The first ever concession to build a hotel inside a South African National Park was given to Ian Hunter; but instead of building something new, he decided to restore what was thought to be lost.
There has always been a rhyme and reason in the purpose of things, and Gorah Elephant Camp is no exception. You may think it odd that upon arrival you’ll discover the lack of electricity and air conditioning, or perhaps you’ll think of it as just another luxury safari camp attempting the “traditional” or “authentic” experience; but when you really dig beneath the surface of the Gorah, you’ll discover much more in a rich and beautiful history.
It was 1854 when Catharina Hester Vermaak arrived in the Eastern Cape as the young bride of Thomas Anthony Mueller Vermaak, a kind and prosperous farmer on land known as Gorah, the Khoi Khoi word for ‘spring’. Gorah was perhaps one of the wealthiest farms in the district under Hester, prospering from hard work and the boom in ostrich feathers. Hester herself became widely known for her lavish parties and warm hospitality; she was the matriarch of Gorah. But over time, Hester’s health faded and the frivolity, the happiness, and the bliss all eventually gave way to sullen despair as Gorah was sold and lost in the ruins of drought, influenza, and World War II. In 1998, however, Gorah’s luck began to turn. Now located within the Addo National Park boundaries, Ian Hunter’s group of hotels was given a concession – the first private concession ever awarded in a South African National Park – to run a lodge in the park. Despite searching for a location to build a brand new lodge, Ian was always drawn back to the original farmhouse: a magnificent remnant fallen on hard times in need of a savior. And so, the Gorah Elephant Camp was born. Today it is one of South Africa’s top safari lodges, with 11 luxurious tented suites that recall the golden era of Hester’s reign, albeit updated with a few 21st century conveniences. Gorah maintains much of the “look and feel” of the original Manor House, filled with welcoming antique leather sofas, warm and inviting fireplaces, candle-lit passages and rooms, and elegant paraffin lanterns that light the great tree on the Gorah lawn. “It’s the exclusivity that makes Gorah so special,” says Ian Hunter. “This sense of place with the outlying luxury in the surrounding Addo bushveld is why guests are so enthralled by their experience here.”
The game viewing at Gorah is just as remarkable as it once was, with even more opportunities for sightings inside the Addo National Park. Gorah holds the densest populations of elephant, buffalo, and black rhino of any national park, and an extraordinarily unique lion experience in the concession area. But perhaps the biggest attraction to Gorah are the elephants. The Addo elephant is slightly smaller than its Kruger counterpart and is more at ease with a gentle sense of purpose. Large herds move frequently throughout the day, often stopping by the waterhole near the house for an afternoon drink.
Gorah is much more than a typical safari camp. If you listen closely, the whisper of its elegant history is still audible among the original walls of the Manor House, an enchanting story told to those who still believe.