A Family South African Safari
1 – Introduction
2 – A Pit Stop in Paris
3 – Tanda Tula
4 – Londolozi Founder’s Camp
5 – Safari Photos
6 – Cape Grace Hotel
7 – Cape Town Activities
8 – Emirates First Class – Thoughts and Observations
9 – Conclusion, A Few Safari Tips and Future Plans
It quickly became clear that we had arrived at a very different sort of camp. Compared to where we were coming from, Londolozi was much more on the “luxe” end of the spectrum and far less rustic.
Londolozi is divided into five different “camps.” The camps, Pioneer, Founders, Granite, Varty and Tree, are spread out along a ridge, all over look the Sand River. Each camp has between three and ten rooms and with each camp having its own common room, which in addition to being a lounge and lobby, also served as a dining venue and bar for the associated camp.
Pioneer, Granite and Tree are designated as Relais & Chateaux properties. From visiting the common rooms of each, there didn’t appear to be any substantive difference between the camps. The room sizes did vary somewhat.
We stayed in the Founders Camp. Only two of the camps welcome children – Founders and Pioneer – so these were the choices for us. (The other three camps will accept children if you rent the entire camp.)
Renting out one of the smaller camps fully (or larger camps, depending on your group) – with or without children – would make for a wonderfully private trip. If traveling with other couples, I’d give serious consideration to this as an option.
We were greeted plane-side by Sean, who would be our guide who looked after us for the entire duration of our stay. Sean loaded our luggage onto the Rover and brought us to the motor court for our camp. There a camp manager and several porters were waiting for us. Our bags were all delivered to our room while the camp manager escorted us there and showed us around the room.
During the room introduction, the camp manager said that there were rooms unoccupied and if we wanted a second room, one would be available to us. It wasn’t clear if this was an “upsell” to take a second room, or if it was “its unused, so you might as well use it,” thought it felt more like the latter. (There really aren’t unannounced arrivals at properties like this.) There wasn’t a connecting option, and we didn’t want to be away from the kids (or split up the adults), so we declined the offer.
Our room was a stand-alone stone building, with a large, private balcony, a plunge pool and an outdoor shower. (There was also an indoor shower.)
The room was air conditioned, which was a welcome treat after several days with just a fan.
The bedroom was quite spacious and accommodated our two roll away beds without issue. The bed was very comfortable, and the rollaways were what you would expect to find at a premium hotel. There was a complimentary mini-bar and a glass desk (notably, on saw horses) for working.
The bathroom had an indoor step-in shower and separate tub. There were two sinks. The toilet was also walled off into a private room, which made bathroom use far more efficient.
Everything in the room was of very good quality and was in very good condition. There were no visible nicks or scratches. If you told me this was a Four Seasons room, I would have believed you.
The plunge pool was small and reasonably cool, but still usable. Even my wife went in (pretty unusual for her in a cool pool).
In-room Wifi was strong and fast. Wifi also worked well on the balcony.
Cleaning service was twice a day. The rooms were looked after during both game drives. Laundry service was same day and complimentary.
Non-threatening animals moved around the camp quite regularly. Here are some tortoises strolling near our room.
Our Guide and Tracker and the Game Drive Experience
Sean and Edward, our guide (or ranger, as sometimes called) and tracker, respectively, were both wonderful. Sean was very knowledgeable about the the animals and the overall reserve. Both Sean and Edward shared with us information and stories about the various packs of animals. They knew many of the cats by name (or by pack name). Though Sean had only worked at the camp for a few years, he was clearly in a job that he loved and he was very knowledgeable about the camp, animals and terrain.
Each Rover had only one party in it. This was different than our prior camp, where Rovers were shared. It appeared that all parties were given a private Rover. There was one lady who was a solo traveler and she too had her own Rover with a guide and tracker.
Sean, our guide, was very pro-active in working on the radio with his base and other field colleagues to choreograph each game drive such that we had a good mix of animals each day. That said, at Londolozi (and I suspect many camps), your Rover is assigned several “zones” within the reserve for a given day and the guides need to keep you in those zones – even if there is very interesting action in other zones.
