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Glorious Return to South Africa--Two Weeks in October

Glorious Return to South Africa--Two Weeks in October

Nov 13th, 2013, 09:05 AM
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Marija: Those penguins were the cutest things!

But I will say that, for sheer cuteness, I would have to give the prize to the meerkats we saw at Tswalu.

More soon, on The Test Kitchen, etc
ekscrunchy is offline  
Nov 15th, 2013, 06:58 AM
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This is wonderful, keep it coming. We are planning a trip to SA in 2015.
xyz99 is offline  
Nov 15th, 2013, 10:12 AM
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I'm taking notes. DH, I and another couple will be in Cape Town next February after spending 12 nights on a safari in Kenya.
BarbAnn is offline  
Nov 15th, 2013, 10:18 AM
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Great so far. I'm anxiously waiting for the Test Kitchen review! We had a reservation there for our trip last September, and just before we left the US, they emailed and said they would be closing for six nights (to "refresh") right during our trip, so we missed dining there. Looking forward to your thoughts. It would give us incentive to return to Cape Town.

Thanks again for the report.
traveler318 is offline  
Nov 15th, 2013, 11:34 AM
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I'm so glad you are finding this helpful. Sorry it is being written in dribs and drabs!

The Test Kitchen is wonderful.

Traveler318, I hope that you do return and are able to dine there.

Here is the next installment.


We had two outstanding dinners at this award-winning restaurant which occupies a ground floor former industrial space in the Old Biscuit Mill Complex, not far from its more casual sibling, the Pot Luck Club. Diners adhere to one of two set menus; there is no a la carte option. The dishes do not change much in the course of a week so, essentially, we had the same meal on two different evenings, something I cannot recall ever doing in a restaurant. Dinner was so good that this was hardly a hardship. (The restaurant has just snagged the top spot in the 2013 EatOut Awards for the best restaurant in South Africa)

On both evenings, my partner had the Discovery Menu (R520) and I had the same, with wine pairings (R765). All wines were South African.

Dinner opened with two amuse and a bread plate highlighted by wonderful pretzel bread sticks, followed by a shaved salad starring pickled yellowtail accompanied by BBQ carrots and a honeycomb dusted with Ras Al Hanout spice blend. Second course, for me, was Plum-cured foie gras with cinammon poached guava. Marvelous! For my partner: Grilled scallop with miso and shitake mushrooms, prepared two ways. Like all of the dishes we enjoyed, these were intricately arranged and imaginatively presented in a manner that reminded me a bit of the work of Wunderkind British Chef Paul Liebrandt. Next, for both of us: Pork belly with apple and honey, served alongside pork cracklings. Absolutely smashing; perhaps the best dish of the trip!

Main course, again for both: Chef’s signature dish of duck, magret and confit, with truffle and foie gras egg. Another winner.

Dessert: Assiette of chocolate..intricate and fantastic.

I gave the barest details above; the dishes were so intricate, and so inventive, with so many complimentary elements drawn from not only European and South African, but also Asian and North African flavor profiles, that it is very difficult for me to recount with any accuracy exactly how they were presented.

Here is the Discovery menu, with a bit more detail; Although most of the main elements of the various courses are the same, some of the preparations listed are different from those we encountered.


The industrial-chic design--metal, wood, and brick elements, towering ceilings crisscrossed by weathered wooden beams--is handsome and, thankfully, the dining area was not deafeningly noisy. There is counter as well as table seating. Dress is casual. Service was exemplary: Informative and very friendly.

Taxi fare is about R70-80, each way, from the center.

Reservations are needed many weeks in advance, perhaps more for high season. Outstanding! The total for dinner, for two of us, amounted to
R1483, including tip, or about US$150.

ekscrunchy is offline  
Nov 15th, 2013, 12:44 PM
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You had me at Plum-cured foie gras. Perfect combo.

$150US for 2 for that menu - amazing!

So enjoying your TR!
Elizabeth_S is offline  
Nov 16th, 2013, 04:00 AM
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Thanks, Eliz! I never thought I would return to eat essentially the same dinner within a few days. But it was THAT good. And for those with North American dollars, an exceptional bargain!
ekscrunchy is offline  
Nov 19th, 2013, 12:35 PM
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Here is the last restaurant report for Cape Town: The Greenhouse, in Constantia.


