Unique Sleeps: Londolozi Private Game Reserve, South Africa
Just an hour after landing on the air-strip at Londolozi on the edge of Kruger National Park, I’m already face to face with a wild South African animal. Okay, not face to face, since I’m actually lying face down on a massage table, but I’m still close enough to see the cheeky baboon’s whiskers as he ambles towards the watering hole in front of my villa. The poor masseuse is having a hard job keeping me still as I can’t resist raising my head to peak as he hoots and hollers at his mates scrambling down the bush for a drink.
One could say Londolozi has an open door policy. Baboons, monkeys, impala (South African antelope), even the occasional lion can be spotted from your room or on the way to the camp common areas. Don’t worry, staff accompany you along the paths after dark and you’ll get a phone call if say, the lions decide to sunbake on your doorstep and it might be better to stay inside for a little while. After the initial terror of opening our front door expecting to see a lion, only to see harmless bumble bees, I relax into safari life.
Like most luxury safari camps, days at Londolozi start early. Roused by 5am knock on your door, there’s time for a quick coffee before jumping into custom safari jeeps for three hours of wildlife spotting before the heat of the day kicks in. By 9am you’re back for breakfast, a nap, long lunch and then out on the jeep for another few hours, with sundowners served on the front of your jeep. Then there’s dinner, a night-cap and a very sound night sleep. It’s a long day but the adrenalin of following a leopard and its cub as they slink down to the river for a drink, or spotting a baby rhino suckling from its mother sees the hours in the park pass in a flash. The staff certainly help – Londolozi’s guides and trackers are young, old, male, female, local, international but all share the same passion for animals that allows them to spend six weeks at a time on site. Our guide Tally is in her fifth year at Londolozi and the worry she shows when we spot a scratched lioness is touching. She’s watched the lioness grow from cub to the 100kg beauty sleeping in the tall grass just metres away from us and radios the other guides to keep track of her. It’s just about all Tally can do – the conservationist attitude of the Reserve means they won’t be able to help the animal, although special exceptions are made for endangered species such as the black rhino.
Animal spotting is never guaranteed, with season, weather, animal politics (especially lions, who travel in coalitions) and just sheer luck all playing a role in your chances but Londolozi has the added bonus of having a Tracker Academy on site. Trainee trackers are out in the field while you’re having your midday nap and evening drives often begin with tip offs from the trackers’ latest discoveries. Within minutes of our first drive, we’re a few metres away from a leopard as she calls her cub with short little barks – after a nuzzle that has our cameras clicking like crazy, they both saunter down to the river for a drink. Over the next few days we spot the Big Five, along with birds, insects, snakes, even the park’s solitary ostrich.
My favourite sighting happens outside of the safari jeep – each of Londolozi’s four “camps” are perched above the rocky banks of the Sabie River, with communal open air lodges looking down on the river bed. We’re walking the boardwalks between Varty and Tree Lodge when I spy an elephant through the trees. We reach Varty’s open air dining platform to see an entire herd of elephants on the river banks below. Rather than heading back to our lodge for lunch, the Varty lodge hosts are quick to whisk table, chairs, gin and tonics and lunch right to the balcony edge so we can watch the elephants while we dine. A radio call is quickly made to ensure the staff not to expect us back anytime soon.
Londolozi’s reputation extends beyond the superb wildlife experiences – daily yoga, an open bar, dinners in the outdoor boma, and a very talented team of chefs keeps you relaxed and very well fed. Breakfast is a smorgasbord of cured South African meats, cheeses and freshly baked muffins, lunch is a healthy mix of salads, sandwiches and chilled drinks and dinner is famed South African steak and red wine.
In between the eating, drinking and wildlife sightings is another unusual offering – Londolozi’s Creative Hub is a one of a kind photographic post-processing centre. Guests are invited, free of charge, to sit down with the in house designer for a lesson in Lightroom. We pick our favourite safari photos and spend an hour learning how to make our shots really pop with the digital editing software. A canvas printer is on hand if you want to print out your favourite pics then and there (for an additional fee). The designer’s online tutorials are some of the most watched articles on the Londolozi blog and offer plenty of tips and tricks for editing once you get home. This short introductory session to Lightroom has my husband hooked; he’s like a kid in a candy shop as we go through five of our favourite photos and the next day begs me for a go of the DSLR.
From that moment on, he’s the first in the jeep in the morning and the last out at night. Like so many other guests, he’s hooked. And already begging to go back.
Lisa Perkovic was the guest of Londolozi Private Game Reserve