Despite being one of two entry-level camps in the Londolozi family, make no mistakes, Founders is one of the classiest, slickest acts around. It marries luxury accommodation with a high level of service, lush surroundings and excellent food. Along with the other four camps, it goes to show that there is no substitute for experience. Fresh from four-year refurbishment, this is the perfect place for a family safari experience in one of the finest places in Africa to spot wildlife. Of course this doesn't come at a snip, but you'll be hard pushed to find such value for money elsewhere.
Founders is located roughly in the centre of the Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve, which shares an unfenced border with the Kruger National Park to its east. Set on the banks of the Sand River, its position gives guests that extra opportunity to view the areas animals. Londolozi has its own airstrip which is served by a daily flight by Federal Air from Johannesburg as well as by short flights from Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA) which in turn receives scheduled flights from Cape Town and Durban. Coming by road from KMIA takes around two and a half hours, while expect to be in the car for between five and six hours if you're coming from Jo'burg. Getting to Founders from Hazyview and Nelspruit will take roughly one hour and two and a half hours respectively. You should enter Sabi Sands via the eponymously named gate where a small entrance fee will be applied to each vehicle.
Londolozi has a rich history going back 85 years. Starting out as a family estate, after precarious beginnings in the safari industry, it has today become the blueprint for private game reserves all over the continent. Meaning 'protector of all living things' in the Zulu language, Londolozi more of a vision than a simple safari experience. In fact Nelson Mandela described it as "a model of the dream I cherish for the future of our country." Brothers Dave and John Varty's goal was to prove the viability of wildlife paying for conservation in a country whose land was once torn apart by racism, fences and division. But it is not only the animals which are central to the dream. Londolozi also invests heavily in people, specifically those from the surrounding communities. Their Learning Centre provides locals with the skills necessary to fulfill their potentials and become part of what is called the Londolozi family. The lodges also work with charities such as The Good Work Foundation and Save the Rhino Trust investing in both the South African people and its wildlife. You can read more about the fascinating history of Londolozi in Dave Varty's book 'The Full Circle'. While viewing (especially of leopards) is good all year round, the dry winters lend themselves particularly well to sightings as less plant life means less chance of the animals being hidden. And remember, you should not walk around the site unaccompanied at night as you never know what beast is lurking around the corner. If you need to move around, call a torch-bearing member of staff who will gladly escort you where you wish.
You can tell they've been doing this for years just by the professionalism and warmth of the welcome you are given at the top of the walkway leading down to the main lodge. No sooner have you pulled up at Founders, than you are relieved of your bags and taken down to the lush deck where a drink is placed in your hand and the formalities are run through by a delightful member of the team. The huge thatched space comprises a beautiful seating area at the back which favours creams and beiges and includes a couple of sofas, coffee table and traditional décor all centered around the fireplace. The mirrors on the wall add an extra dimension while the intriguing portraits of both people and animals come from around Africa. The books dotted around the place are just calling out to be read while you are installed comfortably on the inviting sofas in a scene that you can imagine being featured in a glossy. From the deck at the front, you can watch as elephants and other beasts pass slowly by in stark contrast to the seedy vervet monkeys. Just down the steps, is the riverside lounge, another, more cosy, relaxation area which makes a wonderful lookout point onto the Sand River and location for drinks any time of the day.
Founders boasts a gorgeous swimming pool which is, relative to the maximum number of guests the lodge, of an impressive size. Partly shaded by the trees growing out the of the rock feature behind it, it has a deck from which you can look out at the wilderness from the comfort of your sun lounger. The trickling waterfall lends a calming effect, as if one where needed!
Many of the other facilities available are to be found over at the Varty Camp. First of these is Londolozi Life, the wellness centre, situated right next to the camp's tranquil pool. Designed by a holistic therapist to be in harmony with the elements, it combines philosophies from east and west and offers various massages Swedish, Thai), aromatherapy and Reiki healing. Therapies can equally be taken within the privacy of your own room or on your deck. Right by the massage centre is the yoga deck where every day at noon a free yoga class is held for guests at any of the Londolozi lodges. If you prefer to have a private session, as well as pilates, this can also be arranged. Those who feel the need for a workout can take advantage of the small fitness room at Varty Camp, which has both cardio machines and free weights.
