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Londolozi. The very name conjures up images of becoming enamoured by the majestic reality of witnessing copious leopard sightings. Since I can remember, and became aware of the existence of Londolozi somewhere in the late 1980’s, it has been my deepest desire to visit the place where leopards take centre stage. When the opportunity presented itself to visit the place of my reveries, I was met with the quandary of who would accompany me on this journey to the habitation where rosetted creatures reign.
The decision was simplified by the fact that my daughter sees herself as a leopard aficionado and at 11 years old, she would revel in a trip to a place of such beauty and the possibility of feasting eyes on her (and my) favorite mammal.
Our trip starts at Cape Town International Airport where our Airlink Avro RJ85 flight takes us directly to Nelspruit International Airport, which saves the precious time you might have with the flight being a mere 2 hours and 35 minutes. At Nelspruit International Airport, we are welcomed by an Airlink representative, who takes us to the Transfer lounge area before our onward journey with Airlink’s Lodge Link service to the Londolozi Airstrip in Airlink’s Cessna 208B Grand Caravan, another ingenious way Airlink has designed to make air travel so much simpler to connect you from the city to the doorstep of your safari destination; it is hassle-free.
Field Guide Greg Pingo is at the Airstrip to meet us and transport us to the lodge. We are heartily welcomed at Founder’s Camp where we will be staying for two nights. Camp Manager Simon Sambo is at the ready to greet us and ushers us to the deck, where the most delectable lunch is being served. We feast on the incredibly tasty and tender 1926 Burger, consisting of 100% Rump mince, BBQ and parmesan fries, attentively served by our butler Remind Mgwena. The food choices are extensive and the lunch menu changes every day. Today there is Fish & Chips – Beer battered seabass with tartare sauce; Kale Caesar – Kale, Chickpea croutons, Boiled Egg, Parmesan shavings; Middle Eastern Chicken Skewer – Cumin yoghurt, Pita, Micro salad; Charcuterie – Gorgonzola wedge, Camembert, Gherkins, Welsh Cheddar, Rocket, Parma Ham, Baby Ciabatta, Onion Marmalade; Cake of the Day – Lemon & Yoghurt.
It is time for our first game drive and Greg, together with tracker Equalizer Ndlovu will see what they can find. The unusual sighting of a wildebeest hanging around with a herd of impalas has everyone in stitches. A white-backed vulture is perched on a bare tree branch against the bluest of skies. He eventually takes flight, showcasing his impressive wingspan. A lilac-breasted roller is showing off his beautiful colors and a bit further in the grasslands, a rhino is peacefully grazing while its calf seems jumbled by the windy conditions, scurrying about in riotous fashion.
A cute tree squirrel is staring intently at us. We approach the Mhangeni pride, all seventeen of them lying about, soaking up the warming rays of the sun. The lioness is trying to avoid pesky flies by throwing her head backwards, displaying a protruding tooth on her bottom jaw. Our drinks stop is next to the watering hole where piles of dung have us and the other guests on our vehicle negotiating the area to evade stepping in droppings. A few drinks and eats later it is all but forgotten. Back at Founders we are escorted to our room by the night porter, ensuring guest safety. Despite the living area being fenced, animals might still venture into camp on occasion.
This is the first time I can delight in the luxurious surrounds of our accommodation, Room 8, set adjacent to the dining deck and boma area. Two three-quarter beds are covered in silky white bedding with hand-made scatter cushions adding an element of contrast. Comfort and class is intertwined with stylish furnishings whilst maintaining a feeling of nature by juxtaposing smidgens of colour against neutral fittings. The clean lines and white amenities in the bathroom add to the emphasis of unclutteredness which is the perfect antidote to the overwhelming feeling of incomparable wilderness extending from your deck view.
Dinner is served in the Boma where an enormous fire has been ignited to ward off the evening chill. Tonight Sous Chef Sipho Khoza takes us through the menu choices and they are Cauliflower, Dill & Cumin Soup, Garnish Chargrilled Florest and Spring Onion; Salad Cauliflower, Dill & Cumin Soup – garnish chargrilled florets and spring onion; Salad selection – rocket, lettuce, cucumber, cocktail tomatoes, parmesan shavings, olives, feta and cashews with Londolozi sexy dressing; Salmon with lemon herb cream sauce; Fillet with mustard sauce; Chickpeas with spiced tomatoes & spinach; Chef’s Selection; Sliced crispy potatoes with rosemary & garlic, White chocolate & granadilla mousse / berries / chocolate bark with pistachio & cranberries. To conclude the evening, the Londolozi Choir entertain the guests with a divine song and dance routine.
A prelude to a good night’s sleep for me is having a cleansing shower. At Londolozi you can either immerse yourself in your bath overlooking the river with the soothing suds of the specially crafted 1926 Fragrance Range created by Shan Varty or indulge in the wonderfully fragrant and generously sized glass bottles containing Shower Gel, Shampoo and Conditioner.
Morning has broken and so has the wonderful smell of fresh pre-game-drive coffee. The table is laden with straight out-of-the-oven baked bread, rusks, fruit skewers, porridge, apples and oranges. Greg is heading in a Southerly direction and we stumble upon a herd of elephants feeding on the shrubbery. A young elephant is extracting a branch from his mother’s mouth. Further north, a hyena is lying in a watering hole, cooling himself before the day starts to warm up.
