If you're planning a South African adventure, and love elephants, there is one lodge that should be on top of your list.
Located in the Hoedspruit region (near Kruger National Park), Camp Jabulani is a special place to say the least. Offering unrivalled wildlife experiences and cutting-edge sustainable and conservancy practices, Camp Jabulani is one of a kind.
Back in 1997, even before Camp Jabulani was built, founder Lente Roode opened the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC) in an effort to establish a cheetah breeding program. The centre eventually turned into a conservation centre for all of Africa's animals where they could be rehabilitated if needed and returned to the wild.
The lodge as we know it today came about thanks to one little orphaned elephant, Jabulani. Now the camp's namesake, Jabulani was found stuck and abandoned in the mud of a silt dam at just four months old. As with all the animals at HESC, Jabulani was taken in, cared for and returned to the wild, but unlike the others Jabulani kept making his way back to HESC.
Lente had never anticipated having any of the animals stay with them full time, but when she got a call to rescue a herd of elephants from a Zimbabwean elephant-back safari operation she couldn't resist and Jabulani happily joined them. The entire herd now resides in the onsite stables at night and walk the park grounds during the day.
The herd has paved the way for best practice in caring for orphaned elephants, since wild herds are known to reject new calves. However, the rescued herd has easily welcomed three orphans.
Camp Jabulani is one of South Africa's top five-star lodges and has a large amount of respect due to their conservation efforts and sustainable tourism practices.
The lodge was built around the native trees on the private game park and was created from dead Leadwood logs so there was no need to cut down living vegetation. The lodge also has many intitiatives in place to take care of the surrounding environment from water conservation to an innovative elephant dung eco-project, which uses dung beetles to determine habitat quality.
Onsite, you'll find the main lodge where you meet for meals and to start your game drives, a range of suites and a villa if travelling with a group. Each suite is spacious and appointed with traditional safari-inspired finishes, a four-poster king bed, a fireplace and an oversized stone bath tub. Looking out from the suite, you're treated to a view of the African bush - you may see an animal or two! - and an open patio area complete with heated plunge pool.
Camp Jabulani is an all-inclusive experience and you're treated to the best of the best in seasonal fare. Being a Relais and Chateaux accredited property, there's a focus on taking guests on a unique gastronoic journey - try springbok and milk tart if it's on the menu for a local flavour!
While staying at Camp Jabulani you of course need to go on a game drive through the Kapama Reserve where you can potentially see the big five in their natural habitat. But, there's another few extra special things you can choose to do as well.
The Jabulani herd are usually close by and you can drop by the surrounding waterholes to watch them have their midday swim and play in the water. You can also embark on a herd tracking walk with one of the rangers - you'll learn how to identify each of the different elephants in the herd and hear their individual stories.
Perhaps one of the most special experiences that you can take part in is meeting a couple of herd members. At a certain time of the day, if the elephants are around you can be driven to a spot where you can have a personal meet and greet with a couple of the Camp Jabulani elephants. The rangers will tell you about each elephant's history and it's a great chance to ask questions and learn about these magnificent creatures. You can feed them some of their favourite pellets and give them a hug. This is an experience that's sure to stay with you long after you leave the camp - you'll never forget the Jabulani elephants.
For more inspiration visit South African Tourism
All images from Jabulani Safari