The Land of White Lions

Premier Magazine (South AFrica) - - Contents - Text: Julie Gra­ham Im­ages © San­bona Wildlife Re­serve

Zulu shamans and other African el­ders be­lieve that white lions are the most sa­cred an­i­mals in Africa, and their ar­rival in the wilder­ness is a ful­fil­ment of an an­cient prophecy, de­liv­er­ing a sa­cred mes­sage for hu­man­ity.

The white lions at San­bona are a sight to be­hold. Though not bred ex­clu­sively at San­bona Wildlife Re­serve, it has taken a lot of work and ef­fort to evolve the white lion into the self-sus­tain­ing and freeroam­ing in­te­grated pride that they are to­day in this 58,000 hectare area that was home to the San peo­ple and freeroam­ing 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 re­in­state the in­ter­con­nect­ed­ness of all liv­ing be­ings. It is with this in mind that San­bona has rein­tro­duced the Big Five and other in­dige­nous game back to the land­scape of the Klein Ka­roo.

I was for­tu­nate to spend three days in this wilder­ness par­adise. 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 pri­vately owned wildlife re­serve in the West­ern Cape.

There are three lodges at San­bona: Til­ney Manor, Gond­wana Fam­ily Lodge, and Dwyka Tented Lodge. I made my way to Dwyka, sit­u­ated on a horse­shoe bend of a dried up Ka­roo ravine, sur­rounded by the most in­cred­i­ble rock for­ma­tions. The feel­ing of com­plete seclu­sion in a com­pletely hid­den land­scape im­me­di­ately made me feel like a pi­o­neer­ing ad­ven­turer.

Stand­ing proudly upon this weath­ered land­scape, Dwyka Tented Lodge is made up of nine lux­ury tents around the main tented lodge, each with a pri­vate wooden deck look­ing out onto rock for­ma­tions. Each tent comes with a pri­vate Jacuzzi on the deck, per­fect for re­lax­ing days and chilly Win­ter nights un­der the blan­ket of stars that lights up the sky. Beau­ti­ful, well-ap­pointed rooms, each with an en suite bath­room com­plete with a free-stand­ing bath and both in­door and out­door rain show­ers, put the “glam” in “glamp­ing”. Ideal for those that en­joy the idea

of camp­ing, but do not want to go with­out 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 boma with cen­tral fire pit around which we en­joyed a fes­tive, al fresco din­ner. 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: game drives.

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.

Jan­nie, our guide, was ex­cep­tional. His pas­sion for and knowl­edge of the land, the flora, and 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 ad­mir­ing the myr­iad of smaller game.

The most un­for­get­table ex­pe­ri­ence how­ever, had to be the mag­nif­i­cent sight­ing of the two white lions.

Bound­ing through the land­scape at 06h00 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 rather hefty break­fast or latenight 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 sul­try fe­male fol­low­ing close be­hind. Com­pletely un­fazed by our mea­gre pres­ence, we spent quite some time with them as they strode along the land­scape, big, gi­ant white paws leav­ing mighty tracks on the desert floor. It is easy to un­der­stand why they are revered in African cul­ture. The pres­ence of these two an­i­mals is enough to take your breath away and the bright­ness of their eyes is to­tally mes­mer­iz­ing. It is thanks to the con­ser­va­tion ef­forts of San­bona that these guardians of the land have a peace­ful space in which to live freely.

After 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, I did not want to leave. It was with a very heavy heart that I waved good­bye to the staff and other guests, and the land of the white lions.

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