There’s a certain tree scattered across Londolozi’s landscape whose many names – the buffalo thorn, blink-blaar-wag-‘n-bietjie (Afrikaans for “shiny-leaf wait-a-bit”), umLahlabantu (Zulu for “that which buried the chief”), and mbafa (in the local Shangaan), ​the Ziziphus mu​cronata – are matched only by its many meanings and purposes:

  • Its applications can be medicinal, protective and spiritual;
  • The zig-zag of its twigs indicates that life is non-linear;
  • Its thorns act as spirit-catchers for many traditional African cultures and tribes, who use the branches to return spirits of the deceased to their natural resting places; and
  • The pairs of straight and hooked thorns at each node remind us where we come from (​lo​oking back) and represent where we are going (​loo​king forward).

It’s this last meaning that I find most moving and an apt metaphor for the many things that make Londolozi what it is.

The meaningful branches of a buffalo thorn across a deep red sunset. Photograph by James Tyrrell.

The Land

Seeing Londolozi at various times throughout the year reinforces both its natural beauty and its constant state of change – from the sepia barrenness of a drought-filled winter to the verdancy of an African summer. Most surprising on our return at the New Year were the rains: thundering, relentless sheets that brought rushing water to the Sand River and sprouted new growth across the bushveld overnight. It was amazing to witness nature’s cyclicality and water’s restorative power.

August 2016: A Matimba male camouflaged against the barren beige backdrop.

August 2016: A Mhangeni breakaway lioness atop a termite mound, the sandy shades nearly indistinguishable with the brush behind.

And then December 2016: Robbie and Sean venturing across the water-strewn causeway after the rains. iPhone 6 #nofilter.

December 2016: The Nkoveni female…

…Surrounded by verdurous emerald and lime.

The Wildlife

At some point every safari-goer shifts from pursuing a checklist to enjoying the experience of observing, learning and feeling. With the aid of an extraordinarily knowledgeable team in Sean Cresswell and Robbie Hlatshwayo the full scope of African wilderness becomes more apparent.

One morning last August, we came across a male and female leopard pair that were fast asleep and seemingly scheduled for a day of slumber. At Sean’s suggestion (and acknowledging no guarantee the animals would wake up o​r mate if they did wake), we watched and waited. Our hours of patience were rewarded with more hours of mating bouts. It was intimate and intense, riveting and frightening, captured by the Piva male’s clenched jaws on the Tamboti female’s scruff and the claws-out swatting of her in return.

I was not prepared for this intense sighting emotionally, but luckily Sean made sure I was prepared with the proper camera settings.

Coincidentally, the last drives of our most recent trips both ended with a morning spent tracking the Matimba males, once as they roared toward the interloping Majingilane males and another as they pursued a Mhangeni breakaway lioness. These were opportunities to observe behaviours, ask questions, and learn about the remarkable complexity of their interactions – truly special experiences, made more so by the insights of Sean and Robbie (he isn’t called “The Professor” for nothing!).

August 2016: A clear sense of of purpose as the Matimba males charge forward, roaring.

December 2016: A Matimba male and a Mhangeni breakaway lioness engage in a mating bout.

December 2016: A Matimba male in monochrome.

The Photography

With gorgeous landscapes and abundant wildlife, it is not surprising that Londolozi nurtured a love of photography in me. My early safari pictures were “proof shots” with little intent aside from viewing confirmation. However, the Londolozi Creative Hub and its wonderful rangers – slash – photographers have opened my eyes (literally and figuratively) to photography, with lessons on equipment, technique, post-processing and more.

I rented my first telephoto lens in February 2016, a 100-400mm lens I could barely balance without the aid of a beanbag. It changed my whole approach. I gained the ability to take remarkably close and detailed images, as well as play with depth of field. I’ve learned about b​okeh and how aperture and shutter speed interact (I’m still figuring out how ISO fits in!). Each drive is an opportunity to experiment with different lenses and work on image composition, and I’m grateful for Sean’s tolerance as I inquire about the proper settings at each sighting.

