Where the wild things are

Sales are soaring in South Africa, and now game reserves have joined the fray, says Mary Wilson
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Southern Africa may still have its problems, but it is also blessed with hectares of bush that attracts many to a point of addiction. Albert Schweitzer, Karen Blixen and Virginia McKenna were all captivated by it and even Sir Richard Branson has bought a large game farm - the Ulusaba Game Reserve in north-east South Africa. It is also something that the South Africans themselves love and respect.

Southern Africa may still have its problems, but it is also blessed with hectares of bush that attracts many to a point of addiction. Albert Schweitzer, Karen Blixen and Virginia McKenna were all captivated by it and even Sir Richard Branson has bought a large game farm - the Ulusaba Game Reserve in north-east South Africa. It is also something that the South Africans themselves love and respect.

"We find going to the bush so relaxing and we try to go as much as possible," says Rod Pringle, who lives in Johannesburg and runs County Homesearch's South African office. "It's such a wonderful break from the stress of city life. You get up early to go out in an open-top Land Rover to see the game, come back from breakfast, spend the morning around the pool, have lunch, perhaps a rest and then go out again before the sun comes down. It's a wonderful way to re-charge the batteries."

There are two types of game farm. The old-style ones are stocked with game for the purpose of sport. These are far outnumbered, however, by game reserves that breed wild animals solely for conservation and, in turn, for tourist visits. "There are a good number of foreign buyers for this sort of farm and it is possible to buy them in many ways," says Pringle. "You can buy a whole game farm, either big or small, a share in a company that owns a large amount of land on which you could build your own lodge, or buy a share in an existing lodge, which is the cheapest option."

A small game farm will cost about £300,000 to £400,000, which is not cheap, but you get an awful lot for your money and you are unlikely to find such a magical property anywhere else. If you were to get together a syndicate, which is quite a common way to buy into a game farm, then you could own part of a reserve large enough to accommodate the "big five" - lion, buffalo, rhino, leopard and elephant - for a fraction of the cost.

"There is huge potential in South Africa for game reserves, as people become more interested in animals and the ecological side of things," says Tony Sparkes of AGS Properties, which markets all types of reserves. "Last year, South Africa was voted the number one place to invest in property, and the general market rose by 34 per cent. The country is stable at the moment and I can only see prices going one way."

A share in a lodge can be found for a small capital outlay, entitling you to about four weeks' annual usage and, as the share is bought in perpetuity, it can be passed on to your children or sold.

By buying a share in a lodge at Madikwe, a private game reserve about three hours' drive from Johannesburg, on the Botswana border, you could enjoy its wildlife, second only to the Kruger National park, for about £40,000, with a monthly running cost of about £100 to £200 per owner. This lodge has five double bedrooms in individual chalets, an entertainment area, pool and fully staffed central lodge.

"I think game farms are a much better investment than a property on the coast," says Pringle. "There are fabulous coasts all around the world, but what there isn't, is South African bush, which is well managed so that the game is kept healthy and the environment preserved."

AGS Properties is selling a huge enterprise, which might interest someone looking for a serious investment in South Africa, where they can also get some enjoyment out of it. This is a 9,000-hectare game farm in the malaria-free Eastern Cape, five minutes from the beaches and near the city of East London.

The sale price of £9m includes Bush Camp (with six en-suite safari tents for 12 guests) and Valley Camp (six luxury tents, set on timber decks among indigenous trees, for 12 people, a restaurant with thatched roof, a swimming pool, student camp and eight individual houses. "The reserve makes a good return, although the vendor will only reveal exactly how much to interested parties," says Sparkes. "And there is potential for expansion with possibilities for a spa, corporate functions and conferencing."

Another game resort on the market for slightly less - £400,000 - is in the Soutpansberg mountains, about a 90-minute flight north of Johannesburg. "This is a thriving and profitable 6,500-acre safari operation with 800 head of various game species and accommodation for 10 guests," says Pringle. Or you could buy a seven-acre property with a seven-bedroom guest lodge on the Zambian shore of Lake Tanganyika. The asking price is just £250,000, although the property is remote.

Purchasers should take specialist advice. "It is best to use some sort of adviser, be it County Homesearch or a specialist wildlife conservation consultant. The issues surrounding syndication agreements and usage restrictions need to be well understood by potential buyers. The location - whether it is malaria-prone, access - and density of game and bird life are all factors that influence long-term value," he says.

AGS Properties, 0800 587 6718, www.agsproperties.com.

County Homesearch UK, 01872 223349. County Homesearch SA, 00 27 11 320 5880, www.countyhomesearch.com.

Comments