My journey with Londolozi starts at the age of 5 years old. I remember driving a Landrover into a rather large Guarrie tree, and in the evenings I remember toasting marshmallows around the fire. These early memories and time in the bushveld fundamentally shaped who I am today and it’s these memories that called me back at the age of 21 to help my long-standing family friends, Bronwyn and Boyd Varty, to redefine the essence of what safari meant.

My relationship with Londolozi began at the age of 5 years old when I became friends with Bronwyn and Boyd Varty.

It has been ten years now, and it feels like the journey just keeps getting better and better… Just a few months ago, I took a photograph that I have been in search of since the first time I picked up a camera:

Jacqui Marais, Tamboti Female Leopard carrying cub

The magnificent Tamboti female leopard carrying her cubs from one den site to another – a rare, private moment that she was willing to share with me.

It was this image that triggered a reflection (actually, a series of reflections) that I wanted to share with you in the form of a few things that you may not have known, through the memories of my time at working in each of the Londolozi camps. Every camp tells a part of the story of Londolozi. Each one acknowledges beautiful moments in the history of this special place. Today, I start with Tree Camp because it’s this stunning six-suited gem that honours my favourite big cat, and a place that reminds me of the childhood wonder I felt when I first started this journey.

Tree Camp is synonymous with leopards

The first leopard to be viewed consistently on Londolozi was simply known as “the Mother Leopard”. Whilst other skittish individuals had been glimpsed occasionally as they made furtive dashes for cover to avoid human eyes or the pesky Land Rovers that had begun traversing the property, she was the first of her kind to be relaxed enough that rangers, trackers and their guests could actually enjoy a sighting of her.

An early photograph of the first leopard ever consistently seen on Londolozi… referred to simply as ‘the Mother Leopard’. It was the relationship built with this female that ignited a long history with these animals, and the reason that Londolozi (and Tree Camp) has become so famous for the viewing of these elusive cats.

This mother leopard was an ambassador, and really opened up the secretive world of leopards to all of us. Tree Camp, as the name would suggest, is cantilevered high up on the banks of the Sand River, set in a remarkable canopy of ebony trees. Breakfast feels like you’re eating at the very top of a tree house (which might take you straight back to your own childhood memories of enchantment and adventure).

Tree Camp embodies meditative luxury…

Tree Camp really was a camp that pioneered meditative luxury. And I often get asked what this means. The best way to describe it is

 … a feeling of complete indulgence whilst surrounded by deep simplicity.

Luxury, in my opinion, is as simple as sharing a good meal, high in the treetops of an Ebony forest, while a leopard silently stalks past unnoticed.

Every sense is taken care of. What you touch, what you taste, what you see, what you feel and what you hear are all woven together in a layered harmony of just the right amount of each. From honeymooners to baby-boomers to wanderlusters – Tree Camp is the perfect place for privacy. But at the same time it is the perfect camp if you’re looking for connections with others as –  as one of our recent guests said to me – “There’s something about the Tree Camp experience that brings people together and makes you want to hear and tell stories and spend time with complete strangers.”

Tree Camp was the first Relais & Chateaux property in Africa

Tree Camp is probably the best-known camp at Londolozi, because it was the first safari camp in the world to receive the prestigious Relais & Chateaux fleur de lis of excellence. So, I always tell nervous safari travellers that it is a camp that truly is the safest bet. I also know that being part of the Relais & Chateaux family brings with it a wonderful sense of occasion, excellence, landscape, local taste and authenticity that can only really be found in a stand-alone, family-run property (On a side note, if you are travelling in South Africa, be sure to pepper your itinerary with other members of the Relais & Chateaux family).

The beautifully appointed Tree Camp suites feature huge glass picture windows (where you can sit and watch the wildlife pass in front of your room) offset by striking Ralf Lauren wallpaper, highlighting the ethos of enough…

Tree Camp reminds us that restoration and kinship are possible

I digressed slightly as I got lost in the beautiful suites and decor that is Tree Camp. But, in closing, I say to you that Tree Camp stands as a reminder to all of us in the Londolozi Family that restoration and kinship are possible… In 1926 the early ancestors of the Varty and Taylor families came to Londolozi to hunt lions and leopards. And now, in just 10 short decades, rifles have been replaced with cameras and lenses, and the legends of the leopards of Londolozi are five generations deep. And here, on this beautifully restored piece of Africa, one can see wild leopards up close and personal. It’s a remarkable reminder that when you partner with nature, she partners with you.

Looking back, if I was to sit on the branch of a tree next to my 5-year-old self all those years ago, when my love for this magical place began, I would never have believed that a world of childhood wonder – no matter how old I would get – was about to be opened, right in front of me. And each time I step onto the Tree Camp deck, or sit quietly (on what is arguably the most comfortable day bed in Africa) looking out at the canopy of trees and the river bed below, with a wash of hope that I might spot a leopard silently making its way through the bushes, Tree Camp reminds me of this.

Find a quiet place to sit (or take a nap on the most comfortable daybed in Africa), and reconnect with your 5-year-old self

I hope this gives you a little window into the world of Tree Camp.

When you visit, be sure to have a glass of champagne under the waterfall in the main pool… tell them Jacqui sent you!

About the Author

Jacqui Marais

Head of Sales

Jacqui joined the Londolozi team in December 2007 as a camp manager, a role which she more than ably filled for the next 3 years, before departing for Johannesburg in 2010. Little did she know that over a decade after joining the organization, ...

View Jacqui's profile

11 Comments

on 4 Things You Didn’t Know about Londolozi’s Tree Camp

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Marinda Drake

Jacqui this is such a lovely story. Tree camp is so beautiful. We had dinner there the one night with a wine pairing and is was so special. It is lovely to back on your life and realize how good it is.

Jacqui Marais

Hi Marinda I am so glad you have experienced the magic of Tree Camp, hope to see you in the bush sometime soon.

Kelly Bernard

So beautiful Jacqui! Every story I read makes me fall more and more in love with the place!

Jacqui Marais

Thank you Kelly please come and visit us.

Rich Laburn

Great blog Jax, really nice to hear how long ago you first experienced Londolozi and the relationship you still continue to grow with the place.

Jacqui Marais

Thank you so much Rich its been a fantastic journey so far.

Amanda Ritchie

Beautifully written, Jax. Can’t wait to read more of your stories!

Jacqui Marais

Thanks Mands I look forward to contributing more to the blog.

Callum Evans

Did the Mother Leopard ever visit the Tree Camp?

Jacqui Marais

Hi Callum thank you for the message, to be honest I am not sure if the Mother Leopard ever visited Tree Camp I will have to try and find out for you.

Callum Evans

Thanks, let me know if you find anything. Also keen to know if any other leopards have visited too!

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