Londolozi: A Return Home

It has been 26 years since I first journeyed to Londolozi Game Reserve, yet every time I visit I still feel the same sense of giddy excitement I did on that initial visit so long ago, the same sense of nostalgia when I climb up into the Land Rover for the opening game drive of the trip, and the same overwhelming sense of sadness when I leave.

It’s not just the amazing sightings of leopards in trees, lions wading through the Sand River, or being surrounded by the 7th herd of elephants for the morning. It’s far more than that.
This for me was where my true love for the bush began, as I began to see exactly what type of experience it could – and should – be.

My first visit to Londolozi, 26 years ago (I am standing centre). Ranger Julius Ngwenya (sitting in front) has his son now working as a tracker at Londolozi.
And our latest trip, out on game drive waiting for lions to wake up in the evening.

This is what Londolozi does so well. There’s no formula. That went out the window long ago. Yes there is a framework within which the lodge operates – out before sunrise each morning to catch the dawn chorus, night drives following lions on the hunt, bush walks to make you touch, smell, and truly listen – but the reality is that each safari, each time you venture out of the camp gates in fact, is tapered to suit your specific needs.

One of the many herds that inhabit the reserve wade across the Sand River (Pioneer Camp is just out of picture to the left).
The winter months are an especially good time to see elephants in the South African bush.

Birding is your thing? No problem; the focus shifts to the myriad different habitats that the reserve features, with the guide and tracker fully aware of which species are to be found where. Photographically inclined, wanting to capture that magical silhouette shot of a leopard outlined against the vivid reds of an African sunset? The tracking team will find that leopard, and – conditions permitting – the ranger will know exactly where to position the vehicle and what camera settings to use to make sure you nail the shot. There is no such thing as homogeneity in the Londolozi experience. It’s always unique and always special.

You never know what will be around the next corner at Londolozi…

I try to get back there once a year, except these days it’s not just me and my husband but my kids as well, and my brother and his wife regularly accompany us.
We try to stay in Pioneer Camp each year, the most westerly of the Londolozi camps. One of Londolozi’s three Relais and Chateaux camps, Pioneer only has three rooms, perfect for a family of our size. The adults go into two of them while the kids squeeze into the third (which is connected to ours by a discreet walkway).
And for a magical ten days, the camp becomes home.

The camp manager this year was Shannon Dawson, the most wonderful person you could ever wish to meet, and she shares a similar history with us in that she has also been visiting Londolozi with her family since she was small. And now she calls it home too.
Nothing was ever too much for Shannon, and her delightful smile was always there to welcome us home after game drive, morning and evening.

This leopard was waiting for us just off the edge of the Pioneer Camp deck as we returned from game drive one evening!

Travelling out from Atlanta, GA, where I live these days (having moved from South Africa in the 90s), it makes far more sense for us to come for a longer trip, so ten days is usually the least amount of time we will stay. I cannot emphasise enough the value of a longer stay. It allows one to truly sink into a place, to adjust to the flow of the African bush, and get to know the ranger, tracker and camp staff far better than one would in what would traditionally have been a three night adventure.

Our coffee stop one morning in a treehouse overlooking the Sand River.

 

A young leopard cub peers down nervously from the boughs of a marula tree, still uncertain of the best way to descend.

Particularly for those coming from further afield, long stay safaris are slowly starting to replace the three night visits, which travel trends are definitely starting to reflect. The idea it seems, is to go deeper, not broader. Rather than hopping between lodges, discerning travellers are preferring to remain in one place, getting the absolute most out of a visit that they can.
This is certainly what we try to accomplish each time we visit Londolozi.

Tiny wild dog pups emerge from their den as their mother calls them out.

This was our first time back in a couple of years, Covid-19 and other circumstances having prevented us visiting since July 2018.

The best thing for me was just how easy travel was in these times: flights were not a problem, covid-compliant and everything almost seemed easier than normal, especially given that airports are far less crowded. A hop, skip and a jump, and back in Londolozi we were…

And what a return it was.
Lions taking down a buffalo on our first morning, male leopards roaring back and forth at each other, a female leopard with her cubs just learning how to climb, wild dog pups emerging from their den for the first time… The sightings were incredibly varied and seemingly endless.
And in between them was the Londolozi fun; Wimbledon-themed dinners, soccer games for the kids, tracking lessons from Joy Mathebula… Whenever we least expected it, there was something new and exciting on the cards.

Tracker Andrea Sithole – who our family have known for years – celebrates a goal with my daughter Brodi in a soccer game organised for the kids staying in camp.
One of the dominant male leopards that Londolozi is so famous for, drinking only a few feet from our vehicle.

Londolozi doesn’t just thrill with the wildlife. They take you into their world and open your eyes. You get to see what this one wild life we have all been given should really be about: fun, connection, intimacy with nature and ultimately finding the best version of yourself.

I know I find that person whenever I’m at Londolozi.
And you can too…