Restoring the vision of the San
The name Sanbona represents the vision of the San people to restore harmony between man and nature and restore the interconnectedness of all living beings. Julie Graham relates her unforgettable experience, the sighting of the two White Lions, in the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve.
Her blonde hair glistened in the morning sunlight as she strutted towards me, hips swaying in a casual, yet deliberate dance. As she neared, her ice-blue eyes, glinting with the spark of sovereignty, drew me in. I could not stop watching her. As she approached the car, we locked eyes and I felt completely overwhelmed by the power of her presence.
African elders believe that White Lions are the most sacred animals on the continent and their arrival in the wilderness a fulfilment of ancient prophecy. Records show that these majestic guardians of the land have been roaming the Timbavati region since the 1920s but, despite their rarity, have almost been completely wiped out.
This desperately sad fact caught the attention of the conservationists at Sanbona Wildlife Reserve – a 58,000 hectares area that was home to the San people and many free-roaming animals for thousands of years before Western interference. The name Sanbona represents the vision of the San people to restore harmony between man and nature and restore the interconnectedness of all living beings.
It is with this in mind that Sanbona has not only reintroduced the Big Five and other indigenous game back to the landscape of the Klein Karoo, but also the rare White Lion – offering these sacred animals a safe space to breed and live in peace before being reintroduced to the areas in which they wandered freely for so many years.
I was fortunate to spend three days in this “untouched, untamed, and unforgettable” wilderness paradise. The beguiling atmosphere of the spirit of the San and the raw beauty of rocky peaks, desert plains, and undulating hills has still not left me. The history and air of stillness is truly unforgettable.
Seated at the foot of the Warmwaterberg Mountains, in the heart of the Klein Karoo, the reserve is spread out between the towns of Montague and Barrydale and is the largest privatelyowned wildlife reserve in the Western Cape. There are three lodges at Sanbona: Tilney Manor, Gondwana Family Lodge, and Dwyka Tented Camp. We were at the latter – Dwyka – situated on a horseshoe bend of a dried-up Karoo ravine, surrounded by the most incredible rock formations. The feeling of complete isolation and seclusion in a completely hidden landscape immediately made me feel like a kind of pioneering adventurer.
Standing proudly upon this weathered landscape, Dwyka Tented Lodge was designed specifically to reflect the nomadic lifestyle of the San huntergatherers who used to roam the land. Nine luxury tents stand in a horseshoe around the main tented lodge, each with a private wooden deck looking out onto massive rock formations that surround the space. Each tent comes with a private
heated Jacuzzi on the deck, perfect for hot, lazy days or chilly winter nights under the blanket of stars that light up the skies.
Beautiful well-appointed rooms, each with an en suite bathroom complete with a free-standing bath and both indoor and outdoor rain showers put a whole new level of meaning to the term ‘glamour’ in glamping. Ideal for those who enjoy the idea of camping, but also enjoy the spoils of luxury, the tents at Dwyka invoke a sense of adventure while also offering the perfect space to rejuvenate the mind, body, and soul.
A short walk up from the private tents, the main lodge welcomes guests with a communal lounge and bar with fireplace, wine cellar, dining area, and open-plan boma with a central fire pit around which we enjoyed a festive, al fresco dinner one evening. The main lodge is where guests congregate in the early mornings and late afternoons for what is undoubtedly the star of the show at Sanbona – the game drives (such a highlight that even the lure of my private, heated deck Jacuzzi could not keep me away!).
With three different biomes, over 650 different plant species, and rock art sites dating back to more than 3,500 years, Sanbona is a biodiversity hotspot and rich in indigenous history. The threehour game drives take you through the different biomes – from fields of quartz and succulents, to fynbos, bushveld, and imposing rock formations as far as the eye can see. There is just so much to see.
Jannie, our guide for the three days, was exceptional. His passion and knowledge of the land, the flora, and the fauna is completely in line with the vision of the San people and restoring harmony between man and nature. When we were not tracking cheetahs on foot (of which we found two – one with a fresh impala kill and the other expertly camouflaged under a tree having an afternoon nap), we were amid giant herds of elephants, admiring the statuesque giraffes of the reserve, getting up close and personal with rhinos (and a solitary hippo that had joined the crash), and admiring the
myriad of smaller game that are so at home in the landscape.
The most unforgettable experience however, had to be the magnificent sighting of the two White Lions. A morning I will never forget. Bounding through the landscape at 6h00 in the biting cold, we headed to the Eastern side of the reserve, where Jannie had heard a breeding pair where spotted walking together, looking rather satisfied after what seemed to be a hefty breakfast or late-night meal. Within half an hour, we were in their presence. The majestic male with this bright white mane billowing in the morning breeze and the enchanting female following close behind. Completely un-phased by our meagre presence, we spent quite some time with them as they strode along the landscape, their giant white paws leaving mighty tracks on the desert floor.
It is easy to understand why they are revered in African culture like they are. The presence of these two animals is enough to take your breath away and the brightness of their eyes, totally mesmerising. The conservation efforts at Sanbona to allow these guardians of the land a peaceful space in which to live, free from human interference, are truly remarkable and one morning spent with these animals shines a whole new perspective on their remarkable efforts.
Three incredible days at Dwyka Lodge in Sanbona Wilderness Reserve, nights spent star gazing and making friends around the fire, days spent exploring the incredible landscape between bouts of utter relaxation and delicious dining, and I did not want to leave. It was with a very heavy heart that I waved goodbye to the staff and other guests – all of whom had played an integral role in the experience of a lifetime. This gem in the Klein Karoo must be put on your next road trip bucket list.
For more information, please visit www.sanbona.com/safari-lodge/dwykatented-lodge