For example, on one day, we saw two packs of lions (3 older male lions versus 2 younger male lions) chasing each other for territory. The chase didn’t end in blood but was thrilling to watch. This transpired all in broad day light, too. We estimate the three lions protecting their territory ran about 3km, then back 3km, then forward about 1km trying to push away the two males moving in to their territory. After the chasing (lasted about an hour) the two intruding lions laid down on a hill at the end of the disputed territory and kept their heads up watching to see if the other three took another run at them. (A full suite of animal photos will be in the next post!)
It was so excited that one of the Varde brothers (owners of the lodge) came out to record a video of the chase. He, and our and other guides, were like kids in a candy store. Our tracker had been working for twenty years and was visibly excited by what he saw, saying he had never seen anything like it.
Had this activity not been in one of your zones, even if your guide heard of it over the radio (which they all did), you generally wouldn’t be able to go to visit it. We were on the lucky side of this several times and from listening to their hand radio, it didn’t sound like we missed any notable interactions elsewhere on in the reserve.
Londolozi shares some land with a nearby Singita camp. Once in a while we would see a Singita-branded Rover. They too are subject to the same zone rules.
Sean took a real interest in the kids and always made a point to ask if they were ready to move on from a stop (in addition to the adults). He made several special stops on our drives to show the kids different skulls and bones that were around the reserve.
Edward, our tracker, also was very enthusiastic in his job. A number of times, he’d stop the truck to get down and look at paw/foot prints in the sand to judge their freshness. He was never once asleep at the switch and several times found animals behind clumps of trees or bushes that were very tough to find, even if you were told where to look.
I can’t emphasize enough just how important the guide and tracker are to your overall stay. Jack, our guide at Tanda Tula, did a very good job. This crew really took the experience fully to another level.
Compared to Tanda Tula, Londolozi was slightly less dense in terms of animals. There were longer distances between sightings. There were, however, more visible cats here and we saw numerous cheetahs and lions at Londolozi.
Though also in a drought, Londolozi was notably more lush and green than Tanda Tula and it had more smaller watering holes.
The game drives last for several hours, and do have idle time where you are not seeing animals. Our kids, 12 and 9, brought some things to keep them busy in between sightings.
Here, they kept the gun on the Rover loaded and in a rack near the driver, but also out of the case. And the prior camp, the rifle was unloaded and in a case. (The guides there had bullets on their belts.) Also, notably, at Londolozi spotter came in the Rover when we got near cheetahs and lions. (I suspect this was due to an experience once.) Conversely, our spotter at the prior camp did not come in.
Each of the Rovers at Londolozi had several mounted bean bags for cameras. This avoided need for a monopod (I had a 150-600mm lens for this trip) which made things more flexible. Sean, our guide, even had his own camera, and took it out for several of our lion encounters.
Unlike the prior camp, there was no need to pre-order drinks for the PM games. Sean and Edward brought a pretty full bar with them, along with an array of snacks.
During our visit, we did skip one morning game drive. The accumulated deficit from four consecutive five AM wake up calls coupled with 9pm+ bedtimes and preceded two consecutive red-eye flights took its toll. This was the right decision and we all slept in till about 8am, waking naturally.
While this could be considered wasteful, considering we had 12 drives in total during our time in Africa, the refreshment value of one morning sleeping in made the balance of our trip much more pleasant.
Meal tables, including dinner, were private for your party (not communal tables as we had at Tanda Tula). The camp manager made a point to set the tables differently each day so that different guests had different viewing perspectives. You were shown to a table sized for your party each day, and tables for your party size were in different spots each day. It was subtle, but helped avoid situations where a guest consistently arrived a little early to grab the corner table. Very thoughtful.
Every other night during our stay, dinner was served in a bamboo walled outdoor pavilion with a sand floor (instead of the main dining area). Lit with torches and bagged candles and open to the sky, the pavilion offered a dramatic space for dinner (though difficult to photograph without a tripod). We welcomed having a bit of variety for the dinner location.
