Not many developers install mud pools for hippos and hyenas at the same time as plumbing for power showers, but Mark Rutherford’s Gondwana project at Mossel Bay in South Africa’s picturesque Garden Route is the first of its kind anywhere in the world. He and his wife Wendy are creating a wildlife park while building a development of 96 lodges for the second-home market.
Rutherford worked on the Kruger Game Reserve and then for the Oppenheimer family, reintroducing game to parts of the Kalahari Desert. He has long dreamt of giving others the opportunity to live among herds of wildlife in a vast, residential, game reserve and it was while working for the Oppenheimers that he met Wendy, a marketing executive, and the dream became reality.
With the help of Keith Murray of Mossel Bay agents Pam Golding, the couple bought 7,200 hectares of farmland that they are reverting to natural bush.
“The game in this region got wiped out by agriculture, which resulted
in the loss of their natural habitat,” says Rutherford. “What we are doing now is reintroducing the original vegetation, mostly fynbos, and generally preparing the area for the animals to come back in.”
The first task was to dismantle old farm fencing to open up natural corridors for animals to roam, while constructing 47 miles of game fencing to enclose the property into one reserve. Construction has already begun on some of the lodges plus an upmarket hotel.
Though the reserve will be able to house the big five – lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino and elephant (the latter will be tame and give rides), and many smaller game such as springbok, wildebeest and impala, there should be no risk of children being dragged off for supper by a predatory neighbour. The lodges will be discreetly situated on large plots and fenced for safety and freedom of movement. Each owner will have exclusive rights to traverse the reserve and view game from their own four-by-four vehicle.
“We are developing less than 1 per cent of the reserve from the housing point of view so there will be ample space for the free movement of game,” says Rutherford.
Fully furnished turn-key homes and safari lodges can be purchased from £160,000 and can be let out in owner’s absence as a part of the hotel if desired.
Five stars in Borneo
At the Nexus Residences development on the Karambunai Peninsula at Sabah in Borneo, development and conservation are going hand in hand. This 4,000-acre eco-sanctuary site is surrounded by a 130m-year-old rainforest and is marketing itself as a five-star eco-tourism resort.
The area houses many important and rare wonders of nature, including the world’s largest flower, more than 275 species of exotic birds, deer and flying frogs. Its most famous residents, however, are the orang utangs, one of humanity’s closest relatives and perhaps its most endangered despite being a protected species.
Using a large tract of land donated by the developers of Nexus Residences, a complete eco-sanctuary has been established in Sabah to monitor the well-being of a variety of species of animal, focusing particularly upon the orang utang.
“They are trying to protect the mangroves and the swamps and also opening a museum on site and an educational centre,” says Gareth Hart of Colliers International in Hong Kong, which is selling Nexus. “It’s true that the eco-sanctuary is being used as a marketing tool and the conservation aspect is certainly attracting people to the scheme. But this is an area that also needs a boost to its economy.”
With a 6km-long pristine white sandy beach, Nexus Residences also has a million-year-old tropical rainforest, clubhouses, spas and parks sprinkled throughout the site. Prices for the 52 available villas start at $136,000 for two bedrooms.
Working together to conserve
In the past five years New Zealand real estate values have risen 12 to 25 per cent, with rises especially pronounced at key beachfront locations. This has encouraged farmers to sell land for development, threatening acres of exquisite pastoral landscape.
But the country has found a novel solution: so-called “lifestyle blocks”, where a group of buyers, often from abroad, purchase and pay for the maintenance of land, most of which remains underdeveloped.
It all started five years ago, when Dennis Guise, who had lived in Britain, working in the financial services sector, for nearly 20 years, decided to return to his native New Zealand. Resolving to wind down on the work front and spend more time in his birth country, Guise looked around for something to buy. But he encountered a problem. “My wife rides horses and unlike the UK, where you have the right to roam, in New Zealand you can’t just ride across other people’s land,” he explains. “That means you either have to own a lot of land yourself or you have to stick to the roads.”
Guise and his friends came up with a gentleman-farmer-cum-second-home-owner concept, whereby 27 buyers purchased two- to three-acre plots on a 7,000-acre farm at Closeburn, just outside Queenstown. It was the first shared-farm concept, the precursor of lifestyle blocks.
The owners, most of whose previous farming experience just about stretched to a vegetable allotment and a bird box in the garden, found themselves with the run of swathes of land and living amidst livestock, including horses, cows and sheep that they part owned. They also share ownership of fishing and boating lodges.
A farmer is retained to run the farm and look after the lodges while a married couple maintain the owners’ houses in their absence. Today, the running of the farm costs each person NZ$11,000 (£4,350) per year. But as the farm’s total revenue exceeds its total outgoings, it just about breaks even.
Variations on the farm-share theme have since sprung up all over New Zealand, with owners having a greater or lesser ownership and run of the farm. The lifestyle blocks are one of the richest veins worth mining in terms of New Zealand property and remain unique to this inordinately beautiful country.
A Spanish lesson learnt
Having suffered rampant development regardless of the cost to the environment, southern Spain can hardly be said to be at the vanguard of the green movement. Yet developers throughout the coastal regions are finally starting realise that protecting landscape and plant life where possible is important.
Playa Macenas Beach and Golf Resort on the coast of Almeria is situated on a 300-hectare estate, 150 hectares of which have been donated to the local council for incorporation into Cabo de Gata Natural Park. A further 27 hectares has been earmarked for replanting and protecting a threatened species called Limonium estevei, which is only found on a small part of the coastal land near Playa Macenas.
Developers argue that without their efforts, the plant was under threat of extinction.
“Every single plant was tagged, dug up and taken away to be looked after at the department of Ecological and Plant Biology of the University of Almería,” says Pauline Bonanni of Select Resorts. “There are thousands of this particular plant over thousands of square metres and it took months to complete.”
The plants are to be replanted in a designated area that will have nature trails running through it so that people can admire the different species. Bonanni recognises that much of the pressure for such measures has come from Spain’s green lobbies, but she maintains that developers often go above and beyond what is expected of them, as at Playa Macenas.
“They have become more environmentally conscious,” she says. “You only need to look at the Costa del Sol to see that they learned the hard way.”
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