It’s a lifestyle many people dream of: lions roaring in the distance as you sit around your braai at night, afternoons spent watching a herd of elephants from your deck as they dig for water in a dry river bed, and mornings spent listening to a dawn chorus of bushveld birds as you embark on your own private game drive …
For a privileged few, this isn’t a dream; it’s the reality of owning property open to the iconic Kruger National Park. “These properties are incredibly scarce and incredibly sought after,” says Rob Severin from Century21 Wildlife properties. They are also generally expensive, with people spending anything from R2.5-million to R200-million on homes and lodges in areas like the Timbavati, Klaserie, Umbabat and Balule private nature reserves.
There is very little turn-over in this segment of the market, with homes and lodges retaining their value even through economic slow-downs. “I personally think that these properties are going to appreciate much more than your average. They will never lose value because there are no other properties like them in the world,” says Severin, who works out of Hoedspruit with estates, farms and nature reserves on the park’s western boundary.
Estates in the area
There are also a number of properties that flank the southern boundary of the Kruger National Park, from Marloth Park, a high density estate with relatively affordable listings that borders the Kruger National Park but isn’t open to it, to the more exclusive Mjejane, which includes a South African National Parks concession with a low-level bridge over the Crocodile River that allows direct access into the park. In fact, it’s the only privately owned game reserve in the country with this facility. Sabie Park is another well-known property adjacent to the Paul Kruger Gate, where the Sabie River is all that separates you from the national park. The rules here mean that you can only spend three months of each year in residence, to minimise the impact of the development and maximise the quality of the exclusive experience that people are buying into.
While there are thousands of miles of coastline where people can purchase seaside homes, Severin explains that opportunities to live amongst Africa’s Big 5, on properties that border or are open to the Kruger National Park’s almost 2 million hectares (ha) of pristine wilderness, are incomparable. Sometimes properties have been in family trusts for generations and can’t be sold, and sometimes owners won’t part with them for any sum of money. In recent years though, there has been an upsurge in innovative ownership models that mean there are still opportunities to buy into this market.
These include share blocks like Ingwelala, where buyers purchase shares in a company as opposed to buying a house or property. “The asset is the land and you have a use agreement, which is why these properties can’t be bonded,” explains Severin. The advantage of share block is that they often come with large traversing rights, whereas buying 22ha, 300ha and 1 000ha properties in a reserve, even one that’s open to Kruger, may mean that your movements are limited to the piece of land you own. “Your choice will depend on your mind set and budget, and whether or not outright ownership is important to you," suggests Severin.
Properties that are open to Kruger also have to interpret and enforce the park’s management principals. The properties themselves are highly regulated in terms of what you can and can’t do as an owner of either a lodge or a private residence. Most of the properties are managed by a warden and governed by a constitution. “Before you buy, you must look at what rules apply in the area you’re buying into; this includes provisions around anything from building aesthetics to owning pets and building swimming pools, to the length of time you can be in residence,” says Severin. It’s also important to know what your ownership means with regards to other people’s properties and where you can and can’t go.
Deals are scarce
“There are still good deals in private nature reserves like Parsons and Grietjie but you’ll be hard pressed to find properties in reserves like the Timbavati, Olifants North or Olifants South,” says Severin. He has noted that some people wait years and years for properties to come onto the market; some don’t ever find what they’re looking for, but a lucky few do. For them, it’s about so much more than owning a property; it’s about living a very particular, very wild and very privileged way of life.