Continuing our quest to discover the best of KwaZulu-Natal, last weekend we headed up to White Elephant Safari Lodge located in the Pongola Game Reserve.
Proclaimed for the first time in 1894, Pongola Game Reserve is one of South Africa’s oldest wildlife reserves. But it’s history was rocked by war, political tension, excessive hunting and animal disease resulting in its de-proclaimed in 1921. After the controversial construction of the Jozini Dam the area was re-proclaimed as a game reserve in 1993. This sparked the gradual re-introduction of wildlife into the reserve including species like Giraffe, Wildebeest, Zebra and Buffalo. Later in 1997, the Pongola Game Reserve received another boost when two elephant herds from the Kruger National Park were released onto the property.
On arrival at the lodge it was the restored farmhouse which immediately caught my attention. This stunning house, originally built in 1921 and restored in 1999, overlooks the expansive Lake Jozini with the Lebombo Mountains as the backdrop. Inside the house the walls are dedicated to the history of the reserve and the return of the elephants.
Each of the lodges luxury rooms have been perfectly placed in secluded locations, offering a private, intimate safari experience. The rooms all have a private verandah with views of the lake, a mini-bar, a luxurious bath and an outdoor canvas shower. Its got everything you’d expect from a luxury safari lodge.
Since they do not have lion on the reserve, White Elephant has adopted a slightly different approach to their daily safaris. While out enjoying the abundant wildlife on the reserve, we stopped regularly to discuss conservation efforts and wildlife management plans underway on the property. I liked their behind the scene’s approach as it offered insight into how wildlife reserves are managed and the work that’s required to protect and manage our wilderness areas.
The lodge has employed a permanent researcher to track and monitor the elephants and rhino within the reserve. For those interested, you can join her on a morning or afternoon out with the elephants. While on the drive she’ll explain her research project in detail and offer insightful information on the reserves elephants. Unfortunately due to the rainy weather conditions we were unable to spend time with the research team.
On our last morning we headed down to Lake Jozini to enjoy a morning boat cruise. We spent the morning peacefully trawling along the waters edge enjoying sightings of hippo, reed buck, fish eagle and other aquatic birds
Having access to Lake Jozini adds another dimension to the White Elephant experience. They have a large barge offering gentle morning excursions and spectacular sunset cruises. Other water based activities on offer include fishing (specifically tiger fishing) and canoe safaris for the more adventurous. Interestingly, this is the only 5 star safari lodge in South Africa with such a large body of water at it’s disposal, allowing them to offer year round water based activities.
Back at the lodge we were joined at brunch by Dr Heinz Kohrs. The farm has been in the Kohrs family since 1954 when it started as a cattle farm. As a veterinarian and passionate environmentalist, Dr Heinz has played an instrumental role in the re-introduction of the elephants to the Pongola Game Reserve.
We spoke in detail about the fascinating history of his family farm and how he restored it from a cattle farm to the wildlife reserve it is today. He also told us briefly about his Space For Elephants Foundation – a foundation that’s working to create corridors to link various wildlife reserves in the area and surrounding countries (namely Mozambique and Swaziland), thereby restoring the natural migration movements of elephants.
It was a privilege to speak to Dr Heinz and his passion for wildlife and the northern KwaZulu-Natal area is contagious. In the end, I left White Elephant Safari Lodge excited about the future of the Pongola Game Reserve, an area with immense potential as a leading South Africa safari destination.
When I moved to KwaZulu-Natal in October last year my aim was to re-discover the province as a world class international travel destination. After spending the weekend at White Elephant Safari Lodge, I learnt that the northern region of KwaZulu-Natal is an immensely beautiful and diverse region within South Africa. I am looking forward to seeing more of the wildlife reserves in the area but more importantly, I am looking forward to helping others plan their vacations to KwaZulu-Natal.