Sani Lodge History

Russell, a third generation Suchet born in South Africa, loved the Drakensberg from holidays there with his family as a young lad. At the age of 16 years, his family emigrated from South Africa for being ideologically opposed to the Apartheid Government .After struggling to settle in Australia, no sooner had he completed a Degree in Accounting and Economics, the travel bug took him backpacking all over the world with a spell of teaching A level Accounts to pupils at a deeply rural Government school and later at the prestigious high school of Prince Edward in Harare Zimbabwe for a few years, until South Africa, pregnant with change in the air in 1992, and along with his poignant homesickness for Africa ,summoned him back to roost in the land of his birth. With just a backpack, no vehicle and in an impecunious financial situation, he headed straight to the Drakensberg, with dreams of one day owning his own Backpackers. Hitch-hiking his way along the 'Berg, he wound his way down towards Underberg, where a kind local farmer picked him up and offered him a roof over his head for a couple of weeks . And fortuitously Russell's dream took physical shape. A lease was organized for a property on the Sani Pass road and Russell set about renovating buildings, created a gravity fed hot shower system and long drop toilet with his own ingenuity and bare hands. On 1 May1992 Sani Lodge Backpackers opened its doors and Russell waited with trepidation for his first customer to arrive.

Russell and Simone's paths had crossed briefly in 1990 via mutual friends through the Harare Hiking Club in Zimbabwe. Simone , born to Swiss parents in Rhodesia before UDI , attained a BPharm(Hons) degree and spent the ensuing years working in many different hospitals ranging from rural Bindura in Zimbabwe to St Thomas' Hospital in London and Gaborone private hospital in Botswana.

Four years of regular letter correspondence kept Simone and Russell in touch with each other's lives until finally they tied the knot in a very simple wedding ceremony beneath a thatch roofed Gazebo near the Mukuvisi Woodlands in Harare. Just before Russell headed north of the Limpopo , his lease for Sani Lodge had ended necessitating a rapid move 6 kilometres further back down the Sani Pass road to the ' Grottage ' on Mokhotlong Mountain Transport premises, leaving a manager in charge.

One year later , the big decision to leave Zimbabwe , abandon promising careers and return to run Sani Lodge Backpackers was made. A bank loan secured the purchase of 2 hectares of land with nothing but dilapidated buildings, dearth of electrical wiring and water storage , no flush toilet, mountains of refuse in pits deep in ground as well as years accumulated on the surface in the form of 13 land rover chassis, glass, cans, plastic , rubber , head height bramble covering every inch of ground . It was an absolutely horrendously abused piece of land and environmental disaster! And so ensued 20 years of physically demanding toil to transform the buildings to what they are today and the land by replacing bramble and pines with over 50 species of indigenous trees and shrubs , clearing the stream and thereby turning an ecological disaster zone into a nature sanctuary.
Another 28 hectares of land purchased a few years later secured the water supply rising from the base of Stromness , afforded direct access to the KZN Wildlife Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site and enabled a couple of Jersey cows to be kept for supplying fresh milk to guests in the restaurant and in the lodge and cottages.

Russell and Simone have been actively involved in local environmental and wildlife issues from the beginning, being committed to practicing and teaching others about the custodianship of land, animals , birds, flowers, insects. " We are privileged to witness eland , grey rhebok , mountain and southern reedbuck, duiker, oribi ,abundant birds and wild flowers , grasses and insects on a stroll on our land or into the Park wilderness area. The ecological status of the area and biodiversity is unique and healthy and we are delighted to share this with visitors who appreciate the wonders of pristine nature, clean stream water sweet to the taste from cupped hands, inhale pure fresh mountain air and enjoy the serenity only nature can deliver".


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