Friday, April 3, 2015

Off the Grid at White Elephant Lodge in Zululand

New Frontiers recommends this Off-the-Grid safari lodge in KwaZulu-Natal's diverse Pongola Reserve. Read on for full details and ask your New Frontiers' consultant to craft a KZN safari for your travelers. 


The land north of the Tugela river in KwaZulu-Natal has been home to the Zulu tribe for close on 200 years, founded by the famed - and feared - King Shaka. It is rich in Zulu culture and history, and the many game reserves that are found there occupy what was once Royal Hunting Grounds. Diverse in scenery, it marries water and land safari activities, from the estuarine lake system of Isimangaliso (a World Heritage Site) to the broader expanses of Lake Jozini and the marine reserves along the coast. The brooding uBombo mountains make for a dramatic backdrop to a number of the renowned National and Private Parks found here, including Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, Mkhuze, Pongola and Phinda.

White Elephant (Pongola Reserve, Zululand)

Access: 3.5 hours from Durban or 2 hours from Richard's Bay

The Lodge: Owned by the Kohrs family since 1954, one of the original land owners in this area, the lodge is a reflection of a family passionate about this area and conservation. The views are memorable: rolling grassland stretches towards the immense Lake Jozini, and on the far side of the lake, the mountains are the natural border to the flatlands that lead to the sea. It is the lake that is captivating though - home to hippos, crocodiles, and a source of water for elephant, waterbuck, rhino and buffalo, who all make their way to the shores. 9 tented rooms each have a private space around the original colonial farmhouse, with its wide verandahs, and faded black and white photos that track the history of the family and the history of the area. The tents are high and comfortable, Explorer authenticity with turn of the century touches: the freestanding Victorian bath is inside, the bush shower under a lantern-lit tree.

What to do: The proximity of the lake allows for a combination of both water and land activities: morning or sunset boat cruises will allow close up encounters with hippos and crocs, while game drives are especially strong on elephant and rhino sightings. There is a resident - passionate - elephant researcher on site, and guests have a chance to join her at the research centre where the incredible story of the relocation of the Pongola Elephants from Kruger National Park is recounted and captured in its entirety by a BBC documentary. The family tree of every elephant has been carefully documented and updated and you'll have personal insight to the elephants that you'll encounter on the reserve. It's a unique experience in South Africa!

Wow factor: You'll spend a lot of time at one of the largest swimming pools we've seen in a game lodge, looking out to a view that you'll remember for a long time.

Hmmm...This is a four star lodge, so not for top end clients. No air conditioning in the tents can make January and February nights hot. And canvas can take some getting used to: sounds are magnified and tent flaps blow in the wind.

When to go: December, January and February are hot and humid! You won't want to do much during the day except cool off, but the lake activities are a welcome respite. Best months are March through to November, but the game is not seasonal and is around all year.

How to sell: This is a combination safari lodge: the lack of big cats means that you need to combine it with either Thanda or a Kruger experience. But what it does offer in terms of water and the remarkable elephant story means it complements another safari lodge extremely well. Its location in the far north of Zululand means it is reachable by road in a day from Southern Kruger, or else by road transfer from Thanda, Richard's Bay airport or Durban's King Shaka. Combine it further with Rocktail Bay or Thonga for the ultimate Zululand experience.

Insider tips: You'll see Heinz Kohrs popping in and out of the lodge during your stay. He's the owner but also the vet in the region and the driving force behind the relocation of the elephant to the reserve. Make some time to chat with him - he is a wealth of knowledge, very approachable and has fascinating experiences of life in one of the remoter safari areas to share.

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