The camp, which is moulded on American-styled summer camps, is the only camp in South Africa to be certified by the American Camping Association

Few trained professionals can commit to walking away from successful careers to pursue passions which have no guarantee of tangible success. But that is exactly what Attorney Zoe Ellender and her Engineer husband, Nic Ellender did in 1999.

The young couple made the unpopular decision to quit their day jobs, move into Zoe’s parents summer home in Kwa-Zulu-Natal; with the dream of opening a unique children’s camp. 

Speaking on her decision to walk away from a rising career in one of Cape Town’s top law firms, Zoe says she found herself miserable, “No one seeks the service of an attorney because their happy, my clients were miserable, my colleagues were miserable and so was I. I remember sitting on a beach, bunking a law programme I was meant to attend, trying to articulate to myself what my true passions were.” 

At the top of the list of her passions was kids, holiday, sun and the beach. This list eventually became the foundation of what is today, a kids holiday camp with the singular purpose of transforming children’s lives for the better.

The camp, now known as Sugar Bay Holiday Camp for Kids, located in Zinkwazi Kwa-Zulu-Natal, stands out from other camps because of its ethos of free choice. Campers are given the choice of multiple activities and programmes from which to choose from. The camp, which is moulded on American-styled summer camps, is the only camp in South Africa to be certified by the American Camping Association.

Journey to Sugar Bay

The journey to what is now Sugar Bay began in 1999. Upon moving into her parents’ home in Kwa-Zulu-Natal, Sugar Bay co-founder Zoe Ellender got to work drafting a unique business plan. 

The process proved tricky as there was no existing business of its kind for the budding entrepreneur to model her business plan from. That, coupled with the fact herself and her husband had no collateral, made the process of securing a loan that much more daunting. 

Fast-forward through a year of research, working closely with American camp directors, interviewing scores of counselors and reworking her business plan over and over, the couple eventually secured three loan offers from various South African banks.

What’s fascinating is that for nearly a year before Sugar Bay was even in its developmental stages, Zoe travelled across Gauteng schools, marketing her camp for kids. While unconventional in her approach, the entrepreneur explains that had she not done so, her business would’ve been dead in the water within six months. 

“My advice for up and coming business owners is to market your business before you open it. Many business owners want to wait until they are ready and everything is set up perfectly, but we couldn’t afford to do that because the interest rate on our loan wasn’t going to wait for us to generate business, we had to have children enrolled in camp as soon as we opened our doors.” 

Sugar Bay Holiday Camp officially opened its doors in July 2001 after being built in just over four months; over the past 15 years the children's resort has become a part of the lives of thousands of young campers, both from South African as well as internationally.

Aside from its aesthetic – wide open spaces, water-slides, lush greenery and its beach - Sugar Bay counsellors are arguably the best part of the experience. The staff ratio is one counsellor to every three kids. This, Zoe says, is a unique aspect of Sugar Bay, “Our counsellors, who are given basic training in child psychology, give campers their complete and undivided attention.”  

To parents who are considering sending their kids to camp, Zoe says enrolling your children at Sugar Bay camp is not just a way to send them someplace to be occupied. “It’s amazing to see the transformation of these kids. Children who come to camp insecure, bloom. There is a lot of maturity and growth in confidence we see in the kids who attend our camp.”

For more information on Sugar Bay visit: www.sugarbay.co.za