of the waterhole from the front of the Lodge? Secondly, how do guests get to and from the hide safely, which would have to be outside our fenced area, in a Big 5 Reserve?
Both of these issues were soon solved in our minds, and work began in February. To prevent the hide from obstructing the view from the front of the Lodge, it would have to be underground!
Access would have to be via a tunnel from the Lodge so that guests would feel secure to enter and leave the hide without us having to put unsightly fencing up to protect people from possible danger.
Digging started in earnest, and although the bulk work was done using a machine, getting the dimensions of the ground work exactly right had to be finished off with jack-hammers. Most of the building work had to be completed during game drive time when guests were out on drive, or on the odd quiet days, both because of noise levels and simply because the positioning of the hide meant that working while guests were in camp would be impossible.
Stumbling block number three then appeared - if the hide is underground, with no extra unsightly fencing around it, what do we do about the roof with the possibility of five to seven ton elephants walking over it? How do you stop them?
You don't - you make sure the roof is strong enough to carry their weight. The services of a structural engineer were employed, and those of the best builder we know.
With the best planning in the world, there are still some things you cannot forsee. To make the building process a little easier, deliveries of sand and stone for concrete work were done as close to site as possible. Elephants thought this was great - a new
playground! They would roll and play and throw the sand over themselves. Great for the elephants, but not so good for the builders or the budget, as extra loads of sand had to be brought in to replace what was removed. We contacted a good friend of ours who used to run a Lodge in Zimbabwe to see if he had any suggestions.
Typical Zimbabwean, always a plan for everything. The solution was to scatter chillies around the perimiter and over the piles of sand. Elephants hate the smell of chillies, and sure enough, this worked!
Amazingly, game still came down to drink at the waterhole whilst work was in progress, despite the human presence and all the activity associated with building.Most of these encounters were very relaxed, and without incident.
On occasion though, builders had to give right of way. We have a particular herd of elephants that are regular visitors at the waterhole. This herd is controlled by a matriarch who was collared in the early days when these elephants were first introduced into the Reserve. This was done in order to track and know the whereabouts of the elephants, and she is easily identifiable because of the collar. In her herd there is another cow with one of her tusks growing "skew", and for this reason, she has been nick-named "skew tusk."
Both of these elephants have a particularly bad attitude, and one would be wise to give them space, plenty of space! On a number of occasions while this herd was visiting, the builders had to back-off quickly, and even equipment such as concrete mixers and trailers came under threat.
Another anxious moment was when our local pride of lions came in for a drink. No prizes for guessing why work stopped and the builders took up safe refuge behind the electric fence!
Then we had those who just looked on, and carried on as normal.
The tunnel entrance to the hide comes into the Lodge grounds beyond our normal electric fence line, and this is accessed from a path off the front lawn or from the swimming pool if guests are relaxing there. The main path has been positioned well away from the waterhole end of the Lodge lawn and is well hidden from view at the waterhole so as to enable guests to get into the hide without scaring off animals at the waterhole.
The paths, tunnel and hide are lit at night, so are available for use by guests 24/7. Chairs are positioned inside on the front landing, and pictures can be taken, or you can just observe the game up close, through the front opening of the hide. This front opening has an expanded metal grid which is completely open and out of sight, but can be quickly dropped down if anyone in the hide is feeling nervous.
In the building process, we have also taken the elderly and people confined to wheelchairs into account. Railings and ramp access to the front landing mean that everyone will have the opportunity to use the Hide.
A water point is located close to the front opening, and elephants regularly drink from this point when it is flowing or walk right past the front of the hide. This is the most incredible experience, which really cannot be put into words.
Only one solution - come and experience the Hide at Bush House for yourself!
With our best regards,
Gordon & Sue.