“I haven’t seen anything like this in seven years,” said our tracker, Innocent Ngwenya, as we all breathlessly stared at a leopard and her three cubs frolicking mere feet away from us. “A leopard usually has one cub, two at the most,” he explained. Our small group had been tracking this leopard throughout the morning. Now, round a bend, suddenly there she was, minding her adorable cubs.
And amazingly, none of them paid any attention to us. That’s because they were accustomed to and felt secure in the presence of humans in the Sabi Sands Reserve flanking the south-western edge of South Africa’s Kruger National Park. Ditto for a white rhino and her calf, a hippopotamus bobbing in the water with her baby and a lioness keeping an eye on her offspring.
That we had experienced an embarrassment of animal sighting riches should have come as no surprise for Sabi Sands, the oldest private reserve in South Africa, also boasts the highest density of big game in the country. Home to all the big five — lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros, and African buffalo — the 65-thousand hectare sanctuary is particularly known for big cat game viewing, especially phenomenal close-up leopard sightings.
Careful conservation efforts pioneered by local landowners in the 1950s and carried out today by third and fourth generations lie at the heart of the reserve’s success. My husband, Kevin von Neuschatz, our friend, Charlène von Saher and I had traveled a long way for these sightings, traversing the Atlantic and then crossing South Africa from Cape Town on successively smaller planes — and boy was it worth it!
Sabi Sands comprises a number of smaller private reserves and it is one of these — Londolozi — which we had chosen as our base for the next five days. Founded some 90-years ago, the family-run wildlife sanctuary is particularly known for its impressive track record on leopard sightings. The luxurious lodge, made up of five camps, also boasts Relais & Châteaux status garnered in 1993. On our first night there — at Tree Camp — we were treated to a 5-course tasting menu with wine pairings. (All the wines are South African, of course!) At breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner, the food was consistently delicious and the service top notch. Dietary requirements were duly fulfilled.
In keeping with the gracious atmosphere, the interior décor was chic and sophisticated. And our spacious lodgings consisted of generously-proportioned sitting rooms, bedrooms, dressing areas and bathrooms. In the afternoons, we looked out on a variety of animals (lions, hippos, nyalas) passing by in front of our large picture windows and private wrap-around decks complete with plunge pools. The minibar too was munificently appointed (and wildly attractive to the crafty resident babboons).
But perhaps even more than its luxury, Londolozi prides itself on its decades-long conservation and community development efforts. The reserve has won international plaudits for its far-sighted and progressive land and wildlife management, as well as its effective community involvement. The name, “Londolozi,” in fact is derived from a Zulu word which means “protector of all living things.”
The Londolozi Development Model which focuses equally on caring for the land, for the wildlife and for the people, set a new standard for conservation and helped establish Africa’s modern-day luxury safari industry.
The lodge creates work for 270 people, who in turn support over 2,700 dependents. It supports local businesses and community projects and delivers world-class digital education to rural school children, through the Good Work Foundation and the on-site digital learning centers.
An ambitious program to recreate the river systems has helped make Londolozi largely drought resistant and has provided employment for surrounding communities. Likewise, Londolozi’s “Corridors of Hope” project aims to combine conservation with economic stimulation by linking vast swathes of land to establish wildlife corridors. This will not only create one continuous giant wildlife sanctuary, but it will also have the effect of economically uplifting as many as 600,000 rural people living in the region. These programs form an integral part of Vision 2020, Londolozi’s plan of becoming a futuristic African village characterized by making a more meaningful contribution to South African society while treading lightly on the earth. In short, Londolozi prides itself on its values founded on the African tradition of Ubuntu – “I am because of you.”
“Only when wildlife, people and land can work together can we find abundance for everyone,” says owner Shan Varty.
So, it was with a good deal of sadness that Kevin, Charlène and I said our goodbyes on the morning of our departure for we knew that we would miss it all terribly — the animals, the land and the people. Our tracker, Innocent, and our guide, Alex Jordan, had kept us informed, amazed and entertained with their deep knowledge, keen eyes, easy sense of humor and cocktail-mixing skills. We had learned so much about various species of animals and birds, about plants and about how beautifully symbiotic the natural world is. We left Londolozi even more in awe and respectful of nature than when we had arrived.
And now, it was on to Johannesburg for a couple of days. There, we luxuriated at the Saxon hotel and had just enough time to tour the township of Soweto and visit several other historically important sights. Exploring the Apartheid Museum, Nelson and Winnie Mandela’s house and the Hector Pieterson memorial were very moving and eye-opening experiences. Our trip to Cape Town, Londolozi and Johannesburg has left a deep impression on all of us. Weeks later, we still reminisce about the natural beauty and the warmth of the people. We all very much want to return for there is still so much to do and see in South Africa. A closer, in-depth exploration of the country’s winelands, with ample wine tastings, for example, is a must!
Our spacious and beautifully-appointed accommodations consisted of individual cottages with a large sitting room, bedroom, bathroom, dressing area and a wrap-around deck complete with a plunge pool and an outdoor shower: