Sun, sea and sand-traps
Golf courses, tennis stars, light-fingered monkeys: Pezula has it all. Emma Hartley reports from the Garden Route of South Africa
The Pezula estate, on South Africa’s achingly picturesque Garden Route, is a tasteful, luxury golf development populated partly by worldfamous sportsmen, including tennis hero Roger Federer. The plots of land for sale are reasonably priced by UK standards and the area is practically crime-free. And it is particularly hard not to like a place where primates lope in through the front door of the estate’s luxury hotel and steal apples from the fruitbowl (“Solution,” mutters Dennis Robson, Pezula’s wildlife manager, “Don’t leave apples in the foyer.”)
But I still couldn’t help feeling it was all a tad too smooth for comfort. I found, for example, that a magazine picked up in the hotel foyer published by Pezula, about Pezula, contained the essence of nearly every apparently-off-the-cuff conversation that I had had with a Pezula employee since arrival 24 hours previously – from the patter by the helicopter pilot who delivered me, repeated in other people’s articles, right down to tidbits of information about local plants mentioned during a tour of the estate, then, apparently, regurgitated in print as a list of interesting eco-facts.
Great marketing, perhaps. But why take a product whose strengths are, you’d think, pretty self-evident, and market it to within an inch of its life? The estate has more than enough charms for buyers not to need to be spun.
Not least the wildlife. As I stood on a clifftop, overlooking a gorgeous, misty, foresty scene, Gary Muller, the estate’s sales director, peered southwards out to sea. “It’s the whale season right now,” he says. “I was up here recently with a family who were thinking of buying and as we stood here a whale spout appeared in the Bay. The wife decided it was a good omen and it tipped the balance. I kept quiet. The fact is that if you stand here at this time of year you will see whales.”
But spouting whales and kleptomaniac baboons are not the only attractions for prospective purchasers. Now is a good time to buy in South Africa generally. The residential property market is cooling, with growth at its slowest since 2000, although at an average of 14.9 per cent it remains a solid investment, particularly with a strong pound. An upwardly mobile, black middle class makes the affordable end of the market the strongest growth area, with annual price rises of 40 per cent, indicating strong demand.
At Pezula — where, incidentally, almost all the residents are white and security is tight — you can purchase slightly under an acre of land for about £90,000 and then build on it; all architectural plans have to be approved by the estate. Dr Stan Tarlton and his wife Georgie bought in Knysna, on what subsequently became the Pezula estate, in 2000.
They came to South Africa originally from Peterborough, where he was an RAF doctor and then a haematologist, and she a nurse. Subsequently they moved from Johannesburg to Knysna because they became fed up with the city’s crime and the traffic. Now they are selling up and moving back to Jo’burg for family reasons.
It was golf that attracted them to the Knysna area – their garden is on the course – and their airy, three-bedroom, two-bathroom home has an ocean view from the front and a view of the lagoon, dotted with sailing boats, from the back. The couple are currently selling it privately for about £247,000 (3.45 million rand), having paid less than half that when building was completed back in 2003; the land cost R650,000 in 2000. It is five hours by road to Capetown, 12 to Johannesburg and the nearest grocery store is four kilometres away, in town; but the area is spectacular: “If we were free of family obligations we would never leave,” said Dr Tarlton.
An estimated 4 per cent of buyers in South Africa are foreign nationals, which periodically draws the attention of the ruling African National Congress government. Newspaper headlines along the lines of “Brakes will be put on foreigners’ land grab” are generally dismissed by foreign analysts as merely a symptom of a nationalist government pandering to its core voters.
However, it is true that it is becoming easier to retire to South Africa than it is for a non-SA national to work there, due to a recent tightening of residency restrictions. New regulations which came into force on July 1 are still being pored over to decipher their exact meaning.
The country seizes every opportunity to showcase itself to the outside world. Following the huge success of cricket’s Twenty20 World Cup last month, it is now looking to cash in on the 2010 football World Cup. It will be the first time that the tournament has been held in an African country, and a boom in foreign buyers is anticipated in the aftermath.
However, there are lingering problems with infrastructure. The water had been cut off the day before I arrived at Pezula, and remained off for several hours, my local flight connection was delayed by 24 hours and power cuts are frequent. Despite these drawbacks, 17 years after the collapse of apartheid, there is much to appeal to overseas homebuyers, both at Pezula and elsewhere in South Africa. I, for one, would happily live in a place where playful primates pop in to steal my apples.
Wild life: the Pezula Hotel (inset and main picture) is a luxurious oasis amid the rugged beauty of the Garden Route (right)