As I lay snuggled up in the oversized bed in my overtly luscious room in the Palace of the Lost City at Sun City Resort, I can’t help but think about the visionaries that built this place. Outside my floor to ceiling windows, gigantean pillars rise from the Earth, adorned with elaborate carvings, while life-sized elephant statues sit just beyond the walls of this towering edifice and larger than life cheetahs catch leaping impala at the entrance. It’s hard enough to comprehend that this exquisite creation was pulled from the imagination of one enterprising man, but harder still to understand how any team could possibly have made the entire thing come to life. But it’s evident they did, not just because it surrounds me in all its magnificence, but because I’ve heard the stories, seen the photos and read the diary entries. For my uncle was one of those visionaries – a man tasked with making this wild dream the reality we see today.
Having recently celebrated the 25th birthday of the Palace, I sat down with my uncle to discuss the beginnings of this stunning hotel after a short visit to experience its exquisite beauty for myself. It’s quite unbelievable to think that at one stage this was just a piece of barren landscape and that an entire ancient city had to be assembled from scratch. The vision of the Lost City included a man-made jungle spanning 25 hectares, with wetlands, rock pools, and waterfalls, a magnificent palace that could be believed to have once been the home of the King of this long lost tribe, an extensive cave system that would pulse with an entertainment centre 24 hours a day and would be equipped with a façade carved with a giant leopard, elephants and monkeys, while a rumbling bridge gave way to one of the world’s most advanced waterparks.
It took a team of 5,000 people just 28 months and over R800 million to complete the project. Each of those workers is now represented by their very own Venetian crystal which hangs from the magnificent palm-shaped chandelier that sits atop the Palace’s Crystal Court. The resort became one of the world’s most talked about tourism projects and set a new level of luxury for African accommodation offerings. “One can’t get into a cab in London or Paris without being asked about Sun City. Put Sun City together with the Lost City and it’s going to become a drawcard on the scale of Disney,” marked Kerzner way back when the whole thing was still under construction.
The Valley of the Waves became the largest combination of waterpark features ever built in a single project phase anywhere in the world and the water dynamics proposed for the wave pool were assessed at Edinburgh University in Scotland where a 1:30 scale model was built in order to determine optimum contours and layout. The conference facilities were boasted about as being the most comprehensive on the African continent and a brand new golf course was built to compliment the Gary Player Country Club.
When all was said and done, celebrities flocked to South Africa to celebrate the launch of the Lost City, including supermodel Jerry Hall and actress Bo Derek. The Million Dollar Golf Challenge welcomed seven of the world’s top eight golfers to South Africa for the first time and Miss World brought their ceremony to Africa, also for the first time.
So now, as I look around me at this opulent space, where the mysteries and marvels of an age-old civilization have been recreated in every last detail, it’s hard to imagine that it all rose from nothing.