Much to my chagrin, the malingering leopards are playing truant today. As I finish my thought, Equalizer points towards the camouflaged bushes and then we see her – the exquisite Nhlanguleni 3:2 Leopard. She crouches in the grass, seemingly stalking something. She disappears out of sight and all we can spot is her outline as she moves swiftly through the grass. Suddenly she re-emerges and positions herself on a large flat rock, surveying her surroundings.
Breakfast is served on the deck and while I feast on a delicious Londolozi breakfast, consisting of eggs, bacon, black mushrooms, oven roasted thyme tomatoes, rocket and sausage of the day, my daughter opts for croissants and pancakes. She is scheduled to have a Cub’s Den activity and excitement abounds and she wolfs down her food. The family element is a very important factor at Londolozi and kids are offered a wide range of activities to keep them occupied.
With the expertise of Cub’s Den Manager, Jo Benecke, we depart with Greg to do some track moulding. After crossing the Sand River, they disembark the game drive vehicle to find animal footprints. Jo has the plaster of paris ready to mould what appears to be a lion paw print. Across the river, we see them lying in the shade of a tree – the very lions whose paws we are about to cast in stone. Greg suggests we take a closer look at the lions while waiting for the mould to set.
The Tailless lioness and her aunt are lying fast asleep in the soft sand while two cubs are more alert than the adults. At sixteen years of age, this is probably the last litter that the Tailless lioness will produce and boy, are they cute!
As we head back to collect the mould, a herd of elephants is crossing the river and having loads of fun quenching their thirst.
The day has heated up enough for us to try out the plunge pool on our deck. What a stunning place to have a swim with the Sand River as your vantage point.
After lunch, the evening game drive always holds the promise of seeing nocturnal animals on the prowl. Greg and Equalizer are following the tracks of the Mashaba female leopard that has three very young cubs hidden in a den site. Fresh tracks are spotted over the vehicle’s tyre prints, concluding that she has to be in the area. The trackers are now on foot, searching in the dry riverbed, but she seems to be running away from them as she veers off in a different direction all the time. Disappointed, we leave her be as keeping her cubs safe is of paramount importance to their survival.
We are rewarded with the spectacle of two giraffes fighting in the Sand River. Keeping a close eye on them is the aunt of the Tailless lioness while the lioness’ cubs are nursing. Greg announces that we must go because ‘we are already late’. Speeding through the reserve we eventually see the twinkling lights of the drinks stop, where Founders Camp Manager Christy Jordan and Operations Manager Will Ford, together with Greg and Jo await our arrival. This is a special occasion and while the hosts and guests get better acquainted, Jo and my daughter play copious rounds of a ballgame called Bull. Back at camp, our Boma dinner is a veritable feast.
A magnificent sunrise heralds the new day and by now I’m desperate to see another leopard. Londolozi is renowned for its leopard sightings and I will not be happy if they elude us today. Greg drives us in an Easterly route and Equalizer is concentrating very hard to see where the footprints are heading. Another vehicle has joined the search with Greg and Equalizer on foot to get a distinct idea of where these illusive creatures might be hiding. The radio message comes through loud and clear – ‘we found them’! I am so excited I can hardly contain myself.
On top of a termite mound in the shade of a tree we see her – the Tamboti 4:3 female leopard glancing upwards looking at her Impala kill in a tree. She is not alone – she has two fluffy cubs who join her and we sit for a while watching them playing before she moves to the other side of the termite mound and starts grooming her one cub, much to his delight. She gets up to scale the tree and pauses before looking up with her cub joining her. We leave the incredible sighting to make way for another vehicle, exultant in the knowledge that Londolozi is in fact, leopard heaven.
Sad to leave, we are driven by Equalizer to the Londolozi Airstrip with a packed breakfast of croissants, bacon, fruit juice, a muffin and a banana to board our Airlink Lodge Link flight to Skukuza Airport. The Cessna 208B Grand Caravan is our mode of transport and we are suitably impressed with the cleanliness of Skukuza Airport. Homeward bound, we are flown from Skukuza to Cape Town International by Airlink in the Embraer 145/140/135, undoubtedly the best way to travel.
For more about the Londolozi leopards, visit http://leopards.londolozi.com/
Londolozi also produces a very insightful blog – blog.londolozi.com
Thank you to Londolozi for hosting us. Views expressed are the author’s own.
Airlink is a privately owned Airline business. The Regional Feeder Airline, offers a wide network of regional and domestic flights within southern Africa and operates as a franchisee to SAA
Route Specific Information: Travel extraordinarily to the heart of the African bush, Airlink flies direct from Johannesburg and Cape Town to Nelspruit KMIA and Skukuza Airport.
A short air transfer from the lodge airstrips or Skukuza to Nelspruit KMIA connects you conveniently to Livingstone, Zambia and Vilanculos, Mozambique.
A short 20 minute apron transfer connects you onward to the doorstep of more safari destinations on Airlink’s Lodge Link service, with a direct link to the Londolozi Airstrip, exclusive to Londolozi guests.
Connectivity: Through our alliance with SAA travellers can connect conveniently with SAA, their Partner airlines and other carriers throughout Southern Africa and the world.
Frequent Flyer Programme: Airlink is a member of South African Airways (SAA) Loyalty programme voyager.
Flight Bookings: online, booking agent or SAA Central Reservations +27 11 978 1111.