The finding of the future Bulungula Lodge

In 2002, Dave Martin (the founder of the Bulungula Lodge) set out to fulfil his vision of using backpacker/independent tourism as a tool for rural development in a remote African community, while simultaneously being an example of sustainable living. After going on an exploratory hike, finding Nqileni Village, coming to an agreement with the community to begin the project together, two years of detailed negotiation with government, and finally building, the Bulungula Lodge opened in August 2004. 

The land is owned by the local community, which had also owned 40% of the Lodge since its inception. At the end of 2014, 100% ownership and management of the Lodge was transferred (for R2) to the community. All profits are used to improve life in the village. Over the years, the community has bought a tractor, trailer, and large funeral tent with their share of profits. 

All staff are selected by our community to ensure that jobs go to those who need them the most (e.g. widows), as well as to ensure that there is a fair distribution of jobs amongst the various clans/families in the village. The Lodge has created 18 permanent jobs, and supports a further 15 people through various community tourism businesses.

Once the Lodge was established, we soon realised that our community would never escape the grinding poverty trap if we focussed only on income generation through tourism. Without a school, without clean water, without access to basic health care, our community will not have the minimums needed for living happily and with dignity. This led to the establishment of the Bulungula Incubator.

Bulungula College (high school started by the BI) grade 12 learner receiving his Matric necktie from his mother.

As a guest, you get an authentic experience of life in a rural African village. Africa is full of luxury lodges in remote areas. Most of these end up with large fences, and a perceived inequality between the community and the guests. Bulungula Lodge has intentionally never had a fence, and all of the huts are the same as found in our community with simple furnishings. Everyone is welcomed at the Bulungula Lodge, and everyone is welcomed into our community. 

To further uphold the integrity of the community-guest relationship, the Lodge is advised by an elected committee of community members. This elected committee meets monthly to manage the symbiosis between the community and the Lodge, ensuring it is always positive and feels reciprocal. 

A Bulungula Lodge guest during the Women’s Power Tour, a tour given by Jabu.

From March to November 2022, the Bulungula Lodge is undergoing an exciting revitalisation process after surviving the devastation caused by COVID-19 to the entire tourism industry. An anonymous donor (a former guest) has given Bulungula Lodge an opportunity to refresh its infrastructure and its operational systems with the guidance of a hotelier with more than 40 years of hotel management experience. The goal is to have the same wonderful community experience Bulungula is famous for, but with new administrative and operational systems fit for 2022 and beyond.

If you share in this vision and would like to learn more about how you can support the Bulungula Lodge Revitalisation Project, please email dave@bulungula.com. Enkosi kakhulu. Thank you so much!

Check out & share the Bulungula History here.

Bulungula Lodge Team Building Workshop, May 2022.