February 24

My Safari Experience: Christmas at Londolozi

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February 24, 2021

I am still on a high from my luxury safari experience at Londolozi Private Game Reserve this past Christmas.

Londolozi holds a special place in my heart. One of the original private game reserves in South Africa, I first visited as a small child. Over the years, I have returned time and time again, Londolozi calling me back as soon as I’ve departed.

Each time I visited, I have witnessed incredible changes, but the essence of the place remains. I think that is what makes it a unique safari destination and why it leaves such an imprint in one’s heart.

The Start to a Sensational Safari Experience

After arriving at Londolozi (which means ‘protector of all living things’) and settling into my spacious suite overlooking the Sand River, we went out for our first game drive. 

Now, game drives are always exciting and leave you on the edge of your seat with anticipation. What will happen next? What will we see next? No one knows. 

This day was no exception.

As the vehicle pulled out of the lodge, I remember saying to my parents accompanying me that it has been at least 20 years since I last had the honour of seeing African wild dogs (also called painted wolves) in the wild. I longed to relive the experience. However, it is not that easy to tick it off your safari list as they are endangered.

Little did I know that, a mere 15 minutes later, this wish would come true.

Painted Wolves on the Move

Our safari started with a bang as we stumbled upon a pack of 14 African wild dogs, six of which were pups. Seeing the wild dogs would have been an incredible start to any trip, but it only got better from there.

We watched in awe as they started to group and hunt. African wild dogs are well-known for being highly skilled hunters and, within seconds, they killed two impala lambs. They devoured them as quickly, and as soon as they dug their claws into the animals.

Wild dogs always ensure that the pups eat first. If this is not possible, they will often eat and regurgitate. Hyenas frequently follow these packs to rob them from their kills or scavenge what remains — which is usually precious little! However, on this day, the solitary hyena lurking behind the pack we were watching found himself backed into a bush and then into a small pan. 

With no backup, this particular hyena did not stand a chance.

African wild dogs at Londolozi Private Game Reserve
African wild dogs at Londolozi. Credit: Murray Maclarty

Hairless Lion Cubs  

The next day on our morning drive, we came across a small pride of lionesses with two cubs, both suffering from mange (a skin disease caused by parasitic mites). It was disheartening to see the smallest cub with almost no hair. This pride is part of an enormous pride of 22 lions, which we later found slumbering in the shade nearby. Seeing so many lions together is a breathtaking sight.  

A lion cub with mange skin condition at Londolozi Private Game Reserve
Lion cub with mange. Credit: Murray Maclarty

Later that day, we came across two buffalo, cooling off in a muddy wallow to escape the late afternoon heat.

Enormous rain clouds started to gather, but we did get to see a herd of relaxed breeding elephants. They surrounded our vehicle before the rain began to fall, cutting our game drive short.

Herd of elephants in the bush at Londolozi Private Game Reserve
Herd of elephants. Credit: Murray Maclarty

A Storm is Brewing 

Because we live in Cape Town, South Africa, we tend to forget the magnificence of a good thunderstorm.

It was so wonderful to experience once again the booming thunder and sheet lightning that gives you a glimpse of the day in the middle of the night. About 70 millimetres of rain fell overnight.

The next morning, the view from my room had changed entirely. The day before, I could only hear the river. The following day, it was flowing right up to the deck outside, thanks to the previous night’s heavy downpour.

Before and after photos of the view in front of Londolozi Founders Room after a rainstorm
View from my Londolozi Founders Room before and after the rain. Credit: Murray Maclarty

We decided to skip the morning drive as the rain was still hammering down. Instead, we had a relaxed morning safari experience walk around the camp, looking at the terrapins that had found their way into the camp and doing some birding.

Later that day, our afternoon game drive certainly made up for the one we missed that morning.

We enjoyed many great sightings, including a male leopard that had killed an impala earlier in the day and was still feasting on the remains in a tree. Later, we got the incredible opportunity to see a pair of mother and son rhino.

Male leopard in a tree eating the impala he killed at Londolozi Private Game Reserve
Male leopard in a tree, feasting on an impala. Credit: Murray Maclarty

Ending on a High Note: Christmas Feast 

That evening, a six-course Christmas eve dinner paired with exceptional wines awaited us. We relished the moment as we watched the bushbuck grazing outside — in case Santa’s reindeers needed some backup.

After enjoying activities and another indulgent Christmas lunch spread, we, of course, had to end the day with another game drive.

We spotted a juvenile Greater Flamingo, which — if the rangers’ reaction is anything to go by — is a once-in-a-decade sighting as it is hardly ever seen in the area. 

Unfortunately, we couldn’t watch the young flamingo for too long as a full-grown male elephant in musth came rolling around the corner. In such a case, it is usually a good idea to give them lots of space as the testosterone increase makes them aggressive and unpredictable. 

Before heading back to camp, we stopped for sundowners. As we watched the sun sink behind the horizon, we relished in our gratitude for this safari experience. 

Spending such a special occasion in the heart of the wild is a memory no one will soon forget.

Beautiful African sunset at Londolozi Private Game Reserve
Unforgettable African sunset. Credit: Murray Maclarty

Bittersweet Farewell

We ended our trip with a brief game drive, as we had to catch our flight later the day. However, even the briefest moment in the bush at Londolozi is packed with excitement. And this morning was no exception. 

As we headed back to camp to pack up our things, I kept thinking to myself what I’m sure all our guests feel when returning home: if only I could stay another week or two.

With heavy hearts, we said goodbye to all the warm, wonderful people who make Londolozi an extraordinary place.

In my mind, I was already planning my return.

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About the author 

Murray Maclarty

Murray is a front-end web developer who has been working at RhinoAfrica since 2018.

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