Restor­ing the vi­sion of the San

Road Trip - - CONTENTS - Story by Julie Gra­ham | Im­ages © San­bona Wildlife Re­serve

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

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