Tag Archives: Sabi-Sand

The Leopard and the Aardvark

‘Lunch was a good tuna-fish roll with very average salads, on a deck with a huge tree growing through it. Then we went to our rondavel – a round room with a shower tacked on and gas lights. Perfectly adequate and nice hard beds … Dinner was an impala kebab followed by impala steak or fish pie and pineapple crumble.’

So I wrote of Londolozi in May 1983. The rate was R75 per person per night including all meals and game drives. It was more than a month’s salary to a poor hotel barman like me and I don’t think I thought it was worth it.

But it’s thirty years on and things have changed a bit.

On arrival at Founders Camp, our bags make their effortless way to our room, while we follow smiling camp manager Tammy down a winding path to a wooden deck the size of a tennis court and seemingly floating on air above the Sand River, and a glass of seriously moreish home-made iced tea.

In a place dedicated to the taking of magnificent photographs, the style is deceptively simple. For all their lightness and brightness, Londolozi’s five riverside camps blend discreetly into their environs in colours best described as dramatically black and white with superimposed splashes of sepia, matching the enlarged photos of the reserve’s founders gathered on the walls and cleverly picking out the yellows and browns of the veld.

The bedrooms are equally muted in colour, with soft light fauns and creams reflecting the light of the surrounding bush. The Founders Camp rooms have private decks and splash-pools. The massive high-roofed bathrooms have vaulted bay windows which look out into the trees but ensure privacy from human passers-by whilst not excluding the stares of the odd prurient baboon.

Just as the rooms have taken on a whole new dimension, so lunch, thirty years on, is certainly not a tuna-fish roll. Nor is anything average. The salads are imaginative and delicious, as are the gooey quiches, the sliced rare fillet, a chilled gammon, and smoked salmon with sour cream and fresh capers the size of grapes. Then comes cheesecake. Arguably the best in the world.

There are many aspects of this place that match the ‘best in the world’ label. Londolozi has been acknowledged as such in many ways and has been voted, on numerous occasions, one of the 100 top hotels in the world by the likes of Condé Nast Traveler and Tatler magazines.

It is renowned for the world’s best leopard sightings, largely down to its spacious traversing of great swathes of the Sabi-Sand and the combination of open grassland and towering riverine trees. We would see it for ourselves a bit later on. I would also put it out there that the game drive open vehicles are the best in the world; genuinely comfortable, so that you don’t bash your elbow on a sidebar every time your ranger takes on a tree and kitted out with blankets, raincoats and even hot water bottles.

Our ranger, Daniel Buys, has been at Londolozi for more than three years and personifies the ethos of the Varty philosophy – it is a gentle combination of courtesy, consideration and professionalism.

There are no Land Rover jockeys here. There’s no chasing through the bush for the best position; no bragging on the radio. Londolozi is a place of open spaces with room for everyone. And is if to prove it, our afternoon game drive among the elephants, buffalos and rhinos yields one particularly astonishing sighting, which we have to ourselves for almost an hour. We find ourselves completely transfixed by a leopard, lodged up a tree and cumbersomely skinning and eating an aardvark while, below, a skulking hyena is showered with falling fur as it picks up the leftovers dropping through the branches. A first for all concerned. In fact, maybe a regional first? Later, in the creeping dusk, we come across four male lions asleep in the long grass. We have, as if it matters at all, seen the Big Five in one drive.

Tammy had told us – or rather warned us with great glee but not much promise as far as I was concerned – that there will be a traditional South African dinner in the boma on our return and I am dreading it. How could Londolozi let itself down with such a crass and dull event as a boring old braai in a reed-sheltered enclosure?

I should have known better.

The warmth of the circular fire is reflected a hundred times by the light of dozens of paraffin lamps and candles, flickering across white-clothed tables and warm blankets over the chair-backs.

A warming sweet potato soup is followed by a juicy roasted coconut chicken, perfectly rare sirloin and a selection of superb side-dishes, among which the most unlikely success is a samp and bean stew. There follows an exquisite Amarula mousse. More than sated, I turn to my host to say good night. With the deception of the bush, it feels like midnight but it is in fact a whisker past ten o’clock.

Driving through the river in the cold light of the next morning’s dawn in pursuit of a leopard and cubs, I mull over what it is that makes Londolozi so particularly iconic of its genre and I realise that the answer lies in the realisation that this safari, this journey, will always be with me. It had started days before I arrived, in ‘stalking’ the Londolozi website, and it will be with me for months afterwards as I look back at a perfect experience.

How often can you say that? I may not have been saying it in 1983 when Dave and John Varty had recently opened their camp of adequate rondavels and average salads but I am saying it now: Londolozi is perfect.

Where it is: Right in the middle of the Sabi-Sand Wildtuin on the western border of the Kruger National Park.

Why go there: For the Before, the During and the After of a safari. Get involved with the Londolozi Family on their website before you travel – maybe buy one or two of their books and apps – and follow the blog to keep up afterwards. I am still following that leopard, three weeks on.

What it has: Five camps with varying high standards of comfort. Choose the camp that suits you best. Children are welcome and should join the Londolozi Cubs for an unforgettable safari, kids’ style.

What it’s like: Well, it’s nothing like it was 30 years ago in terms of facilities, but the emphasis remains on unpresumptuous hospitality, an unobtrusive ethos of community-minded sustainability and top-class wildlife-watching.

Rates: From R6950 per person per night in Varty Camp to R11950 in the Private Granite Suites. Includes all meals and game activities.

