Marcus & Kate Westberg are a freelance writer-photographer team, who recently spent two years in Africa covering conservation and travel stories for NationalGeographic.com.
Planning a trip to South Africa is far from easy; it is a large country, and around every corner there is a reel-stopping highlight waiting to be discovered. But there was one thing we knew for certain that we could not – would not – miss: a chance to the Leopards of Londolozi.
Having driven from western Lesotho in just two days, we were exhausted and dusty by the time we made it to Sabi Sands. But neither dust nor stiff backs could do anything to dampen our excitement once we arrived at Londolozi’s Founders Camp to a welcome of cold drinks, damp face cloths, smiling faces and a delicious lunch. We signed the usual indemnity form, fully acknowledging that, should one of us get trampled by a buffalo or mauled by a lion, nobody would be responsible – always such a reassuring start to a safari! Then, after a quick shower, we were off on our first drive.
Even after spending a year in Kenya’s Masai Mara and another six months driving through much of southern Africa, our leopard sightings had been few and far between – and usually from quite a distance. Changing this was our top priority during our stay at Londolozi, with seeing a cub roughly on par with winning the lottery on five consecutive days.
We didn’t see any cubs on that first afternoon, but – well, close enough. Within half an hour of leaving the lodge, we were parked within a stone’s throw of a pair of mating leopards.
Halfway through our stay we were assigned to another guide, Dean Smithyman. This also meant that we got the chance to go out with a Londolozi legend – tracker and naturalist Elmon Mhlongo, whose work with John Varty and the Mother Leopard resulted in the very special relationship between the leopards and people of this corner of South Africa. The combination of Dean and Elmon was obviously a good one; less than an hour into our first drive with them, they had spotted what they suspected was the mother of a young cub.
Returning late that day, we had what turned out to be perhaps the most memorable wildlife experience of all our time in Africa. This leopard was indeed a mother, and her cub – perhaps three months old, and until then unseen by any of the guides – was most curious. After running, skipping and crawling through the bush around the car, he decided to have a look underneath it, while his mother dozed, round-bellied and unconcerned, nearby.
Having stayed at countless lodges across Africa, we thought we had known what to expect. But Londolozi kept surprising us. The lodges were spotless and luxurious without losing their charm, the food was perhaps the best we had anywhere in Africa, and the attention to detail – from fresh juice in our rooms to blankets in the car – was beyond impressive.
But what made the stay truly special – other than the wonderful wildlife sightings, of course – was the Londolozi family. From the rangers and tracker to the managers and waiters, we have rarely come across such friendly, motivated and able staff. It is clear that Londolozi really does treat its employees as family, and the work going on behind the scenes was at least as impressive as the finished product on display for guests.
Our time at Londolozi passed far too quickly for our liking. Bush dinners, walking safaris, lazy lunches and wildlife drives filled our days, and before we knew it the time had come to say our good-byes. But one thing is certain: Londolozi will be at the top of our list for any and every future trip to South Africa. A huge thank you to the entire team for looking after us so well!
Written and Photographed by: Marcus and Kate Westberg (Londolozi Guest)