After getting lost for about 30 minutes after reaching the leafy suburb of Constantia, (again, make sure to have exact directions to your destination if you venture out of the city) we arrived at The Greenhouse, the acclaimed restaurant of the Cellars-Hohenort wine estate and a member of Relais & Chateaux. On this evening, we were joined by friends from New York, who were starting out on their own CapeTown/safari combination.

The Greenhouse is a beautiful restaurant, perhaps a bit more formal and “dressed up” than the other eateries we visited. A series of dining rooms with expansive mullioned windows speak to the greenhouse theme; tables are draped with white linens; chairs wear white upholstery emblazoned with leaf motifs. There is no a la carte option; instead, diners select from several prix fixe menus ranging in price from R465 for four courses (our choice; diners can choose from one of four dishes in each course) to the R625 “Wild” Tasting menu.

Most dishes hewed to the European tradition, showcasing prime local ingredients, although there were obvious Asian accents as well. Presentation was creative and dramatic. I began my dinner with Cured Rainbow Trout dressed with hazelnut vinaigrette and dusted with salmon furikake, a Japanese condiment (more typically used to season rice) comprised of dried fish, seaweed, and sesame seeds. Beautiful interplay of contrasting but complimentary flavors.

A ballottine of quail and duck foie gras with pistachio vinaigrette and a prunce/brandy chutney followed..also delicious.

The highlight of the meal for me, however, was the Lasagna of Monkfish and Leeks, delicate layers of roast fish and vegetable nestled in a pool of bouillabaisse. Excellent!

Main course: I wanted to try the famous Karoo lamb, so selected the duo of meaty chop and delicate coconut-crusted lamb heart with a garlic cream, accompanied by a miso-glazed eggplant and lentil dhal. Excellent!

And for dessert, Peanut Butter and Madagascan Chocolate Cake with Marula ice cream (marula is the tart fruit of the woodland marula tree that lends its name to the ubiquitous Amarula cream liqueur).

All in all, an excellent meal in lovely surroundings, marred only slightly by service that was the least attentive and the least competent of any we had experienced thus far. The total for four people, with a bottle of Cederberg Bukettraube and before tip, amounted to R2144, or US$57 or so, per person.

We paid the taxi driver, who waited for us outside, R600 for the round trip.
(As a matter of comparison, we had been quoted a price of R600 each way for the trip in the hotel’s luxury car.)

ekscrunchy is offline  
Nov 22nd, 2013, 04:02 AM
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This should round out the Cape Town portion of my trip; next chapter will focus on Londolozi.

Saturday morning found us again bound for the Old Biscuit Mill complex in Woodstock, where a lively food market fills two adjoining skylit brick warehouses, and the outdoor areas between the permanent retail shops (including Honest artisanal chocolatier, Clementina Ceramics and the very good Wine at the Mill store) sprout stall after stall of handcrafts, new and vintage clothing, accessories, and housewares. I would recommend arriving by opening time of 9am or so, as the crowds had thickened considerably by the time we left around 11.


Charlie had cautioned us to eat a spare breakfast and I was glad we heeded his advice. Vendors in the food market proffer a vast range of offerings from hand-made mozzarella, macarons, and raw Saldanha oysters to bobotie, biltong, honey, and samoosas. (I highly recommend both the oysters and the phyllo samoosas stuffed with bobotie, the signature South African spicy-sweet meat mixture studded with raisins). Although prepared food dominates the offerings, there are also a few purveyors of meat, fish, and produce.


After making the rounds of the food stands, we browsed the outdoor booths and retail stores; a standout among the latter is the ceramics boutique, Clementina, highlighting the works of Clementina van der Walt and other South African ceramic artists. (The smart black and white ceramic cups, dishes and trays that appoint the bathrooms of the Mt. Nelson Hotel can be purchased here)


I bought a handsome kudu leather backpack from the www.Rowdy.co.za outdoor stall; about R1300.


