GUES POST: Back of House Ecotour with Johan

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There is just SO much to love about Chobe Game Lodge… the luxurious rooms and comfy lounge areas, the coolness of the swimming pool and the scrumptious food – from delicious breakfasts, the yummiest cappuccinos and cocktails (served with paper straws), to the finest of dining and most decadent of desserts. Then there are the towering trees alive with bird sounds, the 250m long elevated boardwalk and deck with its expansive views over the Chobe River, and the fabulous safari experiences from the fleet to electrically-powered vehicles and boats.

And if you think that’s really cool, then wait until you’ve had a tour behind the scenes. As part of our #ThisIsChobe experience we joined General Manager Johan Bruwer for a tour of its environmental initiatives – and one of the reasons for the Lodge’s full Eco Tourism certification.

Johan Bruwer from Chobe Game Lodge
Talking Ecotourism with Johan Bruwer, General Manager of Chobe Game Lodge. Photo by Tessa Buhrmann

Built in the 1970s, Chobe Game Lodge was one of the first 5-star luxury lodges in Botswana. Its distinctly Moorish architecture with impressive arches and expansive interiors is testament to the fact that bricks and mortar was the building method of choice back then, way before sustainability became a catch-phrase. The lodge was closed in 1977 due the Rhodesian bush war and reopened in 1984 after being purchased by business partners Jonathan Gibson and Ian Green. Fast forward numerous decades and this beautifully refurbished and eco-friendly Chobe Game Lodge is what we see today.

Johan explained that as the only lodge situated along the Chobe River and within the Chobe Game Reserve, they had a huge responsibility to operate sustainably as maintaining a minimal footprint in this pristine natural environment is vital.  The key to operating sustainably he says is measurement, and the key the Chobe Game Lodge’s sustainability is the rigorous Environmental Management Plan (EMP). The EMP considers all aspects of operations from energy consumption (fuel, generator, electricity as well as biogas and LPG), water consumption and grey water output as well as waste management (food waste, recycling and municipal waste).

We start off our tour peeking inside the engine of one of the ‘new’ electric-powered Land Rovers – the diesel engine now replaced with what looked like a mish-mash of electronics (from a non-technical point of view) and a ‘boat-load’ of batteries. All of which make for fabulously silent game drives. On the roof above us as well as those of the surrounding buildings is home to 600 square meters of solar panels which generate 104 Kwh of electricity at peak performance. This is supplemented by electricity from Kasane’s main grid which is fed by power generated by the Victoria Falls hydro-electric power scheme – which in itself is a clean sustainable energy source.

Electric game drive vehicle at Chobe Game Lodge
One of the electric vehicles on charge back of house. Photo by Tessa Buhrmann
Solar power at Chobe Game Lodge
The back of house inverter system supporting the new solar panels. Photo by Tessa Buhrmann
Solar plant at Chobe Game Lodge
The new solar panels on the back of house roof. Photo by Chobe Game Lodge

It’s also good to know that the awesome shower in my room is heated by solar water heater panels and that the waste water captured by the closed septic tanks and then treated in the Lodge’s own above ground sewage treatment plant. The grey water is treated by a natural anaerobic process that purifies and cleans up the grey water, which then flows into ozone tanks where any harmful bacteria that remain are killed. This fully processed water is then mixed with river water to irrigate the gardens. No wonder they look so lush and green!

At the recycling centre we watched glass being prepped for the glass pulveriser, where it would be reduced to the consistency of course sand and then used to make bricks for use in building projects. There were blocks of crushed cans awaiting recycling and bags of plastic water bottles awaiting collection by Aquarite, their mineral water supplier, to be recycled and re-used. Cardboard boxes and polystyrene punnets were separated and cleaned ready to be returned to Ron’s Fresh Produce, their main fresh and frozen goods supplier.

Glass recycling at Chobe Game Lodge
Crushed glass being prepped for brick making. Photo by Tessa Buhrmann
Glass recycling project at Chobe Game Lodge
One of the bricks made using crushed glass from the lodge. Photo by Tessa Buhrmann
Food waste from the kitchen is bagged and then sent to the onsite Biogas Plant where it is processed and fed into the two biogas reactors to produce methane gas which is used for cooking in the staff canteen. Unfortunately we couldn’t see it in operation as its currently out of operation. Due to the size of the project – one of the biggest in the country – it has been a bit of a test project and needs refining which they currently doing. So it should be back online soon. Any combustible materials that cannot be re-used or recycled are incinerated onsite and the ash used as a fertiliser for the lawns.

I ask Johan about their lodge operations. He laughs, saying that they’re ‘Locavore’s’ at least where possible – essentially, he means that all suppliers and contractors are sourced locally and that most of their staff are recruited locally too to ensure additional benefits to the community of Kasane. He adds that Chobe Game Lodge is committed to employing female staff, especially in the Guiding Department, offering them opportunities to work and excel in a predominantly male dominated field.

I think of the lovely Kgomotso who so expertly guided us up the Chobe River in the solar-powered boat on our very first #ThisIsChobe safari experience.

Electric river safari with Chobe Game Lodge
Kgomotso guiding us on our first afternoon river cruise. Photo by Tessa Buhrmann

This was a guest post feature by Tessa Buhrmann from Responsible Traveller who joined us on the annual #ThisIsChobe safari. Visit our Responsible Tourism page  for more on our Ecotourism initiatives. 

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