An exclusive world of untouched landscapes and unrivalled luxury summons you to Lepogo Lodges, where comfort meets conservation. Kate Hugues, Operations Director, explains how luxury and sustainability can co-exist when implemented with finesse and understanding.
Nestled in the heart of the Lapalala Wilderness Reserve in South Africa’s Limpopo Province, family-owned Lepogo Lodges offer guests both luxury and sustainability amongst unspoilt beauty.
As a fully not-for-profit venture, and one of the few lodges in the world that bestows 100 percent of any financial gain back into the reserve, the Lepogo Lodges story isn’t just about luxury; it is a pledge to conservation that aims to preserve a future for the land, wildlife, and local communities.
“By creating beautiful high-end lodges without taking any profit for ourselves, we can give more back to conservation for the future,” opens Kate Hughes, Operations Director at Lepogo Lodges.
“Our off-grid haven stands out as a rare gem, and we are situated within the 50,000 hectare (ha), malaria-free Lapalala Wilderness Reserve, home to the ‘Awesome Eight’ – the ‘Big Five’, plus cheetahs, wild dogs, and pangolins,” she enthuses.
The villas all overlook the winding Palala River and endless bushlands. Each of the four double villas span 125 square metres (sqm), whilst the family villa is set over 350 sqm and sleeps up to five people, comprising primary and children’s suites separated by a large living area. There are also three outdoor decking areas and a large infinity pool.
“Each villa combines modern amenities with an appreciation for its surroundings – with underfloor heating, heated plunge pools, and automated lights combined with ‘sky beds’ that are beautifully made up by the lodge team so that guests can sleep under the stars with a guided astronomy book; a very unique form of stargazing,” Hughes reflects.
Can you tell us about Lepogo Lodges’ commitment to supporting local communities?
Kate Hughes, Operations Director: “We are deeply committed to community engagement and education through our partnership with the Lapalala Wilderness School. In terms of community investment, the lodge prioritises sourcing products from best-in-class local producers, focusing on both quality and volume.
“This commitment extends to supporting local community projects, such as Kamatsogo’s Changing Lives Stitch by Stitch initiative, which supplies the lodge’s on-site Curio shop with beautifully crafted soft toys, cushions, and clothing.
“The Mogalekwena ladies handcraft bed mats and placemats for the lodge, made with Palala palm from the river flowing beneath the lodge.
“Additionally, the community at Timola contributes by creating room sprays and other amenities for the shop. We work closely with these talented communities, actively working to develop new products that align with the preferences of our guests.”
Every stay with Lepogo Lodges is exclusive, as staff work tirelessly to personalise each guest’s experience, and features consistent luxury elements. The company prefers to curate each guest’s stay depending on their unique wishes, needs, experiences, and desires, which allows for a wide range of adventures in the pristine African wilderness.
“General highlights include daily game drives with expert guides, where guests have the chance to see the majestic and beautiful wildlife Africa has to offer, along with everything else that makes the Lapalala Wilderness so special,” explains Hughes.
Additional exclusive experiences at Lepogo Lodges include bush walks, water safaris, fishing, visiting the San Bushman paintings, sleeping out under the stars, in-villa spas, bush breakfasts, and sundowners. Family activities such as treasure hunts, pottery and jewellery making classes, treetop yoga sessions, and bush baking classes can also be enjoyed.
“For a truly private experience, Melote House, opening in January 2024, is set to be exclusively available as a private hire for between 12 and 16 guests,” she adds.
Melote House has been designed with a carbon-neutral approach, featuring impressive, rammed earth walls constructed from earth taken from the hillside it sits on. Built-in tiers maximise views over the Lapalala Wilderness, whilst the exclusive accommodation features multi-generational family living, with the main house sleeping 12 and an adjacent separate cottage sleeping four.
In line with Lepogo Lodges’ commitment to conservation, Melote House serves as an exclusive-use private sanctuary, seamlessly combining high-end luxury with a focus on sustainability and environmentally-friendly practices.
“The design and detail of the house is exquisite, and the interiors have been beautifully and carefully curated to tell the story of Melote in the Lapalala Wilderness,” Hughes clarifies.
Passionate about wildlife conservation, Lepogo Lodges actively funds research and works closely with the Lapalala Wilderness Reserve. It wishes to establish the reserve as a centre of excellence for the release of wild cheetahs, alongside additional conservation of the ‘Awesome Eight’.
This work includes reintroducing the endangered cheetah into the Lapalala Wilderness Reserve, and ongoing monitoring and research.
“Most recently, this has resulted in a successful breeding programme; the lodge was delighted when the first young male cheetah to reach adulthood went to Zambia to start his own gene pool there,” comments Hughes.
Additional conservation projects include land rehabilitation projects where Lepogo Lodges has purchased buffalos for the reserve, as the bovines do a great job of replenishing the habitat. It is also sponsoring a pangolin rehabilitation centre (anticipated for completion in 2024), whilst species of rare antelope such as roan and sable have been reintroduced back into the reserve.
“Moreover, we’re excited to share that our own Lepogo Lodges honey is being served on our breakfast tables, and we are crafting our own gin using botanicals exclusively found around the reserve,” Hughes excites.
Lepogo Lodges is working on a number of other conservation projects on the reserve, highlighting the company’s ongoing commitment to conservation and sustainability, offering unique experiences for its guests while contributing to the local ecosystem and conservation for the future.
Lepogo Lodges operates a self-generated electricity system through an original, bespoke solar walkway, which is believed to be the first of its kind in South Africa.
“The whole reserve is entirely off the grid – you won’t see a single power line in 50,000 ha of land. The lodge is designed with sensitivity, ensuring that only one percent of the building touches the land,” Hughes reveals.
Commitment to sustainability is further demonstrated through the company’s reduce-reuse-recycle principle, with items such as slippers and survival bags in the villas crafted from recycled plastic bottles. Additionally, the lodge adheres to a no single-use plastic policy.
Furthermore, Lepogo Lodges has created its own carbon offset programme, which actively neutralises the footprint of every guest throughout their entire journey, from departing their homes to returning to their front door. Notably, the company is the first lodge in Africa to do this.
“Guests have the opportunity to calculate their specific carbon footprint with the lodge and then choose from a selection of projects for Lepogo Lodges to offset their footprint against. This personalised carbon offset process is carried out for every guest,” explains Hughes.
To facilitate this initiative, staff at Lepogo Lodges work to convert the calculated carbon emissions from a guest’s journey into a monetary figure. The team reviews the journey, calculates the emissions, and then presents the guest with the opportunity to choose one of three conservation projects for the lodge to offset their carbon footprint against.
Available Lepogo Lodges initiatives include the Community Stove Project, which donates efficient stoves to local families, meaning that less wood is burnt for the same amount of heating.
“The Community Stove Project always seems to prove the most popular, and it is estimated that the project reduces the wood used in one household by up to 2.5 tonnes per year. This saves trees, hours spent collecting wood, and reduces emissions.”
The South African Reforestation Trust, meanwhile, focuses on indigenous tree species planting, whilst Stand for Trees is a global initiative protecting forest landscapes and their communities and wildlife.
“We work closely with the Lapalala Wilderness School’s community outreach scheme to donate to these projects,” Hugues proudly concludes.