Right this way for backyard bushwalks, uncrowded game drives, and a behind-the-scenes ticket to rhino conservation.

By Katherine Alex Beaven
January 23, 2021
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Credit: Courtesy of Mantis Founder's Lodge

Editor's Note: Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.

There are safari experiences and then there is Founder's Lodge. Tucked away on nearly 1,000 acres of a private land edged up against Shamwari, a leading South African game reserve, this one-of-a-kind lodge places guests in the former family vacation home of Adrian Gardiner, Shamwari founder and pioneer of ecotourism in the Eastern Cape.

Stays here are personal, and feel like the second home you'll never want to leave. With just six rooms and an almost one-to-one staff ratio, the magic of Founder's Lodge lies in its intimacy and history, which afford guests unparalleled access to wildlife and an unmatched experience — one that is only further enhanced by booking a buyout.  

Credit: Courtesy of Mantis Founder's Lodge

You and up to 11 of your most eco-friendly-minded pals can have a private, 1,000-acre slice of a 50,000-acre Big Five game reserve from May 1, 2021 to Sept. 30, 2021. The offer will set you back just under $4,500 a night. Rates rise to about $6,500 per night during the high seasons (Jan. 11 to April 30 and Oct. 1 to Dec. 19), and max out at around $7,500 during the peak season dates of Dec. 20 to Jan. 10, 2022. 

Buyout rates, like regular rates, include delicious home-cooked fare and spreads of signature South African dishes, including bobotie, Cape Malay curry, bunny chow curries, potjie, and sweet malva pudding — plus select local beverages (try an Amarula on the rocks).

Meals are casual, but thoughtful, and can be taken in the small dining room, on the outside deck, or back in your room. Drinks by the roaring fire in the library become a place to swap stories about game drive sightings, getting caught in the middle of a family of bathing elephants, snapping pics of slow-grazing rhinos, or spotting water buffaloes, blue wildebeest, impalas, and kudus.

Credit: Courtesy of Mantis Founder's Lodge
Credit: Courtesy of Mantis Founder's Lodge

Shamwari is well-stocked, though the animals — big and small — aren't always easy to find. Rates at Founder's Lodge also include two game drives per day, plus the option to swap out any game drive for a guided bushwalk through the exclusive, predator-free land concession behind the lodge. Here, you'll have the rare opportunity to explore on foot in the same space as free-roaming families of rhinos, giraffes, and sables. 

Founder's Lodge guests also have more freedom and less crowds to contend with than those at other lodges in the region. You'll have the benefit of getting closer and staying longer, often as the only vehicle — that means no vying for the perfect shot. For an extra-special treat, don't miss the sundowner drives where you can get out of the vehicle to soak in the expansive views while enjoying a few South African snacks and a glass of wine. 

Rates also come with access to the lodge's facilities: two outdoor pools, Wi-Fi, a steam room, gym, and on-site museum curated with items from Adrian Gardiner's personal artifact collection. Rooms here include four minimalistic, modern suites and two classic, colonial-style suites with wooden four-poster beds. All accommodations have a large, full bathroom with a separate soaking tub, a comfortable bed, and a private veranda overlooking the reserve. 

Credit: Courtesy of Mantis Founder's Lodge

On top of this, buyout guests get another sweet perk: the flexibility to completely customize their stay. All activities, schedules, game drives, and meals can be arranged according to personal preferences. This is particularly key for game drives, as you don't have to adhere to the more rigid schedule set up for regular stays to help accommodate everyone. As buyout guests, game drives and activities are planned as you go, depending on how everyone is feeling, the weather, and after weighing other options for the day, which might include cooking lessons from Founder's local chef, Louise; possible visits to the Born Free Sanctuary; or campouts. 

For those seeking a truly unique buyout experience, the Mantis Collection is launching a next-level, up-close-and-personal Rhino Conservation Experience through Founder's Lodge this year. Available only as a six-day package from Oct. 26 to Oct. 31, 2021, this inaugural in-person Mantis Impact Experience combines a stay at Founder's Lodge with the heart of Adrian Gardiner's mission: conservation. 

Rates for this six-day, all-inclusive experience run around $6,600 per person — a steal considering the perks. Guests will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in a packed schedule full of interactive conservation education. This includes guest speakers, a tree planting, an interactive drum session, and Big Five game drives, as well as the chance to participate in a behind-the-scenes veterinary tranquilizing and routine health checkup for Munu, a blind black rhino that was rescued and relocated to Founder's Lodge. As if this lineup wasn't special enough, being able to share such a personal experience with a rhino like Munu is extremely rare — there are only around 250 of this type of rhino left in the world. 

Even if you can't make it to Founder's Lodge this year, you can virtually tune in to meet Munu and witness his dehorning process (a painless yet necessary procedure that helps thwart any poaching attempts) during the first Mantis Impact Experience on Jan. 28, 2021.

To book your Founder's Lodge buyout and learn about its COVID-19 policies, visit the Mantis Founder's Lodge website. To learn more about the Founder's Lodge Rhino Conservation Experience, visit the Mantis Impact Experiences website