Many people think that a safari is about seeing as many large animals as you can. Yet White Elephant Safari Lodge is one of many stunning little places which don’t fit into that mould.
I recently visited the lodge with my family after spending time in Cape Vidal . It’s quite a while since I had visited White Elephant and I was keen to see what had changed.
In a nutshell, all that I had initially loved about the lodge remains: the fantastic friendly staff, the lovely settler homestead carefully restored to its colonial glory, lots of historical mementos and old photographs, great food and of course the beautiful panoramic vistas over Lake Jozini (which isn’t actually a lake as it was damed in the mid 20th century).
But as I said, this was not a ‘tick off the Big Five’ sort of safari experience, which so many people are looking for, or think that they are looking for…
So where does a lodge like White Elephant Safari Lodge fit in?
If you are planning your first safari in Africa, then I would definitely combine somewhere like White Elephant with a another safari lodge, either one of the private game lodges of the Greater Kruger Park or even one of the ‘Big Five’ KwaZulu Natal lodges such as Phinda or Thanda.
So why would do have two safari experiences in one trip? Because then you get a more holistic bush experience and at White Elephant Lodge, you can also relax and feel that you are on a holiday and not just a safari.
Yes, it has elephant (in good quantities), white rhino as well as plentiful general game such as giraffe, zebra, impala, warthog, waterbuck, but it doesn’t have predators such as lion or cheetah. (It does have leopard but leopard are notoriously elusive to spot…) So your game drives are relaxed experiences enjoying being out in the bush, the stunning scenery, the great birding and the general game. It won’t be the adrenalin rush of witnessing a lion kill or wild dogs on the hunt (see some of my other reviews for that!)
What White Elephant might lack in predators, it more than makes up for in its varied activities. As well as morning and afternoon game drives, you can also choose to take a game walk, to track rhino on foot, to go ‘elephanting’ – more on that later – canoeing on Lake Jozini or enjoy a languorous sunset cruise on the lake. In between, you can relax in your beautifully appointed tented suite or around the rimflow pool with its views over the lake below. You can even take a picnic lunch to their hide and spend a few hours reading your book and checking out what comes to drink from the waterhole. So there’s more than enough to keep you happily occupied for several days.
My suggested itinerary would be to start with a safari in the Kruger for say 3 nights and then head south through Swaziland (staying 1-2 nights) to White Elephant Lodge for 3-4 nights. From there you could head to the beach either to Thonga Beach Lodge or to St Lucia before heading south to Durban and perhaps onto Cape Town?
Elephanting & the Space for Elephants Project
elephants at kwazulu natal lodgesWe much enjoyed spending the morning doing their ‘elephanting’ activity with their resident elephant researcher. It was fascinating to get the research perspective on elephants – to learn how they do their research and to join them on a monitoring drive. We also visited their research centre and watched a very inspiring film about the translocation of the elephants to White Elephant Lodge from the Kruger National Park back in the late 1990’s. It was immensely interesting to see how much work such a translocation involved. It was also gratifying to see that from the initial 17 elephants which were relocated back in 1997, there are now about 50+ elephants in the 14,000ha Pongola Game Reserve. Elephanting is not a game activity for everyone as it is pretty in-depth but my family of teenagers and one 10 year old certainly enjoyed it.
In Summary: Who would like White Elephant Lodge?
- People wanting a different sort of wildlife experience after the relative rush of game drives in the Kruger – here the emphasis is on slowing down, assimilating all the new information and gaining a broad appreciation of the bush.
- People wanting to combine “bush” and “beach” as from White Elephant Lodge, it is only 2-3 hours and you can be at a beach lodge on the Indian Ocean
- Keen birders as the birding in this far northern part of sub-tropical KwaZulu Natal is superb
- People who enjoy learning about hands-on conservation
- Finally people who want to enjoy a holiday in the bush, and not just a safari. At White Elephant Lodge you can combine game drives with sunset boat cruises. You can do as much or as little as you like without feeling the pressure to go on every game drive.