FROM the hectic, fast moving world and bright lights of Johannesburg to the sedate life of owning and managing a game reserve in the Eastern Cape.
This is the story of Nick Fox, of the Sibuya Game Reserve between Port Alfred and Kenton-on-Sea, which has grown into one of the largest award-winning reserves in the entire area. Aptly named Sibuya, translated, this means firstly the return of the animals.
Fox said: “Added to this, it also means ‘we have returned’ and we also hope our guests will do the same.” Many of them have over the years.
Fox’s life started in Kenya, where his father managed game lodges and it was there that his love for the outdoors started. But his family left Kenya in 1969 and settled in Natal, where he completed his schooling at the well-known Michaelhouse College.
After leaving school, Fox studied further at the University of Cape Town and thereafter followed several years in business. He then moved to Johannesburg where he went into the business of specialising in designing and building kitchens. This was followed by a successful spell of seven years in property development in the top end of Sandton and Bryanston.
Meanwhile, Fox had met and married his wife, Carol, in 1983. Both had grown up in country areas and did not relish the idea of bringing up their son in a city. Their yearning to have their own piece of land was still strong and so it was in October, 1995, that he decided to “retire” at the age of 38 and move on to his next venture. So they travelled to the Eastern Cape and during a hectic 10 days looked at 45 farms stretching from Haga Haga to Cape Infanta on the Brede River before they bought the 1 256 hectare Hopewell Farm in the Southwell area, which is now the hub of Sibuya.
The Fox’s were joined in this venture by Carol’s sister, Fenella Lawrenson, who is now a shareholder in Sibuya.
The farm bordered on the Kariega River and their initial idea was to build 30 houses with access to the river and sell them. But then two problems arose. Firstly they had 12km of estuary they would have to fence off. “Secondly, the ladies did not like the idea of other people living on our land,” Fox said with a smile.
The other alternative was to buy two farms on the other side of the river, which took seven years to achieve. During this time they continued to farm with beef cattle.
The addition of these two farms to Hopewell Farm saw the birth of Sibuya, now about 2 450 hectares. The building of the almost 40km of electrified game fence started in April 2003 and was completed at 4.30pm on August 24 that year. This was crucial as the first load of game – 63 impala – was delivered 30 minutes later.
Since then three camps have been established and, when full, can accommodate 32 adults and children. “We are one of the few reserves in the country which is completely child-friendly and accommodate children of any age,” Fox said.
A unique and popular feature of Sibuya is that all visitors book in at their reception office in Kenton-on-Sea and then enter the reserve by boat up the Kariega River.
From these modest beginnings, Sibuya has grown into a big five reserve with a further 45 to 50 different game species. In addition, they have the second highest bird count in the country with more than 390 species. Only the Kruger National Park has more.
Sibuya has won several top awards in their industry. In 2013, their Forest Camp was presented with the Top Four Star game lodge in the Eastern Cape, followed in 2015 with the Top Four Star game lodge in the Eastern Cape and South Africa award going to their River Camp. This camp again won this award for the Eastern Cape earlier this year. In addition, Sibuya was presented with the Top Wild Life Experience in the Eastern Cape for the last two years.
An added bonus this year has been the presentation of the Top Field Guide in the Eastern Cape award to their head ranger, David McMair.
A proud Fox said: “These awards have made a massive difference to our business.” He also travels extensively for about seven weeks in the year throughout South Africa and Europe to promote Sibuya. Most of their clients come from Europe, the UK and Australia, with their busy months being during summer. The reserve is also popular with South Africans, who take advantage of day visits and winter specials.
Sibuya also plays a huge part in the local community. Besides providing employment for up to 90 people, Fox said they are passionate about playing their part in educating children in the townships about nature conservation and tourism. “This is important to me. These children are the future of tourism and also our country,” he said. They also donate 50 to 60 day trips to local charities during the year.
Sibuya naturally plays a huge role in nature conservation in the area. As an example of this, they recently welcomed back two of their rhino calves whose mothers had been slaughtered by poachers on the reserve. The calves had to be hand-reared at the only animal orphanage in the area at Shamwari.