Travel

Travel: No one sleeps when the white lion hunts for a mate

A handsome beast: the male white lion.
A handsome beast: the male white lion. SHIRLEY SINCLAIR

WE HEARD him long before we saw him.

The deep, reverberating roar followed by several huff, huff, huffs woke us from our light slumber.

He was close. Very close.

No, the lion doesn't sleep tonight. And, apparently, neither do we. In fact, he was right behind our Gondwana Lodge suite, calling for his female mate, and wasn't going anywhere.

By morning, talk around the South African Sanbona Wildlife Reserve breakfast buffet was that the male white lion had only just left our area.

Our safari ranger Marco Fitchet soon confirmed the night's excitement, pointing out the lion's paw prints in the sand by the road, heading west out of our lodge. Within minutes, we had heard about a sighting on the communications radio and headed with haste past the big dam and towards the hills.

We could see him from afar - his white coat unmistakable against the green of the low-shrubbed, semi-arid Succulent Karoo landscape. As we drew closer, we took up position on the road in front of him. And waited. He was on a mission, having already covered just over 3km in about 50 minutes. While not running or bounding, he kept a steady pace: every step was measured and determined.

Then - safari gold. He came up the road and crossed right in front of our Toyota LandCruiser. I was seated on the right side, directly behind the driver, and couldn't believe my eyes when he walked right beside me. Only the body of the open vehicle separated us.

He nonchalantly passed by, deeming the familiar vehicle and its seven occupants no threat. I was snapping away so quickly that my digital camera couldn't keep up and was giving the "busy" signal.

Lean, strong, with a beautifully coiffured mane, the bold big cat indeed reigns over this kingdom. As one who grew up with the Kimba the White Lion cartoon on TV, this meeting of human and big cat seemed surreal.

Sanbona, in Barrydale, offers one of the closest safari opportunities to Cape Town - about a three-hour drive away, in the heart of the Western Cape's Little Karoo.

With the spectrum of majestic Karoo landscapes within its boundaries, the privately owned wildlife reserve is reached from Route 62 - the world's longest wine route - and lies at the foot of the Warmwaterberg Mountains. At 54,000ha, the massive property is as large as Eungella National Park near Mackay and boasts the big five (a hunting term given to the five most dangerous animals hunted on foot). The big five in this case also includes a pride of lions, made up of members with the recessive white gene as well as the tawny variety.

Over three nights and four days at our all-inclusive lodge, we managed to encounter four of the big five: African elephants, lions, rhino, and Cape buffalo. We only missed the leopards that generally live in the mountains.

Another favourite with tourists, the cheetahs, also proved elusive - an unusual occurrence since they aren't shy and tend to keep to favoured territory.

But our six safari drives (including spotlighting at nightfall) and boat cruise more than made up for that with hippopotamus in and out of the water plus a prolific number of eland and springbok, giraffes and zebras (Cape Mountain and Plains), Chacma baboons, small dassie (its closest living relative is the elephant) and oryx.

A black-backed jackal, a large grey mongoose and red hartebeest were a bonus, along with the rare thrill of seeing relocated kudu bound out of their transport vehicle towards freedom.

The experience of sitting on our first-floor balcony with a glass of wine, watching giraffes and their companion zebras nibble away at the trees and undergrowth, will stay with me forever. The white lions, however, were what I came to see.

Ranger Marco wittily describes female white lions as being like "Scandinavian supermodels: blonde, blue eyes and long legs". But for me, the male white lion rules. What a handsome beast he is.

Topics:  africa, lions, south africa, travel, weekend magazine


Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

Walt Secord rejects Tony Abbott's call for shark cull

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has called for a shark cull on the North Coast.

Tony Abbott called for a shark cull on the North Coast

Minister to visit Ballina to announce new shark strategy

NSW Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair

Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair to travel to Ballina today

Local Partners

PHOTOS: Firies battle North Coast bushfire

NSW Fire and Rescue crews are fighting a bushfire at Ballina.

Great white tagged, released off Lighthouse Beach

This 2.91m great white was tagged and released at Angels Beach, Ballina.

The 49th shark to be tagged in NSW released off Lighthouse Beach

Walt Secord rejects Tony Abbott's call for shark cull

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has called for a shark cull on the North Coast.

Tony Abbott called for a shark cull on the North Coast

Minister to visit Ballina to announce new shark strategy

NSW Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair

Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair to travel to Ballina today

How can we prevent shark attacks on the North Coast?

Multiple people attended the scene at Lighthouse Beach where a shark attack took place around 9:30 on Monday morning. Photo Marc Stapelberg / The Northern Star

How can further shark attacks on the North Coast be prevented?

Ballina's 'leaning tower' set for demolition

GOODBYE TO OLD, HELLO TO NEW: Ballina Marine Rescue's Commander John Donoghue with the old and new towers in the background.

And the Marine Rescue volunteers can't wait to see it go

More Northern River schools needed to be counted in

John Foreman and Jay Laga'aia at a songwriting workshop earlier this year.

Music - Count Us In will be held in November

Channel 9 orders second season of Doctor Doctor

Rodger Corser stars in the TV series Doctor Doctor.

RURAL medical drama finds a loyal following.

MOVIE REVIEW: Storks delivers family fun

A scene from the movie Storks.

ANIMATION can be hit or miss but when it hits, it hits hard.

Nick 'the snake' to call the shots on Survivor jury

Australian Survivor contestant Nick Iadanza.

LATEST evictee is out of the game but will still have a say.

More Northern River schools needed to be counted in

John Foreman and Jay Laga'aia at a songwriting workshop earlier this year.

Music - Count Us In will be held in November

Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber split

Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber

Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber have split after 11 years together.

UPDATE: Former rodeo champ's sale rained out, now back on

Larkhill local Ken Consiglio is having an auction of most of the things on his property.

'People kept showing up and we had to turn them away'

Couple build their own 'tiny house' for $45k

Holly Bowen and Oli Bucher built their "tiny house" themselves, only hiring a plumber and an electrician. Photo/supplied

The house, which is built on a trailer and can be towed.

Sunshine Beach property breaks real estate record

The property overlooks Sunshine Beach, as the backyard lawn meets the sand.

Sunshine Beach mansion sale smashes real estate record

SOLD: Historic hotel finds new owner

Post Office Hotel Grafton

Photo Adam Hourigan / The Daily Examiner

Pub in new hands and heading in a brand new direction

Peppers Airlie Beach put on the market

ON THE MARKET: Peppers Airlie Beach is being for recievership sale by CBRE Hotels and PRD Nationwide Airlie Beach.

Peppers Airlie Beach is being offered for sale.

3500 jobs on the way with new $950 million resort

Residential, tourist, community, and open space on Hummock Hill Island.

PROPERTY developers plan to begin construction next year.