EXOTIC destinations-the road less traveled-Londolozi-South Africa.
Date Published: 8/7/2011
Of all the elements associated with Africa, the ethnic names of people, places or things have to be the most evocative. Other-worldly, poly-syllabled, ineffably musical and mysterious. They immediately invoke mind-pictures of impala gamboling through rolling savannah, the surround sound symphony of indigenous avian twitter, fierce, blazing, purple and flame-colored sunsets over the silhouette of the misshapen baobab trees, with the rolling call of the king of the jungle in the distance.
Londolozi, a Zulu name meaning “protector of all living things” perfectly echoes the above and is singularly appropriate as the moniker of one of Africa’s finest game lodges. A group of five different camps, it is driven by a determined, ambitious conservation ethic that embraces the entire natural environment: far-sighted, progressive land management, wildlife breeding, preservation and rehabilitation and pro-active community participation.
Its 14,000 hectares are situated along the Sand River at the core of the Sabi Sands Game Reserve, in the famous Kruger National Park. Accessible by road or by air this verdant, untamed wonderland assures exceptional safaris –a Swahili word meaning “true journey” and an authentic wilderness experience.
The inexorable rhythm of nature endures. Each dawn witnesses a miracle, with a chorus of birdsong enlivening the perfumed air: Cuckoos, bee-eaters, hornbills, kingfishers, shrikes, weavers, barbets. Herons, egrets, storks and flamingoes provide waterside elegance. In spring and summer the early evening air is often permeated with the scent of baked potato, emanating from the tiny pink flowers of the Potato Bush. This most distinctive of smells is forever associated with South Africa.
The best time to explore the bushveld is in the cool, dry, winter months from April to September. The days are balmy, the mornings crisp and crystalline; the bush is a slide-show of color and variegated game viewing. South Africa is the only country that can boast of the Cape floral kingdom, (one of six ), in its entirety within its borders. Despite the plethora of exotic plant and floral life to be found in different parts of the country, the most symbolic landscape is that of the dry grasses of the savannah, the thickly scattered shrubs and bushes and the skeletal arms of the acacia trees reaching for the skies.
The first game drive of the day takes place before dawn, before the magic hour is past and the torpor that animals flee from, comes with the midday heat; the evening drive commences before sunset. The atmosphere resounds with the booming snorts of hippo. Greater kudu, zebra, giraffe, wildebeest are all a veritable feast for the human eye and the camera lens. Breeding herds of elephant and buffalo roam throughout the Londolozi reserve, while white rhino and lion concentrations are amongst the highest recorded.
Most wondrous is the empathy between leopards and rangers & trackers that Londolozi is renowned for. In 1979 John Varty, co-founder of Londolozi and naturalist Elmon Mhlongo, initiated a historic relationship with a mother leopard. This enabled entry into her secluded world, for over three decades, during which they observed, aided and were witness to the founding of a dynasty of Londolozi leopards that exists to this day; viewing them is one of life’s truly treasured experiences.
Many of the rangers and trackers at Londolozi are native sons, with a vast knowledge, understanding and deep connection to the fauna and flora and a fount of memorable tales that they willingly recount. Each game drive is a singular experience. Shaangan Trackers perch on the hoods of the safari vehicles, searching out fresh animal tracks and signs, while the rangers drive in pursuit with consummate skill through labyrinthine wilderness.
A Londolozi safari is about immersion and participation that endows a recharged and enlightened mind-set eager for the next life-changing experience.
There can be no greater endorsement than Nelson Mandela’s statement:
“During my long walk to freedom, I had the rare privilege to visit Londolozi. There I saw people of all races living in harmony amidst the beauty that Mother Nature offers. Londolozi represents a model of the dream I cherish for the future of nature preservation in our country.”