White Lion Lodge on the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve in the Little Karoo.

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I was invited to stay at White Lion Lodge on the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve in the Little Karoo, where joined by my mother, we enjoyed a wonderful weekend immersed in the surrounding wilderness, soaking up the warm hospitalty and learning about the area and the people who have made it their mission to preserve this special part of our world.

It was really good to be back in the bush – it had been a couple of years for me – in particular in a place where the big skies and a full moon meet over layers of rolling hills, and Spring sees bright pockets of wildflowers colour the Karoo landscape and renosterveld. A scattering of springbok, a large herd of eland, Cape Mountain Zebra and relaxed elephant to be spotted roaming freely in between. Best of all is that there were no planes involved, just a 3-hour scenic meander along the N1 and R62 towards Montagu before veering into the wilderness that is the remarkable Karoo.

White Lion Lodge

The privately owned White Lion Lodge offers an intimate wilderness experience near Cape Town with just four individual stilted, glass and thatch suites that will turn any non-bush lover into an immediate bush enthusiast. Each suite has a spacious bedroom, dressing room, full bathroom with twin hand basins, a large bath alongside an indoor rain dance shower, and an outdoor shower at the end of the expansive decks which is a definite must-try. Each suite is equipped with a fireplace – which was lit when we got back to our rooms after dinner, satellite television – which we didn’t use, underfloor heating, air-conditioning, a mini-bar fridge, and tea and coffee-making facilities that tick off every must-have item for a luxurious break away.

Around the main building, natural stone walkways meander through a Karoo garden and provide easy access between the main lodge and the suites. Offering panoramic views over the riverbed, the main lodge provides a hub for relaxation with a comfy lounge, a 15-meter infinity pool and a dining room where South African cuisine under the vast African sky. Exceptional personal service and delicious cuisine combined with nature-based safaris through the reserve perfect the experience.

The lodge was built between 2006 and 2008 and opened its doors in 2009 with owner-manager Gerry involved in every aspect of the business since day one – overseeing the hosting and magic-making. White Lion Lodge offers a unique nature and wildlife experience on a 30000 ha concession in the southern part of the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve. They take a safari one step further by introducing a new and different landscape that guarantees calm, peace, and the ability to reconnect with nature – while at the lodge sustainability, conservation and community are key.

White Lion Lodge is under the attentive care of German-born South African resident and career hotelier CujeJakoby Gerhild aka Gerry, whose touch and considerations are prevalent throughout and whose attentive team understand the ethos and privilege of place.

White Lion Lodge on the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

Sanbona Wilderness Reserve spans over 58,000 hectares and is a testament to the diverse beauty of the Little Karoo. From your nature drives, appreciate the contrasting mountains that stretch across the Karoo plains with their striking rock formations. Partly defined by its topography, geology and climate, and above all, its low rainfall, cloudless skies, and extremes of heat and cold, the area hosts a well-preserved ecosystem formed hundreds of million years ago which is prevalent in the many fossils you’ll come across.

Rich in plant species, there are almost 3200 recorded of which more than 400 are endemic. One of the highlights is that various flora kingdoms, namely Acacia Thickets, Nama Karoo, Renosterveld, Succulent Karoo, and Central Mountain Fynbos thrive on Sanbona. The naturally crafted network of wooded kloofs, valleys and river channels that dissect much of the Karoo provides a habitat for specialist woodland browsers that are found on the reserve.

The reserve itself was first imagined over two decades ago when the idea of ‘rewilding’ the arid Karoo environment was envisaged, to conserve the heritage, ecosystems and landscapes while creating employment opportunities in this remote rural area. Previously for profit, the reserve has now been transferred to a registered non-profit company with the sole goal being to maintain the reserve and everything on it as a wilderness refuge for future generations.

Animals, which used to roam freely in former times were reintroduced to the reserve at inception, with game management and conservation efforts an ongoing part of the Sanbona DNA. Famed for its white lions – the last two which sadly passed away in late September, you’ll encounter Buffalo, and Elephant, as well as other species of wildlife such as the Cape Mountain Zebra, springbok, elephant, giraffe, eland, black-backed jackal, rhino and a myriad of bird species. We were extremely lucky with sightings and saw all of these and more.

White Lion Lodge on the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

White Lion Lodge on the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

White Lion Lodge on the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

White Lion Lodge on the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

White Lion Lodge on the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

White Lion Lodge on the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

The Nature Drives

When staying at White Lion Lodge, your game drives are enjoyed in the southern part of the reserve, with the option of a safari in the north at an extra cost. This is recommended as it offers the opportunity to seek out more species. The guided safaris are taken at a slow pace with the little things appreciated and preserving them and our natural heritage as the focus. On our stay under the guidance of Romeo Muller, we encountered plenty of giraffes, white rhinos, eland, black-backed jackals, baboons, springbok, Cape Mountain zebra, elephants and many birds from this beautiful lodge.

A Welcome Disconnect

One of the unique aspects of the White Lion Lodge is that once you arrive, the vastness of the Karoo allows for a complete and most welcome disconnect. The big skies, full moon, rolling hills, and landscape create a captivating backdrop, and there’s not another light in sight as you settle on the deck for a meal, or around the fire or a chat. My stay at White Lion Lodge on the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve granted me a magical wilderness retreat where between activities my Mom and I could chat with other guests, relax on our deck, and cherish the quality time without interruptions. Gerry’s magic touch is prevalent throughout – in the design, service, delicious food and close-knit team that she has gathered to ensure guests have the very best during their stay. As we did.

Wood Fired Hot Tub

Just above the lodge privately placed on a hill with expansive views is an inviting hot tub, which was prepared for us one afternoon. The weather was sunny and dry but the wind chilly, and after a rewarding game drive and delicious lunch, we made our way there to enjoy a long soak and relaxing unwind – an obligatory glass of bubbly in hand. Listening to the crackle of the fire and feeling the intense heated water while admiring the stunning views around us, was pure heaven. Especially for me, a self-proclaimed warm-water baby. So definitely pack your bathing suit!

White Lion Lodge on the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

If you need a break from the city in a wilderness reserve just a short drive from Cape Town, I highly recommend White Lion Lodge. The Karoo air is soul-soothing, as is the setting and spirit of this special place, reminding that not all extraordinary moments are at the end of a long journey, some can be found in the familiar corners of our own backyard.

The Essential Details, and Highlights

Located a mere 3-hour drive from Cape Town. South African cuisine is served either in the dining room or on the veranda under the glorious African sky, Gery is vegetarian so my veggie meals were a creative treat. There is a complimentary Wi-Fi connection located around the lodge, but you are otherwise off the grid. A private game vehicle with a qualified field guide takes you on two safaris per day. An afternoon nature drive through the southern part of the reserve and an early morning game drive to the northern side of the reserve is recommended. Children are welcome, but no under 4yrs on a game drive. You’ll want something warm for the evening when the Karoo temperatures cool, even in Summer, and when advised to take the poncho and blankie from the room on the drive be sure that you do, Gerry knows the lay of the land and its temperament best. Two days is not enough – you’ll want at least three. For more info, visit: https://www.whitelionlodge.co.za

Be sure to learn the moving story of the white lions after whom the lodge is named, and who once roamed – and ruled, the reserve.

White Lion Lodge on the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

** Pics mine and provided.

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