'Quiet billionaire' is roaring in the bush
JOHANN Roode, the "quiet billionaire" of last week's Financial Mail cover, is certainly making a fair amount of noise in the Lowveld. This follows the opening in March of the luxury 40-bed Kapama Lodge on his 12-hectare private game reserve, 48km west of the Kruger National Park.
The chairman of giant milling company General Foods, among other things, Roode has probably entertained heavy-hitters from more walks of life over this five-month period than any other orchestrator of a "soft" opening in travel trade history. But then, with Pretoria-based Roode, if a thing's worth doing it's not only worth doing well but with military precision.
I have personal experience of this, having undergone the 30-odd-hour weekend familiarisation programme with my family. Our party included top men from the Industrial Development Corp, the diplomatic corps and business -- among them robust Thebe Investment chairman Vusi Khanyile - and their wives. And while I wouldn't call it unadulterated fun - too much getting there (and back) and not enough being there - Roode's drive into travel through Gentour Leisure Holdings in general, and Kapama Lodge in particular, is impressive.
It is evident from the moment you arrive at the Genair charter hangar at Lanseria airport that Roode, one of SA's wealthiest private industrialists, has created a formidable infrastructure for his expansion into tourism. He has acquired travel agencies here and abroad and guesthouses in England, Switzerland and SA - including Paul Kruger's last home in Clarens. He has also created his own spacious airport terminal near that eery reminder of the old SA, the Hoedspruit airbase.
By the time you get to Kapama Lodge - the Land Rover journey is long enough to constitute a game drive - you will have had proof in the condition of the buildings and in the way staff conduct themselves of Roode's bent for being almost as meticulous as the Sun Air commercial's hostess who insists on hearing only one click. It is magnified at the immaculate lodge, where you get the feeling somebody is gliding into the loo after you leave it to fold and tape down the end of the loo roll.
No wonder Roode, who manages to look as though he has just stepped out of his dressing-room even at the end of a busy and dusty day in the bush, goes by the nickname "Die Silwer Sluiper". But there is charm in his reserved, formal - even shy - manner.
Though it may simply have been the promotional nature of our excursion, I felt a lighter, more relaxed approach to serving and organising guests' activities could be adopted at Kapama Lodge; this is, after all, a bush retreat and not a wheat-processing plant. However, I found it handsome in lakeside setting, interconnected layout, conference and other facilities. The food, if old-fashioned, is of a high standard.
My only criticisms are that the thatched rooms are dark and underlit - it is impossible to read inside, even at midday - and that the boma is so vast and regimentally laid out that it lacks cosiness.
I had been led to believe that Kapama came close to Durban businessman Luke Bailes's Singita Ebony and Boulders camps on his private reserve near Londolozi in the Sabi Sand in terms of luxurious decoration and personalised service. But while Kapama Lodge is good-looking and beautifully run, it lacks Singita's intimacy and stylishness.
Game viewing is good, though it was touch-and-go during the three-hour Sunday morning drive whether we'd see anything other than warthog, giraffe and antelope before we came across a herd of elephant complete with a baby, as well as a pair of mating lions. But then you're always at the mercy of Lady Luck on game drives.
Of course, what Roode's private game reserve has been famous for several years is his wife, Lente's, Hoedspruit Research and Breeding Centre, which focuses on the protection of endangered cheetah, African wild cats and Cape hunting dogs, among others.
My lasting impression? Kapama Game Reserve and Lodge is to lovers of the bush what Fancourt is to golfers. You will either love it or find it too uptight and impersonal.
The daily rate at Kapama Lodge is R1 700 a person sharing, which is at least R1 000 cheaper than at Mala Mala or Singita. A winter rate of R850 a person sharing is being offered until the end of September. ý Linda Stafford is a senior editor of the Financial Mail.