With the afternoon free, we opted to take a drive to the Winelands, and headed for the oh-so-cute bastion of Cape Dutch architecture, Franschhoek. I had spent a few nights here on my last trip, but I wanted my partner to soak up the scenery in and around this small town. We parked the car and took a walk along the main street, but a spot of rain cut short our meanderings. Knowing that we were due to return to Stellenbosch the following day for a tour of the town and lunch at Delaire Graff, we headed back to Cape Town, where we posted a (heavy and expensive-to-ship) package of purchases at PostNet before returning to the hotel to swim, and prepare for our dinner at The Greenhouse, described above.

The following day, Sunday, was to be our last in Cape Town and, as planned, we left the hotel around 9:30 for the drive to Stellenbosch. We passed about an hour touring the quartet of historic houses that mirror the historical development of the town and together comprise the Stellenbosch Village Museum, an essential stop for architecture buffs and one I had missed the last time:


And then it was time for lunch. At the heart of the Winelands, Stellenbosch is home to countless wine estates; we had chosen the restaurant at Delaire Graff from a list of dozens of well-regarded restaurants in the area. Unlike restaurants in Cape town, many are open on Sundays.


Delaire Graff is over-the-top in every way, from the lush flowering gardens, studded with contemporary South African sculptures from the collection of Laurence Graff to the sweeping panoramic vistas afforded by its perch atop the heights of the Helshoogte Mountain Pass, to the tasting room and restaurant, enclosed in a stunning contemporary structure of stacked stone, wood and glass. And to the showcased displays of diamond jewelery for sale, on site, I presume. There are lots of photos on the website, below.


Three of us had a relatively spare (in comparison to the feasts we had enjoyed earlier in the week) lunch in the dining room. Unfortunately, the outdoor terrace, with its astounding view of theh valley with mountains behind, was not open that day. If you do visit in summer, be sure to request terrace dining.

I selected two appetizers--six Saldanha oysters (R138) and a beautifully plated assemblage of roasted squares of pork belly accompanied by potato gnocchi and a slow-cooked farm egg (R85)

My two companions each chose the fish and chips, a sandwich of shatteringly crisp hake with a mound of fried potatoes. (R155 each).

With a bottle of Cedarburg Bukettraube (R205), the bill for three persons came to R823, including tip and a mandatory R10 donation to something called the FACET foundation. The lunch menu is a la carte.


We passed the rest of the afternoon swimming, and readying our things for tomorrow morning's flights to Johannesburg, and on to Londolozi, where we were booked 4 nights at tiny Pioneer Camp.
ekscrunchy is offline  
Nov 22nd, 2013, 01:20 PM
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We departed the Mt. Nelson at 7:30am and, after the quick drive to the airport, bid goodbye to Charlie and soon were ensconced on the 9am British Air flight to Johannesburg where, upon arrival, we collected our baggage and were transferred to the nearby Federal Air hangar where we relaxed over complimentary drinks and pastries while waiting to board the 19 seater Beechcraft that would fly us to the Londolozi airstrip in the Sabi Sands.

I had been a bit unnerved by the tiny aircraft that served my lodges in Botswana, so I am happy to report that the flight to Londolozi was not one bit nerve-wracking. After a little over an hour, we began our descent and by the time we landed and spotted the vehicles waiting to transport us to the lodge, my excitement was at fever pitch. I cannot think of another destination that boasts that unique combination of breathtaking excitement and pampered cosseting that marks a stay in one of South Africa’s luxury safari lodges.

We disembarked from the plane and were met by Ranger Mark Nisbit and
Tracker Life Sibuye, the team who would guide us through the landscapes of Londolozi for the next four days. The thrills began shortly after we left the airstrip, when we spotted an adult female (Tutlwa) leopard walking in a dusty culvert. Mark took off in pursuit, to no avail. We did not spot the leopard again that day, but we did come upon a family of 4 lionesses and 6 cubs (Mhangeni pride?) that had just settled down to feast on a still-thrashing adult male nyala. Mark theorized that the animal had been killed by the leopard, who had, in turn, been chased away by the group of lion. An incredible start to our adventure!

Elephant, giraffe, zebra, wildebeeste, and white rhino all made their appearance that afternoon, even before we reached the lodge!

