The Land of White Lions
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.
For more info, visit www.sanbona.com.