Authentic Africa

Authentic Africa

Authentic Africa


mFulaWozi Wilderness Private Game Reserve

An aerial view of an authentic river in a green valley in Africa.

With its respect for local communities and the natural world, mFulaWozi Wilderness Private Game Reserve is reinventing the luxury safari experience

Deep in the heart of rural South Africa, in the traditional Zulu tribal land of KwaZulu-Natal near Durban, Barry and Sonya Theunissen have built a novel approach to safari that is based upon the support and consent of traditional communities. The Theunissens spent many years building relationships of mutual trust before leasing the tribal land to create the mFulaWozi Wilderness Private Game Reserve. This spectacular spot features stunning luxury lodges, which between them accommodate 46 people, as well as two spas, exceptional dining and access to thousands of hectares of beautiful, unspoilt land that is home to some of Earth’s most awe-inspiring wildlife.

“We asked the chiefs if they were interested in a partnership to develop the land,” says Barry, who had gained experience and trust by building affordable housing for rural communities. “They had always seen the reserve fence as the enemy, as it denied them access to their traditional lands and became a barrier between the community and the game reserve. We took a different approach. We leased the tribal land that neighbours the national park and forged a partnership so the community will benefit.”

As well as bringing drinking water to the community villages, the reserve provides skills training and employment. Locals were first taught construction so they could build the two luxury lodges – essentially a series of connected private villas, many with their own pools – and other facilities. Locals prepare exceptional meals, provide handmade textiles and fabrics to decorate the lodges, and act as tour guides, showing visitors the many splendours of the land. The 16,000-hectare reserve borders a national park as well as the oldest declared wilderness area in Africa. Visitors have access to this untouched wilderness, while animals – elephants, water buffalo, cheetah, lions and many more – cross to and fro between the old reserve and the tribal land. This creates an unforgettable and richly rewarding experience, with some guests so inspired that they return home and raise funds to provide further amenities for local villages.

With the input and experience of this engaged and enthusiastic local community, an economically sustainable business and mutually supportive model has been developed that allows the land to maintain its biodiversity and benefit visitors, local people and wildlife. The two lodges – Biyela Lodge and Mthembu Lodge – are named after local chiefs in recognition of the area’s history; and, having developed the trust of local elders, the Theunissens have recorded the oral tradition of the Zulus in written form. The reserve is entirely powered by solar energy, with water taken from boreholes – but such environmentally friendly measures never affect the luxuriousness of the guests’ experience.

“When visitors are watching the animals, we don’t rush people in and out – they can spend as much time as they like. It’s all about the guests and getting back to a very authentic way of doing safari. Every year, we are gaining more and more knowledge about the animals and their habits, and we can bring that to the guests.”

There is also the opportunity for guests to enjoy bush dinners or riverside experiences, and the reserve’s five-star cuisine accommodates any dietary need. Plus, if they want a break from the bush, guests can spend the day relaxing in one of the property’s two spas. “We are very guest-oriented, and we make sure they get exactly what they want,” says Sonya. “We fit everything around their needs.”