STEVIE GODSON finds an armada of excess at Skukuza
NOW I understand why the powers-that-be are demanding a 5-star hotel for Kruger National Park. It’s all to do with pillow-drool. At least, that’s my theory having just been dazzled – at Skukuza – by one of the biggest bevies of grand, gleaming luxury vehicles I’ve ever seen in one place.
There must have been at least 100 of the German and even American beauties, several imported – a veritable armada of excess. (Pictured above)
Seeing them all together, it suddenly became clear to me: being used to such class and style, how could their government-official “owners” (not their real ones, of course – that would be you and me) possibly deign to lay their heads down on anything but the finest (down, that is)?
The drivers of these provincial Mpumalanga government officials – that’s what their number-plates and one of the drivers told me they were – lounged around aimlessly for at least two days (they were there when we arrived, so it could have been longer), while their very important masters and mistresses tended to some no doubt very important business in Skukuza’s sleek conference centre.
Where on earth did they sleep, I mused, as I tried not to dwell on how many and whose heads had lain on my clean but lumpy pillow encased in its clean but far from new pillowslip.
The move by South African National Parks to build a 5-star hotel has been met, according to AFP, with disapproval from staunch nature lovers, who argue that it will degrade the reserve’s ecology and ambience. It is, adds the report, aimed at attracting South Africa’s emerging middle class.
Parks tourism boss Glenn Phillips explains: “Our assessment has shown that this group does not like staying in camps or lodges available in the park.”
Well, of course not, poor dears. How would they possibly cope with the small and scratchy, but perfectly clean, towels allocated to each park visitor?
The hotel, planned for the southern part of the two-million-hectare reserve, will be built near the Malelane Gate, the most convenient entrance from Johannesburg and the Nelspruit airport.
Without such a facility yet in place, the Mpumalanga bigwigs who were there when I was had no choice but to suffer as we mere mortals for one night at least – although I didn’t see any of them braai-ing in the moonlight and exchanging tales of exciting sightings like the rest of us.
They didn’t stick around the second night, when their business was presumably complete, and I watched in horror as the motorcade sped away. I just hope no animals were left dead or dying in their wake – they were going at least 70km/h and still accelerating within two kilometres of leaving camp, despite the park’s maximum 50km/h.
But then there was little incentive to stay, was there?
Only the awesome beauty of nature and the unique Kruger experience. But not the luxury of a 5-star hotel that will cater to their every whim – at our expense, of course.
(A version of this column was first published in East London’s Daily Dispatch newspaper.)