Once we arrived, we were met by the camp manager, Georgia, of whom I cannot say enough good things: Fun, competent, kind, enthusiastic....all the qualities mirrored by everyone who staffed the Pioneer Lodge at Londolozi. Many of the managerial staff, and several rangers, were actually family friends of the Varty family, owners of Londolozi, and we would soon be immersed in a family feeling that was unlike any I have experienced before at a safari lodge. (There was a lot of excitement during our stay, due to the impending wedding of one of the Varty daughters, which was due to take place on boulders in the river on the day after our departure.)

Londolozi is comprised of 5 different camps, strung out east to west facing the Sand River and connected by a wooden walkway. We were in Pioneer, the most secluded of the camps and also one of the two smallest, with only three suites holding a maximum of 6 adult guests. We were assigned to Suite #1, the most secluded of the suites and the furthest from the main living/dining structure. The camps are fenced to deter elephants, but antelope (and the occasional leopard) wander through.

Our suite was a fever dream of classic Africana; probably as large as my New York City apartment and composed of bedroom, dressing area, living room, vast bathroom, entry way/second bedroom and second bathroom--all under soaring ceilings topped by thatch. The vast decking facing the river held a plunge pool (too cold to dip even a toe) and outdoor shower area, along with padded lounge chairs. We took a walk to inspect all of the camps (including the suites of several of these) and while all of them were lovely, we were more than pleased that we had booked the tiny Pioneer.


We were very fortunate with our fellow guests, too. For the first two nights we shared the camp with a Dutch family--mom, dad adult son and his girlfriend--who were about the most delightful companions anyone could wish for. Once they departed, one room remained empty and one was filled by a soon-to-be married young couple--he from Zimbabwe and she of French-Filipino heritage, both based in Singapore. Again, we were more than fortunate to have such delightful people sharing our vehicle and some of our meals.

Food at Londolozi was excellent--superior, again, to any I have had on safari.
We ate breakfasts and lunches on the expansive deck of the main camp; one dinner was held there as well. Two dinners took place in the enclosed outdoor boma, lit by what seemed like a hundred lanterns and warmed by a fire. And we had one dinner, with Manager Georgia, on the deck of the largest camp, Varty, where Chef Eric turned out a superb dinner of carrot-ginger soup, tender roasted impala, and delectable bread pudding. (There is always a choice of dishes for each course). Having been disappointed by the food at Lion Sands Ivory Lodge last time, I was more than satisfied with the offerings at Londolozi.

That first evening, after a grilled dinner in the boma (squash soup, cod, espaliered beef, terrific potatoes, and a few vegetable sides) we set off on our first night drive.

Tracker Life outdid himself by spotting not only scrub hare, mongoose and jackal, but Lesser Bush Baby, a pair of Flapnecked Chameleons in a tree, from what seemed like three hundred feet away (!) and not one, not two, but three sleek Honey Badgers, the first of which went about his business foraging for a good 15 minutes just a few feet from our vehicle.

And this was only the first day! We were so excited that it was almost difficult to sleep that night!
ekscrunchy is offline  
Nov 23rd, 2013, 04:53 AM
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Correction: Londolozi Camps are aligned north-south along the Sand River,
ekscrunchy is offline  
Nov 27th, 2013, 07:56 AM
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eks - Pioneer Camp is gorgeous! Is this right - most of the meals are at a main dining room for all the various Londolozi camps?

Looking forward to the next chapter!
Elizabeth_S is offline  
Nov 27th, 2013, 08:54 AM
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Eliz: Each camp has its own dining area--both outdoors on a terrace and sheltered, and their own outdoor boma dining area. So in the case of Pioneer Camp, there were only either 4 or 2 other guests with us at mealtimes. On two nights we ate at our own table, and one night we ate with the 4 other guests and our Ranger, Mark. The staff are very flexible, so you can eat alone every night, or even eat in your room if you wish. As you might imagine, staff far, far outnumbers the amount of guests at any of these camps. At Pioneer, it really was like being at some mythical house party in the midst of the savannah, with staff discreetly but always available. But there was such a family feeling at Londolozi and I think this sets it apart from some other camps. The friendliness and concern never felt forced, or purchased, here. Also,t he food was much better than at any camp I've visited.

On one of our nights, there were only two other guests, and they asked to dine alone in their suite. So we were given a choice: Have a dinner for two in our suite; have dinner (just the two of us) at Pioneer on the terrace; or join the manager who planned to dine at Varty Camp.

