Would you believe us if we told you one of our most world-renowned, eco-conscious safari lodges was built by a poacher? Well, it was … sort of.
Set in the rarest of natural habitats, the concept for the now award-winning &Beyond Phinda Forest Lodge in South Africa was based on the purely logical, yet (at the time) incredibly daring, premise that the most effective way of inspiring guests to help preserve an endangered habitat is to have them wake up right in the middle of it. Makes sense, right? Fall in love with the world and you’ll do everything in your power to help protect it.
And so the challenge was posed to build a lodge whose ecological footprint would be so light that it would have next to no impact on its environment – a project that, back in 1994, had never been done before. The environmental standards drawn up by our project team were so strict that when the tender eventually went out for construction, not a single company stepped up to the challenge.
In typical &Beyond style, we didn’t take this as defeat; we simply decided we would do it ourselves and so the Phinda Construction team was born. The rules were draconian. No vehicles would be driven to the construction site. All materials would be carried in by hand or pushed in a wheelbarrow following a narrow path marked out with string. Concrete was mixed by hand and delivered via a relay of 100 wheelbarrows. This was gruelling, physically demanding work, but our team took it in stride.
An ironic twist of fate even had convicted poacher Zibane Mazibuko working on the building project. When Zibane was caught poaching nyala on Phinda land, &Beyond approached the tribal court and came up with a unique compromise. Zibane was sentenced to three months of community service on the reserve, where he was taught how to make bricks.
Realising that he had found the ideal opportunity to earn an honest living, Zibane started his own brick-making business and was employed to supply the 300 000 bricks needed for the building of &Beyond Phinda Forest Lodge. And so it came to be that &Beyond’s most awarded eco lodge was built almost entirely of bricks made by Phinda’s most famous reformed poacher.
Just like the seasons, people, too, can change.