Before describing our adventure at Londolozi’s Granite Camp, I would like to mention my fabulous experience with RhinoAfrica’s Katherine Terry. We were booking on fairly short notice and having trouble getting any response, and had no idea what we wanted other than a luxury safari experience. With my first inquiry to Rhino, Katherine phoned us from South Africa, and we worked out an appropriate itinerary. She gave us a couple of choices, but strongly recommended Londolozi. Her experience came in handy even as we were leaving the States since I was denied boarding because I didn’t have two empty pages together in my passport. Katherine’s travel information had mentioned this, but I didn’t read it carefully enough. Apparently, those empty pages at the end aren’t suitable, they must say “Visa” on them. My husband left me behind as he had business in Joburg, and I was left to make my way to New Orleans for a new passport. I phoned Katherine on their toll free line in a panic, and she cheerfully told me not to worry, she would fix everything. She contacted Londolozi and Federal Air, and everything was pushed back to give me time to get to Africa.
After finally arriving days after I had planned, we made our way to the Federal Air terminal at OR Tambo Airport. If you’re arriving at the main terminal, Federal Air has a shuttle that will drive you over. They have a comfortable waiting area, a buffet, and a full bar to tide you over while you wait for your flight to board, as well as showers if you need them. It was a quick one-hour flight to Londolozi’s airstrip, and our ranger was waiting when we arrived. Within minutes we were inside Granite’s beautiful lodge and checking in with our lovely hostess, Laura. She settled us in, and told us lunch would be waiting as soon as we were ready. Granite has three villas, each very private, and there are no children allowed there. There are never more than six guests there at one time, so it’s the most private of the camps. We were in Granite 1, the closest to the lodge, and Laura walked us down to show us around. The most important thing, really, seemed to be how to work the baboon lock on the front door. The villa itself was gorgeous, quite large at about 1,000 sq. ft. We had a living room with a picture window overlooking the river, a bar area (wonderfully stocked) a dressing area, a bedroom with a very comfortable king-sized bed, and a huge bathroom. We had a garden tub, two sinks, and both an indoor and outdoor shower. The shaded deck had two chairs with ottomans, and two unshaded chaise lounges with an umbrella. Our favorite spot outside was our plunge pool with a waterfall, from which we watched a daily parade of elephants down at the river. We had worried that it would be miserably hot and buggy outside in February, but there was always a cool breeze coming off the river, and we never noticed any bugs at all. In fact, even though it was summer, it cooled off so well overnight that we needed jackets on our early morning drives.
As far as amenities, you don’t need to bring much with you. They provided bug spray, a hair dryer, and high-quality toiletries. They also had plugs to convert any appliance in the world to South African, so we were able to charge all of our camera equipment. There is complimentary laundry service, and Laura was available to provide anything else we needed at a moment’s notice.
Each day began with a knock on the door at 5:00, and a tray of coffee and biscuits. By 5:30, we were dressed and out for a sunrise game drive. We would stop during the drive for more coffee, tea, or whatever, and were back at the lodge by 9:30 for breakfast, where our butler Johan and Laura greeted us with cold towels. There was always a large cold spread waiting, and the chef, Eric, would come out and take orders for anything hot you wanted. After breakfast, we were on our own until lunch, which was usually around 1:30. Since they offered high tea at 4:00 before the afternoon game drive, as well as gin & tonics and snacks on the drive, we skipped lunch more than once. In fact, on one of our evening drives, our rest stop was made even more special with a linen covered table, lanterns, and champagne. The food itself was fantastic, all freshly prepared, colorful, and quite varied. Their chefs should be very proud of their work. They inquired ahead of time about any special dietary needs or allergies, but since we had none, we were able to sample everything they brought forth. Each dinner was served in three courses, and there was usually a choice of starter and main course both. I was worried that there would be some game offered, but the wildest thing we had was venison, and it was delicious. Laura mentioned that they are working toward growing all their own vegetables to provide an organic food experience for their guests.
We had our first dinner outside with the other guests from Granite, the rangers and Laura. The Londolozi Women’s Choir entertained us and sang Happy Birthday to my husband. The second night, we were the only guests and asked to have a quiet, light supper in our villa. When we got back, Johan had drawn us a bath, placed tea lights all around, and provided champagne at the tub. He had also set a beautiful table on the deck with lanterns in the trees, and served our three-course meal outside. For our third and last dinner, we were invited to one of the other camps in the large original Varty family boma for a traditional brai. Laura was concerned that we were spending too much time alone, and wanted us to meet some other guests. To be honest, between the passport stress, the 24 hour journey to get there, the Ambien, and the gin & tonics, I could barely string two sentences together. In fact, I was sitting across from an exquisitely gracious woman who I thought was named “Hennie” and was with a German couple also seated at the table. It wasn’t until halfway through the meal and a few stupid questions (Are you here from Germany?) that I realized it was Shan Varty herself, owner of the property. After dinner, we were entertained by one of the rangers, an accomplished guitarist, and while my husband could have listened all night, I fell asleep sitting up in my chair.
We weren’t at camp long enough to take advantage of everything offered. We didn’t have a massage, even though there was a table in our room, and we didn’t go to the yoga classes. There is also a gym in one of the other camps that we never saw, as well as an internet center. We did manage to get to the curio shop, which had a lot of high-quality crafts as well as Londolozi shirts, hats, etc. One thing we did do, which is a must, was take a tour of Londolozi Village, where the staff lives while on property. Johan took us around, and we saw a replica of a traditional Shangaan Village, the clinic, the café, and best of all the crèche, where the children sang us a song, and one particularly cute little guy gave me a hug and a kiss. We also didn’t take advantage of a private bush walk as it was just too hot in the middle of the day.
If you’re still reading, you must be wondering about the game itself, which is the reason we all make the trip. It wouldn’t do to describe everything we saw, as the experience changes daily. Whether you see babies depends on time of year, and whether there has been rain and the grasses are tall will influence which herds are in what areas. Suffice it to say that Londolozi encompasses a private area of 7,000 hectacres (about 2 ½ acres to a hectacre) and has traversing rights to 17,000, which is more than all the other preserves like Exeter combined. Every imaginable animal is represented save for black rhino (plenty of white) and while we didn’t see any cheetah, they do live there. You will see the big five repeatedly, and plenty of my favorites, giraffe and zebra. They are famous for their leopards, and we were fortunate to see a couple. We came upon a pride of three lionesses and nine cubs that hadn’t eaten in a week, and by the end of our stay, we watched them eat a large kill. We also watched a male lion eat one of the baby giraffes we spotted on our first drive out. Actually seeing a kill is rare, and didn’t happen for us, but that was just fine.
When trying to decipher the advantages of the different lodges, don’t worry a bit when considering game at Londolozi. It’s all there. Just concentrate on what the actual lodges have to offer and what’s best for you. In that regard, I think a good agent like Katherine is invaluable.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Bold, inspiring materials mirror the extrusion of granite rocks that flank the camp while conveying the raw essence of Africa. A palette of silver, charcoal and elephant grey in a range of sumptuous materials creates an elegant and contemporary setting in each expansive suite.The emphasis is on space, light and privacy while blurring the barrier between inside and out. A seamless integration with nature is achieved with large doors and windows all opening directly onto the Sand River. This luxury safari lodge is for the discerning traveller who appreciates the finer details of an African safari. Each suite has a private, heated swimming pool. ... more less
- Also Known As:
- Londolozi Private Granite Suites South Africa/Londolozi Private Game Reserve