(Varty is the oldest Londolozi camp, and it is one of the two larger camps; both Varty and Founders have 10 chalets; they are also the most economical of the camps. Varty has a lot of fans, and we met several repeat visitors. The rooms may not be quite as luxurious as the more pricey Pioneer, Tree and Granite, but I would not hesitate to stay there..there just will be a few more people around but that might not always be a bad thing)

We were told that guests can dine at any of the other camps, by prior request, as long as there is room on a particular night. The exception is Granite Camp, which is comprised of private suites; guests from the other camps can only see the public areas of this camp if no Granite guests are around, and guests from the other camps cannot dine there.

The meals (except for the dishes grilled outdoors on boma nights; boma is an outdoor enclosure lit here by candles, lanterns and fires; each camp has its own) are prepared in a central kitchen, so food is the same at all camps.

Note: Even though I corrected myself on the orientation of the Londolozi Camps, I may have been right the first time---still not exactly sure if they run east-west or north south!
ekscrunchy is offline  
Nov 30th, 2013, 01:17 PM
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The next three and a half days at Loondolozi ranked up there with some of the best in a lifetime of traveling. Those who have been on safari know the general routine, which will vary slightly by time of year, guest desires, and agenda of particular camp. For those who have not yet been, here is the general timetable:

5am..coffee/tea and biscuits delivered on tray to our suite

5:30am..departure for morning game drive

9:30-10am..return from drive and gather on the outdoor deck for breakfast.
There is a plentiful buffet of cold dishes, from (excellent) baked salmon to yogurt, cheeses, cold meats, cereals, fresh tropical fruits, and an array of fresh juices, from watermelon to passion fruit. Espresso, cappuccino, many teas...all on offer.

Staff always had a special hot dish of the day (favorites included the “Ranger Omelette,” stuffed with meats, cheeses, vegetables) and guests could request just about anything from steak to oatmeal. Mixed mushrooms were particularly good; I had them daily, with eggs and without.
Sparkling wine, or “bubbly,” as it was referred to here, was much in evidence.

We tended to linger over breakfast, chatting with Georgia, the delightful camp manager, or with our ranger or the other guests.

11am..back to room to read and relax. One morning we took the tour of the staff village, home to about 200 people from housekeepers to rangers to kitchen staff, to managers. There is a school for young children, a health clinic, cafeteria, and learning center outfitted with computers for language lessons and training programs. And a media center. Vehicles are maintained and repaired in the auto workshops. All in all, a most informative hour or so that gave us some insight in the formidable behind-the-scene efforts poured into a first-rate establishment such as Londolozi.

Other mornings we read in our rooms, or took a walk along the wooden boardwalk that runs parallel to the river and links the 5 camps under the Londolozi banner. The walk from our suite at Pioneer, to the last camp, Tree, took about 25 minutes. Foro thosoe so inclined, there is a gym and gift shop.

At 2:30 or so, we would walk over to the dining area on the deck, with the bush and the river (barely a trickle this time of year) as backdrop. Lunch was a selection of about three salads and one or two hot dishes, and perhaps a cold pasta or fish dish, followed by dessert.

3:30pm was the designated departure hour for the afternoon game drive, so we would head to the vehicle and set off into the bush for a couple of hours, before stopping at sunset at a picturesque waterhole or overlook for sundowners: Gin, beer, sodas, and any drinks the guests had requested, along with spiced nuts, biltong, cheeses, salami, and other nibbles.

After the cocktail pause, the game drive would continue; once darkness fell, the tracker would switch on the spotlight to highlight nocturnal creatures: BushBaby, chameleon, and the ferocious honey badger were a few highlights we spotted on night drives.

By 7:30pm or so, we would pull up in front of camp and, after a brief visit to the room, repair to dinner, served outdoors on the terrace or in the boma enclosure. Food was excellent, and plentiful; one night at the boma, for example, delicious corn-cilantro-coconut soup (soups were always excellent) was followed by a chicken and fennel braise and grilled steak. Dessert: Feather-light Amarula cake. There were always good South African wines and beers on offer, as well as domestic and imported wines and spirits (a small minority of the latter carry an upcharge.)

