Areena Resort tells a story of hard work

SPIRIT OF ADVENTURE: Despite a rough start, Areena Resorts continues to thrill and entertain visitors to this day. Picture: SUPPLIED

Today, when you visit Areena Riverside Resort, you will find something on offer for everyone, from luxury accommodation to very basic camping.

Adventure activities include abseiling, game-drives and mountain biking, to name but a few.

There is world-class dining, picnicking or sundowners on the river barge, open-air cinema events, live music and so much more.

This, of course, is not where this story all began.

Back in 1984, when Ed Rathbone was lost out on the Atlantic Ocean for more than a month and finally rescued and brought back to his hometown of East London, he was ready for big things.

Ed’s first official mission was to convince his sweetheart, former professional model Karen (née Durant) to marry him.

His second big challenge was to provide for his future wife and family.

Equipped with less than R500, Ed and Karen started developing a small piece of land on Ed’s late father’s farm, which they were able to rent for R150 per month.

The very first Areena campsite catered for only 34 caravans, had limited water and no electricity nor proper infrastructure.

The couple’s office/home was a 5x5m room.

At that stage Ed would borrow brush cutters and lawnmowers to cut the grass himself.

Back in the 80’s, there were almost no trees taller than 6-inches high, by comparison with today’s beautiful and established park that is surrounded by trees and palms – some of which are now taller than double-storey buildings.

These beautiful gardens have attracted an abundance of birdlife, which has made Areena a most popular destination for Birdwatchers from all over the world.

In their desire to develop the resort, Ed and Karen had many side-line jobs and businesses over the years.

For a long period, Karen ran the resort alone whilst raising their young children Kiyra, now 33, and twins  Aaron and Amber, 30.

During this time, Ed and his two brothers established and ran the very successful operation Anti-Waste Drums and Containers, which they later sold.

Coming from humble beginnings, Ed learned the value in doing the best he could with what was available.  He applied this principle to building the infrastructure of the resort.

Much of what is now the 4.5-star resort was either hand-made (including many of the bricks, braai’s, electric boxes, lamp-posts, buildings, and so-on) or repurposed from auctions and sales.

In time, the Rathbone’s family home became what is today the club house and little-by-little the resort has grown.

In 1989, Port Alfred experienced devastating floods which resulted in their caravan park having to close for a period.

This tragic event was one of Areena’s greatest blessings, as Port Alfred recommended Areena to their holiday-makers and many of those new guests spread the word and have continued to return.

The couple accredit much of their success to having kept improving their offering based on industry trends and guest feedback.

And finally: “Work hard – success will follow.”

Refer to Areena Riverside Resort’s advert on GO! Live home page for a special on post-lockdown vouchers – click on the photo for the direct link

BY: Cristin Flynn


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