This is the outdoor dinner location of one of the other camps (taken during the daytime).
Our guide, Sean, joined for dinner on our last night. Sean was great with the kids and having taken a real liking to him, the kids were thrilled to have him join. For the adults, it was very interesting to learn about his experiences as a guide. During dinner, you could tell that Sean was still thrilled with the the lion chase we had seen earlier in the day (more in this in the next post).
There was no communal setup. There were certain aspects of the communal dinners that I enjoyed at Tanda Tula, and that was lacking here Even though there were several other groups in our camp, we had very limited interactions with other guests here. We are fairly private, so this was fine, too.
Breakfast included a buffet as well as made-to-order items. Pleasantly, champagne was on ice and available with breakfast – in mimosas or the traditional way! We did some damage on the champagne.
Lunch was available from a menu, as was dinner. The food was consistently very good and in some cases, great.
While the chef did not come out to meet the kids, but the waitress was very helpful working with us to accommodate the kids’ various whims.
Monkeys did visit a few times and were able to get some things from other guests. A butterfly took up residence in a neighbor’s wine glass, too!
The schedule of the day was very similar to Tanda Tula – 5am wake up, 5:30am for a quick bite and then departure, return for breakfast before 9am. Start all over again at about 4pm.
Unlike Tanda Tula, however, Londolozi offered a small number of choices for mid-day activities, if you so desired.
Most notably for us, they offered a “kids camp” during the day. Our guide, Sean, and one other female colleague, Emma, looked after our kids and two other children from separate groups for a few hours after breakfast. They took the kids on “kids-only” game drives, typically did some sort of sport activity (tree climbing, etc.) and then some pool time. They even took the kids barefoot into a shallow river one day. The kids absolutely loved the camp experience.
My wife and I welcomed having a few hours without the kids in the middle of the day. Quiet time together on family trips is a real treat.
One notable activity during the camp was poop spitting. We only learned of this after the fact and certainly wouldn’t have encouraged it, but put the news of it in the “what’s done is done” category and didn’t make a fuss with the kids (or camp). As the name suggests, this activity involves putting the pellet-like Impala poop in the kids’ mouths to see who can spit it the farthest. (My son was the winner of this dubious contest.)
For adults, the property offered an organized yoga session each day just after noon (before lunch). The property had a dedicated structure for yoga activities, which you could use at any time.
Finally, the property also offered a small gym and there were options to arrange for a massage.
* * * * *
Our departure from Londolozi came too soon. It was very easy to be very comfortable and after a week in the bush, I was very acclimated to the schedule and highly attentive service.
Sean (our guide) escorted us directly to the plane at Londolozi’s airfield and bid us farewell. Once we were on the plane, the kids cried a bit about “having to leave Sean.” While they were brief tears, it shows just how much of a liking the kids took towards him. (We’ve told the kids that they can write to Sean in the future.)
Our host arranged for a private plane to pick us up and take us over to Kruger Mpumalanga Airport (MQP). This turned what would have been a 2-1/2 hour drive into a 15 minute flight. Unlike our prior private flights, this one had only one pilot.
We definitely did the safari part of the trip in the right order.
* * * * *
At Kruger airport, we were met by five porters, each who carried one bag. They took us to an arrivals area, where we were met by a different porter – this time a fellow with a trolley – who took us to the South African Airways check in. This process was clearly designed to maximize tipping. Countless tips later, we and our bags were checked in with SAA.
We had burgers (the kids had milkshakes, too) at “Wimpy,” on the upper level of the airport. The kids got a kick out of the name of the restaurant. Our pilot who brought us down from Londolozi stopped by and ended up eating at the next table.
Our flight down to Cape Town on a SAA Avro-RJ85 was uneventful. The plane is a one-class plane, and we were seated pretty far back. The service from the flight attendants was remarkably nice.
The report continues here (with lots of animal photos!).