Going on safari had been a long time ambition of both Gemma and I, both of us being big nature lovers. So when we were planning a luxurious trip to celebrate our 40th birthdays, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to fulfil the ambition of a lifetime.
We had always promised ourselves that when we eventually did go on safari, we would do it in style, no expense spared. A colleague at work recommended Londolozi Lodge in Sabi Sands Game Reserve, South Africa when I had been discussing our plans with him. What a recommendation it proved to be…
After four great days exploring Cape Town and the surrounding area we took the short internal flight up to Nelspruit, where we were greeted by our private transfer to Londolozi. The two and half hour drive is scenic and interesting, giving passengers an insight into rural life in and around Kruger National Park.
Within minutes of passing through the security gates of the Sabi Sands Game Reserve we spotted our first ever wild Zebra, then some Wild Boar #exciting! This would turn out to be just a small taste of things to come.
On arrival at Founders Camp in Londolozi, we were greeted by Helen and Cry, who helped take care of us at the camp, and Bruce and Rob, who would be our ranger and tracker during our stay. After a very warm welcome we were escorted to the main restaurant at Founders and given a chilled glass of champagne before sitting down to enjoy a late lunch of Atlantic Salmon while watching Elephants graze in the distance, this place was unreal…
Helen and Bruce asked if we were up for joining the afternoon safari at four o’clock. It was a no-brainer.
We hastily headed back to the room to freshen up and change before going out on our first ever safari drive. There was a beautiful gift wrapped scarf waiting for Gemma on the huge four poster bed from all the family at Londolozi.
It’s the small details that are the difference between a hotel being good and great, and Londolozi excels with these small details.
We were joined on our Land Rover by two South African couples, Warren and Sam, Leon and Bev, who would all turn out to be excellent safari companions and fine company over the next few days.
Our first safari drive was a sensory overload. We almost immediately encountered a large herd of elephants, including babies! They really are the most tranquil animals, and you could just sit and thoughtfully watch them for hours.
Next, we spotted a large crocodile and two hippos wallowing in a watering hole.
All these were just the unbelievable hors d’oeuvres ahead of the unforgettable main course that was a young, male leopard cub, relaxing upon a dusty mound by a fallen tree stump. He was staggeringly beautiful and so calm. Bruce was chuffed to see him as none of the rangers had seen the cub, or his sister for many weeks and they had feared the worst. Thankfully the young male had survived, but the prospects sadly did not look so good for his sister.
We spent around twenty minutes with the cub before slowly driving off into the sunset. And what a sunset. Our first safari sunset, it was a day for a lot of firsts. The sky was clear, and the sun seemed to be larger than we’d ever seen before, burning hazily on the horizon.
As the sun went down we pulled over by the side of a track, in the dark, while Bruce and Rob set up a pop-up bar on the LandRover – this was how to safari.
We headed back to the camp on cloud nine to freshen up before dinner at seven thirty.
As it was Gemma’s 40th birthday that day I had pre-ordered a bottle of Krug champagne, and this was served chilled in the most beautiful setting in Founders Camp.
The dining venue was set outside, under the stars, in an area encircled by high bamboo walls and lit up by a large fire pit and oil lamps. We wouldn’t have wanted to celebrate Gemma’s special evening anywhere else in the world.
We had a silky smooth squash soup to start and then mains of chicken curry and BBQ grilled fillet of beef for main respectively. The food was excellent.
Desert was a delicious chocolate cheesecake served up with a happy 40th birthday message in chocolate writing and candles for Gemma to blow out.
What followed desert will remain with us for the rest of our lives.
Helen had arranged for the Londolozi village choir to come and sing happy birthday to Gemma. As the women of the choir sang half a dozen songs in traditional style, emotion got the better of us and tears of happiness flowed freely. If Carlsberg did evenings…
The choir departed to a round of applause, we pulled ourselves together and finished the Krug before heading back to our room to get a good nights rest before an early start the next morning.
But this is Londolozi, and the story of the evening couldn’t end there. Our room had been decorated with a path of tea lights and rose petals, leading into the bathroom, where a hot bubble bath, covered in petals, was waiting for our use. If only we had the energy to do it justice 🙂
Still high on the events of the day before we were up at 5 am sharp for the next days safari drive.
After quickly scoffing down a slice of banana cake accompanied by a hot mug of coffee, we headed over to our Land Rover where Bruce, Rob and our South African friends were waiting.
Early into the drive, Bruce’s radio receiver crackled news that a large male lion had been spotted by one of the other Londolozi vehicles. Bruce quickly made an about turn, and we set off to make rendezvous with the other group.
Nothing can quite prepare you for your first encounter with the king of the jungle. The lion walked with such an air of confidence, majestic I would say.
Bruce positioned our vehicle expertly, directly in the path of the huge beast. He strolled within feet of the vehicle, at one point stopping and acknowledging us with a look that said ‘if I wanted to, I could, but today, I choose not to’.
We were even treated to a roar, which echoed for miles around.
We left Leo and drove on, coming across a large herd of elephants with a baby suckling its mother, this was turning into another awesome day!
We headed back to camp at around nine o’clock for a nice big breakfast of sausage, egg and bacon, washed down with a nice cup of coffee.
After breakfast, we headed back to our room to chill out on the veranda and do a spot of elephant watching.
