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My Pond Hotel: A boutique eco-hotel in
Port Alfred

An interview with Thulani Xhali


By chance I was in Port Alfred visiting my sister and decided to search the net for eco-friendly establishments in the area.

I came across quite an unusual one, in fact the first property in South Africa to harness geothermal energy. I hopped on my scooter to go find out what My Pond Hotel is all about, parking at the neighbouring Health Shop for a quick look-around before heading in.

Health store, Port Alfred

I sat down with the hotel's general manager, Thulani Xhali, who told me that My Pond Hotel is dedicated to sustainable solutions. Though the hotel has been in operation for a while, it was just over a year ago that a major revamp took place, with the hotel now operating all its heating and cooling thorough geothermal energy: heat captured below the earth's surface and harnessed with a special pump.

The R1.9 million system (convert into dollars) runs through the parking lot system on a vertical and horizontal basis and is expected to result in energy savings of up to 70%.

Indeed, Thulani tells me that the hotel spends 3 cents for every R1 spent by everybody else on energy. Check out my interview below to find out more!

So what makes MyPond Hotel Eco-friendly? I noticed there was a truck outside delivering food from Port Alfred's very own Wharf Street Fruit and Veg.... do you only source local products?

We are dedicated to supporting the local community. We don't source anything more than 60 km away and employ local people to work in the hotel.

My Pond Hotel

We also recycle a lot of things - in fact a lot of our woodwork is recycled wood. All our artwork also comes from a local artist, Paulette Wheatley.

Have you thought about growing your own food?

We've tried but found we're limited in terms of space. We do grow some of our own herbs but we haven't been able to try a vegetable garden as the front area is paved and the back area is municipal property - so we have to just maintain it.

However, we're linked to Stenden University - which has a tunnel project that supplies us with lots of fresh produce and utilises innovative methods such as growing vegetables out of tyres.

How about utilising the My Pond Hotel's roof as a rooftop garden?

Oh definitely, that's something I'd like to look into.

Does My Pond Hotel have any kind of social outreach or community development programmes?

As I mentioned before, My Pond is managed by Stenden South Africa, a university in Port Alfred training students in the hospitality industry. Our hotel is primarily driven by students - who gain practical experience through working for us.

Stenden itself has 52 community outreach programmes, in fact, R1.6 million of private university funds has gone into these programmes. We're also held by Novate Properties, who have funded a children's home in King William's Town from their profits.

How does My Pond Hotel conserve or harvest water?

We use 72, 000 litre rainwater tanks to harvest rainwater which is filtered and used for drinking water. We also use Oasis rehydrated water. The showers use regular Port Alfred brackish water which is heated and filtered through our geothermal system.

You mentioned that My Pond Hotel uses recycled woodwork for furniture. Do you do any other kinds of recycling?

We separate our waste twice weekly and recycle everything we can. We use only recycled paper and even our lampshades are made from old yoghurt cartons.

Recycled yoghurt tin lampshades

Locally, there's a lack of awareness about recycling, which I believe can be alleviated through education and incentive programmes.

What about the products used?

All the pencils in the hotel are sourced from sustainable forests and certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council. As for our products, all our soaps, shampoos and cleaning stuff are made by a company called Just Cosmetics and are eco-friendly and sustainable.

Eco-friendly products at My Pond Hotel

Other than the geothermal system - how else does My Pond Hotel minimise energy usage?

The design of the building has incorporated as much natural light and ventilation as possible - with the added bonus of great river views!

River views

We also use energy-efficient bulbs, but we're moving into LED lighting for the whole hotel and using fluorescent lighting where we have to, such as in the kitchen.

LED Lighting system

Does My Pond Hotel have any kind of certification, such as Green Key or Green Leaf?

No, though we definitely plan to get certification. We took over in August last year so there's been lots of renovations that we're still busy with. Until we reach the point where we're satisfied, we're holding off on certification.

Do you find your clients are attracted to the hotel because of its eco-friendly status?

Being eco-friendly, or sustainable is something that we are proud of, but don't push as a marketing strategy. We aim to give our guests a 5-star experience, with no sacrifice of luxury, while still remaining committed to the environment.

Of course, guests are made aware that we are a sustainable hotel, and we're more than happy to involve them in our community outreach programmes if interest is expressed.

Outdoor restaurant

What about guest activities? Do you have any kind of eco-focus?

We offer various guest activities through our partnership with a local adventure group here in Port Alfred. Though not primarily driven by our green initiative, many of the activities are eco-friendly in their very nature, such as kayaking, surfing, hiking etc.

It was great chatting with Thulani, who was clearly passionate about his work for My Pond Hotel. It seems the hotel is very committed to offering sustainable, energy-efficient solutions, making it easy for me to recommend Port Alfred's very first eco-hotel.

For more information on My Pond, download their brochure, which tells you more about their commitment to the environment, as well as what you can expect in terms of their service offerings, hotel facilities etc. Alternatively, visit My Pond's website for more information.

Go to Kowie: The stunning town of Port Alfred

Return from My Pond Hotel to Eco-friendly Africa Travel


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