By 10pm or so, we were happily ensconced in our suite, eager for the hours to pass so we could head out again into the bush.
ekscrunchy is offline  
Nov 30th, 2013, 03:35 PM
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Sounds wonderful!
Marija is offline  
Nov 30th, 2013, 04:30 PM
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I am feeling very sad that we're not going to Londolozi. I went back and looked up your old trip report because I wanted to see how Londolozi compared to your Botswana experience....did I miss something or did you NOT write about Botswana (weeping and hair pulling out commencing!!!) However, looking at the bright side, I will look for Rozendal vinegar( green label) when I'm in the Winelands!
barefootbeach is offline  
Nov 30th, 2013, 05:01 PM
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Quite a report and you did see a great deal. Wife and I were in S.A. a few years back with son teaching at Wits Un. in Jo'burg. In that area included Soweto and Mandela house and Apartheid Museum. To the east and north we covered Kruger safari plus exploring Blyde R. Canyon, Maropeng Museum and cave, also Shangaan village. Then south to Cape Town, on down to Cape of Good Hope, then wonderful Kirstenbosch Nat'l Botanical Gardens. Driving east we stayed a week in a castle manor in Plettenberg and explored in the area.

South Africa a good destination.
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Dec 1st, 2013, 04:33 AM
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BB: I never did finish that report; we went to two camps in Botswana: Stanley;s and King's Pool. I am happy to answer any questions about the experiences. The general daily routine is much the same at all the camps I visited, but the landscape, and the people, are of course, very different at each one.
ekscrunchy is offline  
Dec 1st, 2013, 04:39 AM
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..just took at look at that report and it seems as if I left it hanging on the Victoria Falls Bridge!

I LOVED Botswana, and would hope to be fortunate enough to return someday. Stanley's Camp was much simpler than King's Pool, in the Linyanti. Stanley's had much more of a family feeling, while King's Pool (which had mostly American guests including one of those legendary "guests from Hell) was super-luxurious, but lacked that homey ambience. Much of the feel for the place rests with the staff, and I am sure that both camps have gone throughmany trotations of managements since my visit, so my comments should be taken with a grain of salt.

I WILL finish this report--will close up the LOndolozi portion, and then we have to spend a night in Johannesburg (which I liked!) before heading to Tswalu in the Kalahari!
ekscrunchy is offline  
Dec 1st, 2013, 08:22 AM
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We had a total of 8 game drives at Londolozi and each drive revealed a plethora of animals. I tried to keep notes, but most of the time was too excited to do so. Here is an abbreviated list of what we saw; in many cases we had multiple sightings:

Lion--male, lone and in pairs, and female; many cubs--once we saw two females with total of 4 3-month-old cubs in dry river bed.

Leopard--male and female; cubs. Female and cubs with kill. (I was devastated to learn that one of the cubs we spotted several times, the Nanga female, is now believed to be dead)
Lion and leopard are named by the rangers in order to keep track of the animals they spot. Londolozi is considered among the best places in Africa to see leopards, and true to reputation, we saw these magnificent cats many times)

Here are photos taken by a ranger at our sighting of the Nanga leopard female with her two cubs, one of which is now believed to be deceased:


For more on the leopards: http://www.londolozi.com/leopards/

Cheetah--two sightings of females, one with male and female sub-adults

Buffalo--Lone males and large herds


Burchell’s Zebra

Honey Badger-3

Spotted hyena

Chacma Baboon

Vervet monkey

Sidestriped Jackal






Nyala (several inside camp)




Hippo--many, in pools and foraging on land

White Rhino--several groups



Water Monitor Lizard

Dwarf and Whitetailed Mongoose

Striped Skink--on terrace outside suite (never inside, though)

Elephant--many, many!!

We saw hundreds of birds and after a while, I could not keep up with my notes on the sightings, so my list is far from complete:

Africa fish eagle

White-faced whistling duck

Crested francolin

Go-away bird

Egyptian goose

Helmeted guinea fowl

Green-backed heron, nesting

Southern yellow-billed hornbill

Hadeda ibis

African jacana

Giant kingfisher

Blacksmith lapwing

Crowned vanellus lapwing

Verreaux’s Owl

Lilac-breasted roller

Africa white-backed vulture

Red-headed weaver
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