Nature’s beauty: Peter Meyer hopes to play a supportive role at Karkloof Valley Nature Reserve, his father’s creation. Picture: LESLEY STONES
Nature’s beauty: Peter Meyer hopes to play a supportive role at Karkloof Valley Nature Reserve, his father’s creation. Picture: LESLEY STONES

The Boy from the Wild

Peter Meyer with Graham Spence

Peter Meyer

Peter Meyer sweeps his arm dramatically towards the lush hills behind him. His voice quivers as he describes how he ran wild through this valley near Pietermaritzburg as a youngster.

It’s genuine emotion, but Meyer now acts in international movies and his gestures are therefore tinged with professional slickness.

The land he romped on was called The Valley of Heaven by the Zulus, and was turned into Karkloof Valley Nature Reserve by Meyer’s father, James, who died four years ago. This loss prompted Meyer to write a book as a tribute, a memoir and to inspire people yearning for a different way of life.

"The book is a big tribute to my father, in which I talk about my wild experiences growing up here, how he built this place, why he built this place, the love story of father and son, how the wild nurtured me for living abroad and the lessons I’ve learnt from living here."

The Boy From The Wild was written in collaboration with Graham Spence, who helped Lawrence Anthony write The Elephant Whisperer.

"I loved his style of writing and thought if anybody is going to write it, it’s going to be Graham. He’s a South African, and if you say bushveld or boma or anything, he understands it and can write about it in a way that others who don’t get it can understand," says Meyer.

"We wrote the book in the UK at my place over a lot of bacon sandwiches and coffee. We spent six months putting it all together."

The 16 luxury suites of Karkloof Safari Villas look across a private game reserve stocked with rhino, buffalo, hippo, zebra, giraffe and assorted extras — a complete contrast to Meyer’s life in London. He first spent years in the hotel industry, and now acts and models for brands such as Hugo Boss, Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger. At Karkloof, he barely sleeps so he can be out exploring at all hours. Meyer, who has a snake phobia from being bitten twice as a child, prods the grasses gingerly if he hears a rustle. Yet he carefully catches a boomslang that slithers indoors and releases it in the bush.

For his father, buying Kar-kloof was the fulfillment of a teenage dream. "When he was a 16-year-old boy at Hilton College, he used to walk across the top of the valley to Karkloof Falls, fell in love with it and said one day he’s going to buy it and create his dream home," Meyer says. James turned it into one of SA’s first private game reserves, with wild animals brought in from zoos in London and Prague, and disease-free buffalo from Texas.

"He created the trend for the repopulation of animals in a safe environment," Meyer says.

James later constructed Safari World, with water slides, elephant and lion shows, attracting up to 4,000 people on public holidays. "It was the first African theme park that ever existed. He had huge amounts of criticism but the intent was for kids to come and experience the wild," Meyer says.

After the head ranger was poached, the theme park was bulldozed and Karkloof reverted to a game lodge. In 2001 James sold the land to businessman Fred Wörner, who redeveloped the lodge and added a spa. The main building has high thatched roofs with hefty chandeliers, solid wood furniture, settees and a baby grand piano in the lobby.

There’s an elegant dining room, lounge areas, antique leather chairs in the cosy library and a wine cellar. A wide, wrap-around deck allows al fresco dining while looking for animals in the valley below.

Although Meyer, 34, loves the land so much, he didn’t take it over from his father. "I was a stubborn little idiot back them who wanted his own future," he grins. He was sent to boarding school in the UK when he was 10 and was a teenager when Karkloof was sold. After his father died, he contacted Wörner and offered to produce a video to help market the lodge. "We did a video, which was meant to be partly a closure trip for me, but it turned into so much more," he says.

"I was on the film set of The Commuter with Liam Neeson – I was just an extra – and he was asking a few more questions than usual and I told him what I was up to.

"He said: ‘Who else has a story like you — go for it.’ I needed that little bit of a push and I said, let’s make it happen. Neeson has a copy of the book."

Meyer is trying to negotiate a film or TV series of The Boy From The Wild. "A film is very much the ultimate goal because with a place like this you need it to be visual," he says.

Wörner sold the lodge to tech entrepreneur Colleen Glaeser, who has dropped the rates to make it more affordable for locals. Meyer is planning to play a supportive role.

Stones was a guest of Karkloof Safari Villas.