Getting there: From the R536 Hazyview-Skukuza road, just before the Paul Kruger Gate, turn left towards the Shaw’s Gate entrance to the Sabi-Sand from where you should allow 45 minutes to reach Londolozi. The route is well signposted.

Contact: See www.londolozi.com. For reservations, call 011 280 6655/6 or email news@londolozi.co.za

Ain’t Seen Notten’s Yet

Chris Harvie gives top marks to this family-owned Lodge

From the shaded wooden deck, we look out over a gentle upward slope studded with giant trees. A pair of cud-chewing buffalos lie next to a distant termite mound, vervet monkeys squabble in the trees and the chatter of starlings floats on the warm afternoon air.

We arrived at Notten’s Bush Camp only ten minutes ago, and after a welcoming hug – this is a friendly place, after all, and I am a returning guest – we are stretched out, beer in hand on a watchtower upper platform, contemplating and feeling very much a part of the Bushveld scene.

Notten’s is one of the oldest lodges of its kind and it is family-run. We’ve been greeted by a Notten and served a drink by a Notten. We are to be taken on a game drive by Joseph Mathebula, a local Shangaan who has been driving here for thirty years and some of whose children work alongside him. He is almost more Notten than the Nottens.

We have barely left the lodge in Joe’s Land Rover when we become embroiled in a cameo performance by a breeding herd of elephant at a small waterhole, distant trumpeting giving away the presence of another group a couple of hundred metres away. As they line up to drink, despite the greying light and with the camp perfectly poised in the background, our fellow guests click cameras and gasp with ratcheted excitement.

To say that Joe is a character is a ludicrous underestimation.  His broad smile and jaunty enthusiasm are as catching as the thorns on the bushes through which he drags his guests. He knows the area better than the back of his hand; the hand on which he will later gently perch a chameleon and break open elephant dung to show the grass content.

Joe is a local legend, dating back more than half a lifetime. He is the Skukuza Methuselah; one of the most respected trackers in the region. Everyone tunes into the radio as he unearths a female leopard and we bump off the road in pursuit, through what he calls, in the Sabi Sand’s quasi-Shangaan vernacular, the ‘makhulu hlathini’ (deep bush).

Joe and his colleague Median are a well-oiled telepathic team, bundling us from one sighting to the next, from deep ‘hlathini’ and herds of half-hidden impala littered with newly-born lambs, to the open veld, where three behemoth rhinos lumber about directly in front of us.

Alighting on a knoll to pour us a drink, Joe continues with his colourful and occasionally over-vivid stories from his years in the ‘Sands’. He tells tantalising tales of brushes with long-toothed leopards and angry elephants; he laughs at the young upstart rangers and fondly remembers long-gone colleagues. A couple of calm kudu browsing in the near distance ignore our wine-filled intrusion. Beyond them a family group of woolly waterbuck meanders obliviously across the plain.

As night falls and the bushbaby starts to call, we make our way back onto the vehicle and slowly back to camp. The elephants and the darkness have blended into invisibility; our leopard has long disappeared into the night. In the deep distance, the roar of a lion breaks the stillness.

Paraffin lights and burning torches show the paths to our rooms, themselves lighted by the glow of burning lamps. Notten’s has no electric light in the rooms; it’s a welcome relief for night-accustomed eyes not to be bombarded by the brightness of modernity as we hurriedly shower and change for dinner.

The lodge’s rooms are blissfully devoid of the usual cliché trappings of bush décor. There’s no leopard-skin or zebra-stripe; no overwhelming insurgence of khaki. Ours is spacious and furnished in light pastels. The bathroom is modern with clean finishes, a deep bath and the choice of an inside or outside shower.

Our favourite spot is the covered deck outside with its two sunbeds. We collapse on them briefly before dinner and vow to return to them afterwards.

The lunch before the game drive – a spectacular sprawl of salads, quiches, cold meats and cheeses – had filled us up at the time but left us with high hopes for dinner which are more than met. Comparing sighting notes over a pre-prandial glass of wine, we are enthralled by the conviviality of Notten’s; cheerful smiling faces rise and fall in the light cast by the dancing flames of the fire and, all around us, the night is abuzz with the calls of the veld.

Seated at a long table, we dine with like-minded guests, on a delicious red pepper soup, followed by a perfect tender fillet of beef cooked over the coals by Dave Notten, who then regales us with his own memories of his childhood in this ethereal place.

Some hours later, replete after a superb cheesecake and with a last glass in hand, we return to the deck in front of our room as a small herd of buffalo moves through the grass below. We reflect on our day between the buffalos and the decks of Notten’s.

The word ‘hospitality’ seems inadequate for the incomparable warmth of the Notten’s experience. The magic lies in the personal approach, the history and the genuine concern with which they look after their guests.

And Joe Mathebula and Dave Notten and both of their families are at the heart of that ineffable warmth. Ten out of ten for Nottens.


About Notten’s Bush Camp



Notten’s Bush Camp, Sabi Sand Wildtuin, Mpumalanga. Telephone: 013 735 5105 Reservations: nottens@iafrica.com Website: www.nottens.com


Notten’s has only eight rooms, all spacious and elegant, but remember that there is no electric light. A plug-point is however provided for the charging of cameras and other equipment. A long pool allows for a bit of exercise between bountiful meals and sedentary game drives! There is also a small spa.


R3350 per person per night full board with two game drives. A winter rate of R2950 applies from 01 May to 31 August. The rate also includes a daily bush walk, cold drinks, house beers and wines plus a bag of laundry per stay. No children under 6. Children 6-12 qualify for a 30% discount.