The story behind the Kgalagadi Lodge desert getaway

Seasoned travellers transform a remote piece of land into a lodge where tourists can feel the Kalahari sand between their toes


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When Denise and S.J Koortzen spotted an open piece of land surrounded by the characteristic red sand dunes of the Kalahari desert, they knew that this was where they wanted to establish their family-owned Kgalagadi Lodge.

They saw an opportunity in the rugged terrain to create a luxurious yet family-friendly lodge only five kilometres from the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. “ We travel a lot and we noticed that accommodation in the park was always booked out and we decided to open our own lodge for tourists who want to experience the park but can’t find accommodation,” Koortzen says.

Kgalagadi lodge opened its doors in 2012 and in just three years it is getting positive reviews on just about every tourist website.

Hospitality and tourism are in their genes

Denise and S.J Koortzen.

S.J comes from a family where three generations were born in the Kalahari and have more than 20 years’ experience in the hospitality industry.

At school Denise excelled in tourism and hotel-related subjects. When she matriculated she started working at her mother’s restaurant at the Upington Airport.  “I wanted a job where I could work with people and I was always certain that I would one day create a place of my own and I wanted it to be a lodge,” she says.

When she met her husband she started visiting him on their hunting farm and he shared her dream to open a lodge. And that is exactly what they did.

Setting up the business was easier said than done

Getting the lodge off the ground was a difficult task and the couple had to live in a single caravan for four months on the site to supervise construction.

“This experience taught me to appreciate the things that we take for granted like a bathroom with a hot shower,” she says. “It also made me realise that sometimes to achieve greatness you have to make sacrifices and look at the bigger picture. It makes you realise that it is not the ordinary things in life that makes memories, but sometimes it is the challenges that you will never forget.”    

Finding humour in difficult times

The site was remote and this had a major impact on their cost estimate for construction, materials and transport. “We had to have everything delivered and getting a courier company to deliver to the Kalahari was always funny because they could never find us,” she says.

One day they also had to stop all construction because a delivery truck got stuck in the stand. “We ended up pulling the truck out with my husband’s bakkie, the tractor and the grader – working together all at once! At that time it wasn’t so funny but we now have a good laugh about it when we tell people.”

Amid the planning phase in December 2011, Denise and S.J were involved in a serious car accident while on holiday in Henties Bay in Namibia. “I had to be airlifted to Windhoek hospital to get stabilised and from there I was airlifted to Somerset West Hospital,” she says.

Her right foot and left leg were so badly injured that the doctors wanted to amputate her right foot. “After major surgery and a lot of faith, prayer and the work of excellent doctors they managed to save my foot,” she tells.

Denise was in hospital for three months and in that time her husband had to support her and get everything ready to open the lodge. She was discharged from hospital in March 2012 and immediately started helping out with the lodge, while still in a wheelchair.

What kept her going during this time was her vision for the business

When the lodge is busy and Denise feels like she’s low on energy, the one thing that keeps her going is her love for people that attracted her to the hospitality industry in the first place.

“In the hospitality industry you have to realise that work is your life – day and night. What keeps us motivated is our love for meeting new people from all around the world,” she says.

She believes that every business needs a vision - this is what helps them to work towards their goals. “We want all our guests to fall in love with our beautiful region.”

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