The Story of how ‘White Elephant’ Safari Lodge got it’s name.

Tags , , , ,

White Elephant Safari Lodge

God wrestled the beautiful Lebombo Mountains from the steamy Maputaland plains and then allowed nature to rule here with a harsh hand for hundreds of years. But the vast herds of game lured determined men : hunters and explorers, and so began the advance of white man in the early 19th century. Hunters made considerable fortunes. One such hunter known as “Elephant White”, shot 150 elephants in one season. In the plenitude and greed that was Africa, everything seemed inexhaustible.

But the abundant game began to dwindle and in 1874 President Kruger proclaimed the Pongola Game Reserve, the first protected reserve in Africa. The Anglo Boer War in 1899 brought chaos and the new Game Reserve was abandoned. For years thereafter due to a lack of funds, muddled boundaries and political agendas, the game reserve became a “white elephant”.

After the 1st World War, man toiled on the steamy plains planting fields, building houses and railway lines but nature continue to rule ruthlessly with droughts and disease and fought a bitter struggle for almost 30 years against sleeping sickness and the tsetse fly. For a long time angry gunfire echoed across the plains. “Kill the game” man cried for he believed he had to destroy the animals to rid the land of the tsetse fly. Hundreds of thousands of animals thudded to the ground and by 1940 the game was gone but the tsetse fly remained: Another “white elephant” in this history of man.

By 1948 man had finally won the tsetse fly war with the introduction of the notorious DDT insecticide. Cattle now flourished and sugar cane crept further along the course of the Pongola River. The construction of the gigantic Jozini Dam began in 1970. But it was a flawed dam with an unnaturally high salt levels in the water rendering it useless to the farmers, that caused considerable controversy and it too, became known as a “white elephant”.

Finally, in 1993, the wheel had turned full circle. Fences were dropped and game re-introductions began. Two elephant herds were relocated to the new reserve by Dr Heinz Kohrs. One of these elephants was an albino, not entirely white but a symbolic reminder of the past “white elephants”. After 100 years, the Lebombos again reverberated with the triumphant sounds of nature and all was good in the land.

White Elephant Safari Lodge

The gracious old home at White Elephant Safari lodge dates back to the 1920’s. It’s original name in Zulu is umPhafa, so called because of the large Buffalo thorn tree planted in the garden by Captain Mansfield. The Captain had received the land as a reward in recognition for his service during the war. In 1999, shrouded in the mists of early morning, an elephant bull pushed over the mighty Mphafa tree in the lodge’s garden and it seemed fitting that the restored lodge be named “White Elephant Safari Lodge”.

A century has passed since the first proclamation of the Pongola Game Reserve, one hundred years in which man has struggled against nature. One cannot undo what has been done or rewrite history, but every effort is being made by the team there to shape the future from those past lessons with the dream that one day vast herds will again migrate freely across the plains at the foot of the Lebombos. With the main hope to return this precious land to the wilderness, to the game and to Mother Nature.

About White Elephant Safari Lodge

At the foot of the majestic Lebombo Mountains and the shimmering waters of Lake Jozini, you find a special destination called White Elephant. It is a place with magic and soul inspired by a dream and created with passion. Here a team passionate about conservation offers a superb Black Rhino tracking experience, as well as fascinating Elephant research activities. Also conventional activities such as game drives, educational bush walks and incredible boat cruises on Lake Jozini. These varied activities as well as brilliant bird watching possibilities, make it a truly unique South African Safari experience. White Elephant is the perfect romantic retreat for newly weds and anniversary celebrations.

White Elephant Safari Lodge captures the history and romance of a bygone era. The deep verandah, sweeping views and tranquil setting provide the venue for a unique African experience. Eight luxurious safari tents, each with the romantic ball and claw bath, outdoor canvas shower and private verandah provide an evocative safari in the Pongola Game Reserve Wilderness.

White Elephant Bush Camp is an ideal self-catering escape from the busy hurried world for families and friends. Seven spacious thatched en-suite chalets with quality linen and overhead fans, open plan kitchen, dining room, bar, swimming pool and spectacular views ensure a “close to nature”, relaxed ambience. This remains one of my favourite places in the country, and when I dream of Africa, it always comes to mind.

White Elephant Safari Lodge

White Elephant Safari Lodge

White Elephant Safari Lodge

White Elephant Safari Lodge


  • Website:
  • Contact details to learn more: Tel: +27 (0) 34 4132489 and +27 (0) 82 945 7173 (AH) Email: and
  • Location: Farm Leeuwspoor, Pongola Game Reserve, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. The lodge is approximately 485km from Johannesburg and 330km from Durban, and half-way between Durban & Skukuza in the Kruger National Park. The closest major centre is Richards Bay, which is 180km south-east on the N2 freeway.
  • Should you be lucky enough to stay here, know that the focus is time in the wilderness, the Zulu rich history of the area and the game naturally reintroduced to an area known for it’s magical blend of mountains and water.

White Elephant Safari Lodge

Share this article

More Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: This content is protected.