What’s It Like to Go on Safari? A Look at The Londolozi Experience

by Sandy Salle on April 1, 2015

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Article by Amanda Evans, Hills of Africa Travel’s CEO

Everyday I pretty much feel like the luckiest person on the planet. I get to research and explore exciting destinations in Africa and all over the world and vicariously experience safari through our many, many clients that travel there every year. But I feel most lucky each and every time I get to have my own personal experience with African wildlife. I’ve been lucky enough to experience twice now – that in and of itself is pretty incredible, many people don’t even make it once. And every time I find myself on a safari vehicle I think to myself “Holy moly. I’ve ‘made it’.”

Lots of friends and our prospective clients ask us “what’s it like to go on safari?” I find it the most impossible question to answer (go figure since telling people about safari is what we do! ha!). But I mean that in the sense that it’s truly indescribable. You can talk about the animals and the lodges and the people and tell your stories – I promise I’ll get to that below. But safari isn’t something you see or do; it’s truly something you feel. It’s why I never bring my own camera. I just let other talented photographers in my family do the job for me. I’d much rather sit and experience it and capture that feeling in my memory forever than reach for the camera. Ok, sometimes things are just too cool and I have to bust out my iPhone for a really grainy picture of a leopard right behind our safari vehicle – just to prove to friends and family how close you get!

What was so incredible about this last experience and staying at Londolozi is that they truly “get” what it means to experience and feel safari. Their brand sort of says it all – LIVE SAFARI. You don’t do it or see it – you LIVE it. And I love that about their properties. Their 5 camps are located all along the Sand River in South Africa on their massive private concession.

The camps are separated and together all at the same time, so you can easily stay at your property and never visit the others or easily take the quick walk to the neighbors.

Varty Camp features daily yoga on the yoga platform (open to guests of all camps) and also features a small gym if you are looking for a more rigorous sweat. We stayed at Londolozi’s Tree Camp, which is a Relaix and Chateau property on one of the far ends of the string of camps. It’s newly renovated and absolutely stunning. Each room features a private plunge pool, deck, outdoor shower and sitting area with massive windows to watch the real live National Geographic going on outside your window.

Within an hour of our arrival a massive herd of elephants walked right in front of the lodges – the Sand River is directly in front – munching on the trees and grasses. We could’ve watched for hours! The game drives had not even begun yet! But the adventures had.

During lunch the Executive Chef, Anna, was presenting our gorgeous display of grilled chicken and vegetables and salad for lunch when a very, very bold vervet monkey decided the display was for him. He leapt on our table scaring us nearly to death and Anna deftly shooed him away with a large porcelain plate, chasing him off the patio. It gave us a fright, but we all had a good laugh. That’s the amazing thing about safari – there is not really a barrier between you and the bush. You are in it experiencing it, even when you are maybe not expecting it!

We were incredibly lucky to be paired in our private game drive vehicle with Melvin (one of Londolozi’s most experienced guides) and Milton (one of their most experienced trackers). We were in incredible hands for 3 days. Within an hour of our first game drive, we were already spying on a pride of 13 lions, feasting on a large buffalo they had just hunted. It was absolutely dazzling. To watch their habits and interactions without them seeming to care an ounce that we were literally on top of them was incredible.

In the background was a herd of elephant, making their way toward the location of the pride. Three of the Big Five in our presence right then and there (buffalo – although he was more like dinner at that point, lion, and elephant).

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It only took until the next morning to round out the Big Five with a sighting of a pair of white rhino just before dawn and a very lazy and full leopard napping in the grass.

Each day was a different experience with the game. From a very old elephant with the largest tusks I’ve ever seen to the tiniest baby elephant, not more than a week old, to tracking a leopard that we followed for two hours while he hunted (coolest thing I’ve ever seen!!) to even the tiniest of surprises, like seeing a chameleon delicately perched on a branch.

As each moment passes and just gets better than the last you start contemplating what it would take to delay your flight by just a day or so….

As surreal as the safari experience is, the experience back at camp is sometimes as surreal! I’ve never felt more relaxed at a camp. From lazy afternoons, lounging in the cool room watching out the window, or reading on the patio – it’s the absolute definition of relaxation. The spa services were top notch and the wellness activities are easily found at the camp (each Tree Camp room also has a bag full of weights and a yoga mat!). But the best experiences by far were the dining experiences.

We celebrated my sister’s 41st birthday while there and the Varty family and Chef’s team could not have gone out of their way more to make it incredibly special. Her birthday kicked off with a 5-course wine tasting and snacks in the bush under an absolutely cloudless and star-filled African sky. The Londolozi wine expert and Executive Chef were there and it was like hanging out with old friends. Relaxed, elegant and delicious!

More surprises were in store when we arrived back to camp for a private boma (traditional grill-up around a camp fire) with the Varty family and a special private meal. It was an honor to be with the family that started Londolozi and made it the incredible destination that it is with their dedication to wildlife, and experience 5-star cuisine from the chefs. I went to bed more full and happy than I’ve ever been!londolozi5

But all the meals were standouts at Londolozi. The Chef really focuses on simple, yet delicious foods and combining them to create complex flavors. Typically I skip lunch on safari because between the morning snack, the midmorning snack, the breakfast, the lunch, the sundowners and then dinner, it’s all too much! But lunch was so worth it. We ate lunch everyday (and I’m paying for it now at the gym at home, but I wouldn’t take it back now for anything!).

Each time I go on safari it feels like a homecoming – like I’m back with old friends when I sit in the safari vehicle. That’s my favorite part about it and the Varty and Londolozi family do such an incredible job of making their camp feel not just a like a destination, but an actual home. Like they’ve let you in their living room for a few days – it’s a true embodiment of the African experience, African people, and culture and wildlife.

They say third time is a charm, but not sure how my third safari will be able to beat the last two, but I look forward to finding out!

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