Interview: &Beyond Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge

The &Beyond Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge is a unique travel destination in the Okavango Delta, a fragile ecosystem in Botswana that is a World Heritage Site! The lodge is a perfect example of a sustainable business in the tourism industry, and &Beyond Regional Director for Southern Africa, Jason King, tells us why below. 

From using biomimicry in the design of the new lodge, to sourcing local materials, utilising renewable energy, and generally respecting the land, the &Beyond Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge expresses their sustainability philosophy in everything they do. &Beyond recently reopened the lodge, and used this opportunity to strengthen their eco-design, much to everyone's delight. Read the interview below for a look at their leading sustainability practices in the luxury tourism industry.

We would love some insight into the inspiration for the unique design of the lodge - from its architecture to its location.

The nests of the weaver birds and the pangolin’s body armour of scales inspired the building structure at &Beyond Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge. The curvilinear shapes of the woven nests and the overlapping scales of the pangolin influenced both form and construction, with the building’s skeleton clad in a wooden skin of shingles and timber.

Ascending a set of stairs, guests enter the lodge between segments of shingled skin, reaching a terrace above ground level. This vast area is split into three levels. To the left, more stairs ascend to the bar and lounge, which lead to a viewing platform. To the right, a series of decks descends to the forest floor and a rudimentary boma (outdoor eating area) formed from huge logs of descending size that mimic the tail bones of the pangolin.

The colour palette is copper and wood, with a museum-quality display of a giant basket highlighting the handicrafts of the region. The dining room is dominated by an immense table made from the root of an ironwood tree. Two large woven carpets duplicate the intricate pattern on the underneath of a water lily. 

Designed for both privacy and views, guest suites are raised above the papyrus like nests, peeking out from a canopy of wild palms and fig trees. Simple and organic, low-key décor complements the powerful lines of the new buildings. Accent pieces include a casual crocodile-embossed leather sofa for two and a naturally beautiful side table made from a tree trunk. The giant king-sized bed looks out on spectacular Delta views from underneath a dazzling white mosquito net. The overall feeling is woody and ethereal, with bright copper highlights.  

In summer, Sandibe is all about outdoor living, with private plunge pools and two large outdoor day beds, one by the side of the pool and the other on an upper level, which is also ideal for private dining. In winter, the suites become cosy cocoons warmed by a wood-burning fireplace. A special fabric has been used to retain an open and natural feel while protecting the suites from weather and insects. 

What makes &Beyond Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge an eco-tourism destination?

In keeping with our sustainability strategy, cutting edge technology was deployed throughout the lodge. A 100 Kwh solar system with a battery backup has been installed, which means that 70% of the energy used for electricity and hot water is from a renewable source with no carbon footprint. When combined, the solar electricity and hot water systems will produce in excess of 200 000 Kwh of energy per year. This will save the lodge 67 000 litres of diesel per year, which translates into a carbon footprint saving of 180 tons of CO², an amount that the lodge would have had to plant 4 615 tree saplings to offset. This firmly reflects the future in terms of our absolute commitment to sustainable energy solutions.

Environmental considerations were also taken into account during the construction of the new lodge, with no tree roots cut to ensure the health of the large trees on the site.

Why did you choose to operate Sandibe the way you do and how much support did you get when you were conceptualising these operations?

Our eco-sensitive operations at &Beyond Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge are in keeping with our core ethic of Care of the Land, Care of the Wildlife, Care of the People. Founded on the premise that conservation could be sustained through sound business principles, this model has underpinned each of our initiatives for over twenty years.

Each of our lodges is tasked with the responsibility to operate according to our philosophy of giving more and taking less. We understand that creating extraordinary experiences for our guests is the most important thing that we can do to sustain our business and thus benefit the wildlife areas that we protect. However, within this context, we still look for ways to reduce our energy consumption and carbon emissions, such as recycling initiatives, conservation awareness drives, water efficiency, eliminating pollution, addressing road damage and erosion, re-greening and many more. The rebuild of &Beyond Sandibe provided us with the perfect opportunity to put these initiatives into practice in the very design of the lodge.

&Beyond has always aimed to run our businesses as sustainably as possible from an ecological viewpoint. While there are no national regulations or standards that oblige us to do this in any of the countries where we operate, we believe that this is yet another way that we can contribute to our core ethic of Care of the Land.

In designing &Beyond Sandibe to operate in this way, &Beyond was ably supported by three teams. Nicholas Plewman Architects and Michaelis Boyd Associates were responsible for the architecture, while Fox Browne Creative ensured &Beyond’s warm brand is reflected in the interior décor.

What benefits would you say the unique eco-friendly operations of Sandibe have brought you?

The benefits of this have come on many levels. Our use of eco-friendly technology in the design of the lodge has obviously resulted in cost savings. However, for us the most significant benefit is knowing that we are reducing the impact of tourism and preserving the magnificent environment of the Okavango Delta for future generations. 

What about Sandibe are you most proud of?

Since its reopening, &Beyond Sandibe has won honours such as the 2015 We Are Africa Innovation Award for design and the 2015 Hospitality Design Awards. While we are delighted to have this eco-sensitive design recognised in this way, we are even more proud of our exceptional staff, whose warm hospitality has seen the lodge grace the top of lists such as the Condé Nast travel Hot List.  

Why should travellers choose Sandibe over other more traditional safari resorts?

The combination of hospitality, design and the interpretative wildlife experience (the lodge is set in an extremely game-rich area bordering Moremi Game Reserve) really do make this lodge world-class and provide an incredible overall experience for guests. In addition, the design aspects really allow &Beyond Sandibe to stand out from the rest in the Delta. We believe that this reflects where lodge design will go in the future and believe that the lodge is ideal for travellers looking to broaden their experience. 

Remember, when you stay at the &Beyond Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge, you're not only proud to stay where you're having little to no negative impact on the environment, but you also get to have guided interactions with the wildlife in the area and generally have a once in a lifetime experience. So please visit...go here to book (they've got pretty good reviews too). 

Photos from Design Boom and Travel + Style