In RiverBend, we wanted to provide a safari destination with the comforts of home and the luxury of choice.
Malcolm and Andrea Rutherford purchased the farm Wolwekop in 1997 and opened RiverBend Lodge on the footprint of the original farmhouse and its outbuildings.
Initially, outside the boundaries of the Park, Andrea directed the construction of the Lodge buildings and oversaw the detail of décor and the gardens. She appointed staff who were largely unemployed and who had had little, or no, exposure to the hospitality industry and in so doing created a number of jobs in the area. This strategy has paid dividends and many of the staff today are from the ranks of those originally employed when the lodge opened in 1999.
Shortly after opening they were approached by the SANParks to add their property to the Greater Addo Elephant Park initiative and ended up donating the land to SANParks in return for a long term operating concession on the private 14 000 ha, Big 5, Nyathi section of the Addo Elephant National Park. In 2002 the Lodge was incorporated into the Greater Addo Elephant National Park and became the sole concession holder on the 14 000 ha Nyathi section.
RiverBend Lodge now operates as Malcolm and Andrea’s vision of establishing a world-class destination that can make a difference in the world of conservation and to the tourism landscape in South Africa.
In 1919 the South African Government undertook a major offensive to eradicate the largest of just four small populations of elephants left in the country. The Addo population of about 200 elephants were mercilessly culled until there were only 16 left. Interest groups lobbied against this extermination and in 1931 the Government proclaimed the Addo Elephant National Park measuring 2 270ha.
It was only in 1954 that 22 elephants were successfully contained in a properly fenced park. The fencing was an innovative combination of lift cables and railway sleepers constructed by warden Graham Armstrong after whom the style of fencing, which is still in use today, is named. Today the park stands at over 176 000ha and the elephant population numbers well over 450 elephants. Addo Elephant National Park today houses one of the densest populations of elephants on this planet, which makes it a highly successful conservation story.
Addo Elephant National Park is the only park in the world that offers visitors the “Big 7” experience, combining the traditional African “Big 5” (lion, elephant, leopard, rhino and buffalo) with marine whales and great white sharks. The National Park incorporates five of South Africa’s terrestrial biomes. This diversity encourages a variety of birdlife, allowing for one of the richest bird kingdoms in the world. Here guests can view a bird list that covers Blue Cranes in the open areas to the elusive Narina Trogon in the montane forest areas.
In response to the growing elephant population, 2002 saw the need to expand the area in which these megaherbivores roam. SANParks established the Nyathi Concession Area – a private concession area of approximately 17 000ha, occupied by RiverBend Lodge, and a new era emerged for the region.