It is not often that a business can boast to be fully booked out a year in advance – in only its third year of operation.
The good fortune of Clearwater Safari game farm, a 3 000-hectare hunting destination 85 km from Kimberley in the Northern Cape, is perhaps a sign of the revival of the South African tourism industry. But it is just as likely the result of the vision and hard work that husband and wife Heine and Stefanie Deysel put into the project.
“We’re blessed,” says Stefanie, who remembers the day, scarcely three years ago, when she and Heine scanned the farm from its highest point and knew that they had found what they were looking for. They had driven all the way from Germiston, where they owned and ran a gym together, to see if the advertised farm could fit Heine’s lifelong dream of owning a hunting farm.
But they also knew that a difficult road lay ahead. As beautiful as it was, the farm was used to breed game and was in no state to host overseas hunting parties. And could they raise enough finance to buy and upgrade it?
They set about selling the Germiston gym business that they had spent years building up with remarkable success. Stefanie and Heine met each other in a gym in the early 2000s in Heidelberg where they both went to school. Stefanie worked as a bookkeeper and Heine as a personal trainer before he bought the struggling gym for R300 000.
Where the previous owner was running it remotely, Heine threw himself into it, investing everything he could in new equipment and marketing. When he moved it to new premises, Stefanie joined the business on a full-time basis, and the couple found they made a formidable entrepreneurial team. Stefanie remembers one particular month in which they managed to double their membership. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the gym had no debts, and they got through the five months of lockdown relatively unscathed.
Heine and Stefanie managed to sell the gym for a whopping R6 million, twenty times the value for which they bought it. But it was nowhere near enough to seal their purchase of Clearwater farm. They tried to raise bank finance, but to no avail. Eventually, they came to an agreement with the farm’s owner, a businessman from Kimberley. He would get the proceeds from the sale of the gym, plus some more, and in addition they agreed to pay the annual instalments of a Landbank loan that he had taken out on the farm.
With every last cent of their savings committed to the project, the Deysel family moved to the farm. “We started with a bang,” says Stefanie. The truck with all of their household goods got stuck in the muddy road leading up to the farm as record rains fell. The advantage was that they quickly got to know all of the neighbouring farmers who came to help them out.
Heine and Stefanie, who were joined by her sister and brother-in-law on the farm, immediately started the intense work of upgrading it to become an international hunting destination. Most of the work centred around fixing up the lodge on top of the hill where they first fell in love with the place. Today it provides luxury accommodation for up to 16 hunters and boasts a professionally run kitchen.
For Stefanie, the most difficult part of starting the business was the uncertainty of meeting the annual Landbank that they had agreed to pay. In the first year they had just managed to book enough local hunters to meet their obligations. The second year was even better with an increasing number of overseas hunters.
Then came two breakthroughs. The first was to sign a deal with a top performing “outfitter”, a professional organiser of hunting excursions, to use Clearwater as his main destination. It was through his work that they are now fully booked for the whole of next year.
The second was to approach Business Partners Limited for finance. The Deysels had the annual Landbank instalment hanging over them, as well as repayments to the previous owner, who felt exposed by still being liable for the Landbank loan. With Business Partners Ltd finance, structured as a five-year loan, they were able to pay off both the previous owner and the Landbank.
None of this has done anything to dampen the Deysels’ entrepreneurial drive. Apart from the daily work of maintaining the 27 different mammalian species on the farm and entertaining their overseas guests, they have started breeding with goats to diversify their business and have turned veld maintenance into an income stream by processing dead thorn trees into firewood. The couple are now thinking of acquiring a further 3 000 hectares and putting up a second lodge, and maybe, says Stefanie, “in another dream for another time”, starting a cattle farm.
Stefanie says that their first few years on Clearwater farm were as intense as could be expected, but of late, despite their busyness, they have become used to the deep peace that only the bushveld can offer. “We’re just never going back,” she says.