“It is essential to experience all the times and moods of this place.”
Every moment at White Elephant Safari Lodge is an experience of the African bushveld of Northern KwaZulu-Natal. From the sounds of the singing veld, to the views of the setting sun, to Bushbuck, warthog and giraffe wandering around the lodge, one feels immersed in this location and greatly privileged to be so closely connected to the land. The warm welcome by lodge hosts make one soon become an integrated local, learning the names and daily rhythms of the elephants and other family members. It is even possible to request an outing with an elephant behaviour researcher connected to the lodge and stationed at the Pongola Game Reserve.
The accommodation in authentic canvas safari tents further connects one to the African surrounds, though glamping this is for sure. The white linen is offset by rich oranges and red, softened again by a misty mosquito net. A glorious freestanding Victorian bath is set up against the back of the tent such that you may lift the sides to feel as if you are outdoors. If this is still not enough contact with African blue skies, an outdoor shower under a kindly Acacia tree will complete your fantasy.
Having been to many game reserves and luxury lodges in Africa, I somehow still find myself captivated by this one. Perhaps it is the openness of this lodge which allows a free flow of animals, and that one is intimately connected to this environment by being in a tent. Or it may be the unique feature of this lodge that it overlooks the vast Jozini Dam and this combination of African bushveld next to a vast water source is an unusual and luxurious one. This allows one to choose between game drives, an outing with the elephant research station staff, water activities on the dam, or simply lazing in the lodge swimming pool while the animals move gently around you, all of which is perfect for this hot and sunny part of the world.
Gin and tonic in hand, I sigh with happiness as I sit on my deck appreciating the sun setting, creating pink light over the Jozini Dam. It is a hot day, the whole country being gripped in a heat wave. Nonetheless my hair is still damp from having just showered outdoors and I feel cooled simply being close to water. One quickly becomes integrated into the rhythms of this place, which mirror the movement of the fauna and flora of this environment. Above all, here there is a sense of great belonging, a oneness with the land and locals. I am reminded of the words of Thomas Merton in his journal, written in a very different climate and time, yet reaching into this time and this sense of integration with a natural place and its natural daily rhythms:
“How full the days are, full of quiet, ordered, occupied (sawing wood, sweeping, reading, taking notes, meditating, praying, tending to the fire, or just looking at the valley). Only here do I feel fully human. And only what is authentically human is fit to be offered to God ... Life seems real.” Thomas Merton