February 2016: The Mashaba young female at 9 months of age, my first 100-400mm lens photograph!

February 2016: The Piva male yawns.

February 2016: An early portrait; a centred, classic portrait of a male giraffe.

December 2016: An evolved portrait; a close-up of a leopard tortoise.

December 2016: Does this even qualify as a portrait? The Nkoveni female crosses the airstrip.

Sean even got me to practice panning (and was a willing and energetic subject!), although I still have a ways to go with this technique…

I even had the opportunity to try new techniques with my iPhone 6 and attachable Olloclip.

Here’s an amazing millipede…

And here’s a vibrant flower just after some rain. Both during December 2016.

Another photo lesson came from editing sessions in the LCH with Roxy and Sean, who taught me how to transform photographs through post-processing and pushed me to enhance pictures with vignettes and monochrome. I can’t overstate their talents – both as artists and teachers.

February 2016: The magical powers of Lightroom.

The Soul

Beyond the landscape, beyond the wildlife, beyond the photo lessons – there is simply no place like “Londoz.” Londolozi is more than a place; its spirit feels like home in a way few others do, and creates an undeniable sense of belonging because those who represent it not only want to know your story, they want to play an active part in it.

The soul of Londolozi is its people – it’s David’s guitar as soundtrack for a night in the boma, Calasse’s reign as queen of Cards Against Humanity, Kev’s perfect mimicry of a vervet monkey alarm call, Grant’s caring and jolly “howzzit” greetings, Robbie’s quiet and wickedly sharp jokes, Helen’s infectiously beaming smile, Duncan’s flawless lip-synching, and Sean’s thoughtful, sincere support. I often find myself lingering over pinotage as long as possible because that’s what you do with friends.

August 2016: My safari sensei turned dear friend, Sean. Photograph by Callum Gowar.

December 2016: Fun with friends Kevin and Helen at the New Year’s Savanna Nights party.

It’s not lost on me that I am only a visitor to Londoz, but my time there reminds me just how clever the buffalo thorn is in looking both back and forward: back to the incredible experiences I have had, from a rainy afternoon spent observing winged alates or seeing the swift brutality of a kill in a thunderstorm; and forward, to those that I hope will come.

December 2016: The resident Giant Kingfisher along the overflowing causeway.

As I daydream about the bush from my desk, I feel profound gratitude to Londolozi for guiding me toward an unexpected and deep passion. At the moment, I may not have the bush’s wind brushing my face or familiar song of a Cape Turtle Dove in my ear, but I have the memories, laughs, and lessons of Londoz with me always.

1 January 2017: My first sighting of the year, the jubilant exuberance of a dozen Mhangeni cubs.

January 2017: Portrait with upward facing eyes!

January 2017: Lauren and Joe with anti-crepuscular rays during the year’s first sunset.

Written by Lauren Coape-Arnold, Londolozi Guest


on Looking Back and Looking Forward

Join the conversationJoin the conversation


Your pictures are so insightful! Love them all. So many sides to a safari that you have captured. Thanks.

Judy Boch

Beautiful photos! Londolozi certainly fills one’s heart and soul!

Audrey Kubie

WONDERFUL post!!! Brilliant pictures!

Judy Guffey

I will have to rent a 400mmon my next visit….Dec. 2017. Can’t wait.


I am blown away by the love Lauren feels for South Africa, Londolozi in particular. And her photos make you want to be there with her!


Lucky girl! Lovely blog.

Lynn Hurry

An inspirational article Lauren. Thank you x MANY. For your memory bank : The leaves of the Buffalo Thorn make excellent ‘chewing gum’ if you’re out in the bush and you want to refresh your mouth. Takes a bit of chewing but is certainly works. !


I know Lauren and envy her experiences at Londoz. Her description has helped me to understand the Londoz value. Beautiful job, all around. Thanks, Lauren!

Wendy Hawkins

Thank you Lauren for your description of our magical bushveld & the pictures of which are so beautiful!

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