The Londolozi Cubs programme, also open to guests at any of the Londolozi lodges, is based too at Varty Camp. The youngest kids (those under the age of six who cannot go on game drives) are kept busy in The Den with a wide range of activities including baking, bird watching and singing and dancing while the older kids are taught about such things as plants and their medicinal uses, weapons and our place in nature. The kids programme at Londolozi is without a doubt the finest there is. Aside from the twice-daily game drives, which are carried out by some of the most enthusiastic, knowledgable and genuinely lovely people who could wish to meet, additional activities for adults include film viewing in the John Varty Cinematography Centre, local village tours, tracking, fishing and much more. Varty Camp is also the location of the shop, Londolozi Living.
The lodge as a whole is kept very well and is clean and in great condition. Even in the winter months, the vegetation around it is lush and there is something especially calming and relaxing about Founders. The staff is first rate and couldn't do more to make you feel at home. You would never guess that this is the entry level Londolozi camp. There is a complimentary wifi service, although this only works in designated areas.
With 10 thatched chalets (7 standard and 3 superior) even the entry level Founders Camp has a certain degree of intimacy and discretion. Spacious, beautifully appointed and isolated from one another, the rooms have everything one could possibly desire for an extremely comfortable stay in the bush. The standard rooms, with hardwood flooring, feature high king size beds dressed in superb quality linens and are adorned with plush pillows and scatter cushions. The bedside tables have tall lamps decorated with antelope horns and there is a telephone on one side. At the foot of the bed are two cosy, substantial armchairs each with a footstool and blanket so that you may sit facing the huge floor-to-ceiling windows and gaze out at the wilderness beyond the sizeable balcony which wraps around the room. To one side of the room is a low cabinet housing the fully-stocked minibar on top of which is a tray with tea, coffee and snacks while opposite is a long desk-cum-coiffeuse as well as an ample closet in which you'll find all the anti-mosquito products you'll need. The adjoining bathrooms boast a long double vanity in front of a huge mirror under which you'll find the safe. A deep soaking tub sits against the far wall just below a huge picture window giving on to the open outdoor monsoon shower. The 1926 Body Range is the name for the personalised toiletries found in the bathrooms. Named after the year in which the Vartys arrived in the area, it has as its main ingredient avocado oil and is bottled in recyclable amber glass. The superior rooms are slightly bigger and boast in addition a seating area and fireplace in the bay windows, private plunge pools and a yoga and stretching kit. Framed pages from the original journal of Grandma Varty hanging on the walls are a nice touch and remind us of the rich history that surrounds us. Note that all but one of the standard chalets have their own plunge pool too and all but two have an outdoor shower. If you require either or both of these then make sure you ask wile booking.
The standard of the cuisine at Founders, as with everything else, is of an extremely high standard. Every possible effort is made to use locally grown ingredients, free range game and herbs from the kitchen garden. Many of the recipes used have been handed down by past Varty generations and the inventiveness of the others is to be admired. Breakfast at the lodge is taken either on the deck overlooking the Sand River or out in the bush. A generous selection of continental fare, freshly baked goods and fruit, yoghurt and more are laid out as a buffet while guests can then choose a hot breakfast of their choice from the à la carte menu. Lunch is served on the same deck while dinner, if not here too, will be served in the boma and may be hosted by your ranger. The service is faultless and a fantastic atmosphere reigns over meal times.
If, however, you feel like eating in your room, on your terrace, privately in any of the locations or have special requests, dietary or otherwise, the staff will be delighted to cater to your wishes as best they can. Indeed, if you happen to be the only family/couple at the lodge, it is more than likely that the staff will ask you when, where and how you would like to eat! In addition to the main meals, you will be given hot drinks and a snack during the morning game drive and a tipple and another snack during the evening drive.