We were in luck, and some elephants came and grazed directly beneath our balcony. Mesmerised by this we were taken by complete surprise when we heard a big smash of glass behind us.
Some mischievous baboons were on the roof of our hut, and one of them smashed a glass lamp down onto the outdoor shower to get our attention! We had naively left our bathroom window open, and the baboon had climbed in to steal the lamp. We had been warned by Helen not to leave any doors or windows open, so it was our fault!
We filled our stomachs at lunch with a burger and some fish goujons and wet our palettes with another lovely Chenin Blanc. Londolozi really is fully All Inclusive and some, with superb à la carte food and free-flowing wine and spirits.
That afternoon we drove out in search of the Tamboti female leopard which had been spotted walking down the riverbed at lunchtime by another group. Sadly on this occasion, despite the heroic efforts of Bruce and Rob, we didn’t manage to find the leopard.
In many ways this makes you appreciate even more what a privilege it is when you do come across such amazing wildlife. This is not a zoo!
We did, however, manage to see our first wild giraffe and another herd of elephants.
That evening we were joined for dinner by Bruce and had an excellent chat, learning about the gruelling training the rangers have to go through, something akin to joining the SAS.
As we ate a delightful dinner of succulent lamb cutlets, we were treated to a spectacular lightning storm, the first rains of the year in Londolozi. We were joined by Rob and Liam, two other rangers, and we all had a good drink, chatting and laughing before staggering merrily back to our room.
You could tell as soon as we set off the next morning that Bruce and Rob were determined to track down some big game.
Bruce knew from the night before that we still really hoped to see some hyaena and rhino and he didn’t want to see us leave Londolozi disappointed (not that we would have been).
First up we saw a family of hyaena, including babies, which were surprisingly cute!
Then we heard on the radio that a leopard was nearby with a kill from the night before. Bruce had predicted a lot of action following the storm as the larger animals often hunt during storms as the smaller prey are disorientated by the thunder and lightning.
We found the leopard tucking into an unfortunate impala beneath a fallen tree stump. Then, to our astonishment, one of the larger hyaenas from the family we had seen earlier, chased the leopard away and stole the impala!
We drove off with the news that there was another female leopard with her cub up a tree nearby. The leopard had dragged an impala up the tree (presumably to keep it out of the reach of any greedy hyaena’s) and was now at the base with her cub.
Both leopards approached the vehicle, and the large female walked directly at me as I was fumbling with my camera desperately trying to get a closeup.
Then the cub climbed the tree and began tearing into the hapless impala. To our disbelief, another hyaena suddenly turned up and began stalking around the base of the tree. Thankfully he couldn’t climb so the leopard’s meal remained safe this time.
After an exhilarating morning, we headed back to camp, stopping off briefly to enjoy coffee with the hippos.
Lunch was an amazing rogan curry chowder served inside a homemade bread roll, accompanied by more free-flowing Chenin Blanc.
As we ate, a monkey jumped onto the deck and stole a silver sugar pot and an apple; you can’t take your eyes off the little devils for a minute!
When lunch had digested, I headed off for a massage, which was so good I dribbled on the floor! I hadn’t felt this relaxed for a very long time. It’s the Londolozi effect.
The afternoon drive was just as exciting and action-packed as the morning. We saw four rhino, including a baby. How people can hunt such peaceful creatures, I don’t know.
We encountered three large giraffes, and a herd of wildebeest very close up and drove across beautiful arid plains for miles.
As the sun started to set, Bruce and Rob told us a large pride of lions had been spotted on a rocky outcrop near a dried up a riverbed. As we drove down into the riverbed, we spotted a ring of oil lamps in the distance, high up on a hill.
Bruce said one of the rangers was going to propose to his girlfriend and we all agreed it was a spectacular setting to get engaged.
We drove on and started to climb until suddenly we turned a corner and the oil lamps came into sight. It turns out the engagement story was just a hoax, and the oil lamps were for us! The team at Londolozi had arranged a BBQ under the stars to celebrate Warren’s 50th birthday – what a wonderful surprise.
We dined under the stars with our South African friends, next to the roaring heat of a fire pit, on fillet steak, pizza, succulent chicken skewers and cured meats, and washed it all down with excellent red wine from Stellenbosch. It was one of the most memorable nights of our lives, truly unforgettable.
Gemma decided to have a well-deserved lie in on the final day, so I headed out with the gang on my own.
We drove down into a dry river bed, banked by trees and saw a large herd of elephants grazing and an adult rhino sleeping off the night before under a tree. It was an incredibly peaceful morning.
Warren, Sam, Leon and Bev had to catch an early flight home so we dropped them off and Bruce, Rob and I headed off alone for my own private drive.
Bruce and Rob allowed me to get out of the Land Rover with them and walk through the dry riverbed which was very exhilarating. I was allowed to hold Bruce’s riffle, and I felt like a proper ranger. It was the perfect end to a perfect stay.
Sadly we had to leave, and after an emotional farewell, with plenty of tears, we headed out of Londolozi, consoled by the thought that we would be back for more.
So all that’s left to say is thank you Londolozi for the most exhilarating, fun, romantic, special and emotional time. The memories will last us a lifetime, and we can’t wait to return to make some more.
A double room at Londolozi Founders camp costs £1,642 per night. This includes all meals, drinks and game drives. Rates can be found on the Londolozi website here.