PICS: KZN game lodge gutted by runaway fire
By Shirley Le Guern
Durban - The Gwahumbe Lodge and Spa was razed to the ground on Sunday in a wildfire, despite members of the Mid-Illovo farming community working through the night to save it.
The well-known game lodge, which hosted BBC television’s Top Gear show and Gordon Ramsay’s National Geographic travel food show, Uncharted, was the victim of a runaway bush fire that started in Eston at 9am on Sunday morning.
Fanned by strong winds, it continued to spread across the region, destroying large amounts of farm land.
According to farmers in the area, about 2 000 hectares of sugar cane burnt, as well as timber and bushveld.
More than 15 farms are believed to have been affected by the blaze.
A devastated Shanon MacKenzie, owner of the Gwahumbe Game Lodge and Spa, said staff and members of the local community had fought late into the night to save the lodge and chalets.
The 30 guests at the lodge on Sunday afternoon were safely evacuated.
The lodge has a staff of 22, with many living on the reserve.
“Most importantly, all of our staff are safe and accounted for and our staff accommodation was saved.
“We have sent most of our traumatised staff home,” she said.
She thanked fellow farmers who had come to Gwahumbe’s aid, as well as members of the local community who had reached out to the owners and staff, providing meals and support.
Gwahumbe is a private game reserve just an hour away from Durban and 45-minutes from Pietermaritzburg.
The lodge was opened 26 years ago by MacKenzie’s father and mother, who designed and built the resort themselves.
However, it began as a conservation project, with the rehabilitation of farmland in the valley continuing together with the re-introduction of game into the area.
The surrounding reserve, which is home to a wide variety of antelope, giraffe, hippo and zebra, has also been badly burnt and MacKenzie has appealed for donations of hay as the animals have no grazing left.
She said wildlife casualties had been minimal and most animals had been located.
“This is a devastating blow for a resort that has withstood the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown which prevented us from hosting guests for a long period.
“This has not only been a huge tragedy for our family, as Gwahumbe is very close to our hearts, but also for the broader community,” she said.