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Posted on: Tuesday, 28 July 2009
Eco-Tourism in August

Karkloof Spa – Ecology and Wildlife Management

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Article by Karkloof Spa, Natal Midlands

Karkloof Spa

Karkloof Spa

At Karkloof Spa we are proud to be custodians of an extraordinarily beautiful piece of land. It is one which reflects changing moods and colour palettes, according to the seasons, and which supports a large variety of plants, mammals, birds, insects, fish and other creatures. Unfortunately, as is the case with most natural areas, it has fallen victim to encroaching plants, most of them alien to this landscape; and to periods in the past, of overgrazing, frequent burning and inadequate environmental management.

For the past seven years, two experts in ecology and wildlife management have provided guidance on correct management techniques. A major component of this management has been the employment of a large team of people in removing alien plants from the property. This has resulted in the rejuvenation of many large areas, and it has been most gratifying to experience the restoration of indigenous vegetation which in turn provides our wild life with an extension of their natural habitat. A second component has been to use innovative management on the areas with poor quality grasslands in order to phase out undesirable grasses and replace them with high-quality ones. Although a slow process, this is proving to be a major factor in providing better grazing, especially for the buffalo and zebra populations.

Internal fences have been removed, drainage has been improved to prevent erosion of the landscape, Redbilled Oxpeckers have been introduced as natural predators of the debilitating tick population, and indigenous plants have been planted to bind areas around existing dams. Equally important is the creation of mud wallows and bare patches for species requiring such ‘mini-habitats’ for their well-being.

Karkloof Spa

Karkloof Spa

All wildlife, the quality of the grasslands and the quality of water in the rivers and dams continue to be monitored on a weekly basis. A photographic record is kept of all the giraffe and rhino to keep a check on performance and numbers to ensure they are in harmony with the environment and the resources that they depend on.  A register is also kept of the buffalo (updated on a monthly basis) for the same reason. A record is kept of all births and deaths of the mammals and ostrich, and the findings are written into an annual status report with appropriate recommendations. Fish populations are managed to provide food for birds (Fish Eagles, Cormorants, Darters, etc.) and the rare Spotted-neck Otters (Clawless Otters also occur); also to feed on a variety of alien aquatic plants which choke the dams.

Vegetation is also monitored and managed to improve its in quality through mowing, selective controlled burning and removal of alien plants. Areas that were completely destroyed by the devastating Cyclone Demoina in February 1984 and by the September 1987 floods are now being rehabilitated. Access to the base of the Karkloof Falls had been denied our guests for many years, but a walkway, made of recycled fiber wood, is now being constructed to enable people to experience this magnificent feature of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.

Green Building Methods
The majority of the Karkloof Spa building has been done utilizing reclaimed clay bricks from an unused staff compound on the property. Unskilled labour was employed to chip away all excess cement from the bricks and to deliver the bricks onto the building site.

Karkloof Spa

Karkloof Spa

The spa has been built with a combination of thatch and living roofs, the latter enabling small game to walk up and graze on the vegetation. Each building has been positioned in a manner that impacts minimally on the landscape. Buildings nestle in natural inclines, taking advantage of trees and rocks to provide small havens of changing beauty to our guests as they sit in quiet spots and reflect.

Instead of building one huge structure, the layout of the spa has been separated into functional ‘nodes’, joined by covered thatched pathways. In this way, our guests enjoy a continual communion with nature and animals as they move between treatments.

We have utilised building materials that are environmentally friendly, wooden paneling that does not contain formaldehyde in the glue; vanities that are made of wood, rather than melamine; non toxic wall paint; locally quarried cladding stones; and natural materials like glass, sandstone, wood, terracotta and stone. All of these have been selected over plastics and synthetics in the construction of the spa.

All grey water is recycled through wetlands back into the ecosystem. Toilets all have dual flush systems in order to conserve water. Products used on the property are all biodegradable and environment friendly. Drainage throughout the property has been upgraded to prevent erosion and loss of topsoil.

Our extensive planting of indigenous trees and retention of one’s adjacent to our buildings provides shade to ensure that less energy is used for cooling on hot summer days. This also provides colour and brings much of the incredible bird life to the doorstep of the visitor.

Karkloof Spa

Karkloof Spa

Products and Produce
On a product level, we have been vigilant in our choice of what is utilized in this environment. Spa products, like Pevonia, Lillian Terry and Spa Ritual, have been chosen for their organic or natural ingredients. There are no parabens or sodium laurel sulphate in these products.Both in our lodge restaurant, as well as the spa café, Green’s and Teas we source as much organic produce as possible. Our aim is not only to provide guests with the joy of using organic products on their skins, and eating deliciously fresh food, but also to enable them to experience the tranquility which comes from interacting with a healthy building.

As regards the ‘behind the scenes’ products that we use, we have not skimped on quality. This is an area where properties like ours are beset with many hidden costs, and the temptation is to utilize inferior or cheap products to save on expenditure. Our commitment to the environment simply denies skimping. Cleaning products, pest control and guest amenities have had to undergo stringent inquiry as to their environmental friendliness, their non toxicity and an absence of harmful chemicals. This is not an easy route, but is one which is socially responsible. Guest amenities are refillable in order to cut down on packaging and land fill. Collateral (printed marketing material) is printed on paper that has been farmed responsibly and is accredited by the Forest Stewardship Council.

The Karkloof Team
We strive to provide an environment where people are eager to come to work each day. Due to the rural nature of our property, we have needed to supply housing to all our staff. We have made every endeavor to provide housing where people feel proud of the area they live in .

Karkloof Spa

Karkloof Spa

There is always a need to maintain homes and deal with the issues that invariably arise within ‘families’; so we have employed a pastoral care giver who also acts as liaison officer between management and staff. Vegetable garden for staff to grow their own produce, as well as partnership with local suppliers of vegetables is in its infancy phase, but we plan for this to become an ongoing project.

The Community
The property supports two primary schools in the area. To date, we have built toilets, connected and provide ongoing electricity, as well as maintain the grounds of the schools.

In the spirit of ‘ubuntu’, we also strive to support our local community. High quality products for the lodge boutique get preferential choice if sourced in the Midlands.  Artists from the local community have been commissioned to produce artwork for the lodge. In fact, all original artwork that can be viewed at the property have been produced utilizing elements on the property. A well respected photographer who has exhibited in the metropolitan, New York, was commissioned to take photographs of the staff and the property. These can all be viewed at the boutique lodge and spa.

One of the neighbouring farms produces organic avocados and cold pressed avocado oil. This is utilized in the production of the guest amenities found in the villa. In itself, the process is an organic one, with people of different talents and outlook providing the synergy required in this ongoing process. It is our hope that, not only do we provide the guest with an outstanding experience of relaxation, comfort and rejuvenation; but that in doing so; we are able to plough back resources into the property, its wildlife and people, as well as our neighbouring community.

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