Road Trip: Mahindra XUV500 - In search of white lions

Image: Sanbona Wildlife Reserve / Carolyne Rogers
Image: Sanbona Wildlife Reserve / Carolyne Rogers

Taking the recently face lifted Mahindra XUV500 to the glorious Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, Charlotte Rogers tested whether the 4×4 really does have what it takes to find white lions at one of the wildest places in the Western Cape.

The untamed outdoors is something to behold. The sights, sounds, and smells of the unspoiled wilderness is entrancing, taking visitors back to a time before mobile phones, laptops and Netflix. Recently, I discovered such a place and located only three hours outside of Cape Town it is surprisingly easy to get to. 

Sanbona Wildlife Reserve is, without trying to be a cliché, a wild haven in the Montagu mountains. With its 58,000 hectares of preserved, natural land complete with free roaming animals and five-star lodges, Sanbona is the ideal retreat for animal and nature lovers who do not want to travel all the way to the Kruger National Park and boasts four camp experiences – all of them suited to a different type of adventure. 

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Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

                                                                             Image: Sanbona Wildlife Reserve / Carolyne Rogers

Accommodation experiences

Gondwana Lodge, the newly-refurbished accommodation that I had the pleasure of staying at, is more suited to families. The lodge even has a club for the children, to keep the little ones entertained, and yet still maintains a high-end and luxurious feel, even if there are a few little ones enjoying the views too. The thatched lodge offers modern comfort with wild authenticity. 

Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

                                                                            Image: Sanbona Wildlife Reserve / Carolyne Rogers

Rooms come with interconnecting doors, meaning parents can keep a close eye on their charges, indoor and outdoor play areas, and a child-friendly pool means that children will have the time of their lives while adults relax in a serene and calming atmosphere. Gondwana Lodge also has a spa, with trained therapists ready to rub and ease all of your tensions away.

Dwyka Tented Lodge is nestled at the bottom of an enclave of rocky cliffs and offers guests the very best in sensational seclusion. Nine five-star luxury tents offer guests heated Jacuzzis, private decks, and sensational views, all interconnected by paths illuminated by fairy lights. If you think it is impressive during the day, just wait until dusk when the animals start stirring, the lights start shining, and the stars start twinkling. What a sight to see!

Tilney Manor is a refuge of tranquillity. Six open-plan suites offer guests the chance to disappear into the wild and disconnect from the outside world completely. A rim-flow pool, Relaxation Retreat, steam room, sauna, and delicious selection of Karoo dining experiences means that Tilney is the perfect choice for couples looking to rekindle their romance, toast to their love, or stare into each other’s eyes as the soft African sunshine fades behind the distant horizon. Idyllic, right? 

The final accommodation experience, which is currently only seasonal, is the Explorer Camp. This is where the adventure really kicks up a gear. A completely portable camp is set up in whichever location is chosen that season. The Explorer Camp is authentic above all else. 

Walking safaris

Walking safaris are the name of the game here, which means no under 16s can be accommodated. Outdoor toilets and showers are available for camp guests, as well as guided safaris and the opportunity to fully-immerse yourself in the bush. The Explorer Camp is open from October to April annually. 

The reserve is home to a plethora of wildlife, including a brother and sister pair of stunning white lions. Elephants, hippo, giraffe, buffalo, zebra, cheetah, mountain leopard, jackals, caracals, honey badgers – the list of inhabitants at Sanbona goes on and on. They are even home to the critically endangered Riverine Rabbit. 

Growing to a maximum of 52 cm, these cousins of Benjamin Bunny are some of the most difficult animals to spot on the property. Harder even than the sensationally illusive mountain leopard. Needless to say, I did not see one, and if one saw me, the sound of my roaring Mahindra engine would certainly have scared them away. 


                                                                       Image: Sanbona Wildlife Reserve / Carolyne Rogers

Our safari vehicle

Heading to such a wild and wonderful reserve, I needed a car that was as at home on the road as it would be 4×4-ing on dirt tracks. The flagship Mahindra XUV500 2.2CRDe W10 was a sensational choice. Known primarily for their industrial vehicles, Mahindra does ‘hardy’ better than most. Equipped with all the modern luxuries that we have come to expect from a modern SUV, the XUV500 certainly does not disappoint. 

For a four-wheel drive vehicle, the XUV500 is also surprisingly light on fuel. Making it from Cape Town to Montagu and back on about half a tank of fuel is pretty impressive for a car of this size. It boasts a 2.2-litre mHawk engine, which might not sound big for a car that weighs just over 2.5 tonnes. Totally suitable for the entire family, the Mahindra can seat seven people, and keep them entertained with Bluetooth connectivity, four door-speakers, and two Tweeters for excellent sound quality. 


                                                                              Image: Sanbona Wildlife Reserve / Carolyne Rogers

Getting from the Main Gate at Sanbona Wildlife Reserve to the Welcome Lodge was a piece of cake for the XUV500. I was fully expecting a passing elephant to stare appreciatingly at the Mahindra as it effortlessly glided over rock after rock and through ditch after ditch. 

The suspension meant that those in the car could feel barely a difference between seamlessly driving at 120 km/h on the N1 and cautiously enjoying the views of the reserve at 40 km/h on a dirt track. The XUV500 is equally at home in the city as it is for a road trip and I for one could not be happier with my choice of adventure companion for my inaugural visit to the sensational Sanbona Wildlife Reserve. 


                                                                                Image: Sanbona Wildlife Reserve / Carolyne Rogers

For more information on the accommodations and activities offered at Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, visit For more information on the Mahindra XUV500, visit 

Our vehicle: Mahindra XUV500 2.2CRDe W10

Engine: Four-cylinder, turbodiesel Displacement: 2,179 cc

Maximum power: 103 kW @ 3,750 rpm

Maximum torque: 330 Nm @ 1,600 – 2,800 rpm

Transmission: 6-speed automatic, part-time 4×40-100 km//h: 11.5 seconds

Top speed: 185 km/h Consumption: 7.4 l/100 km (claimed by manufacturer)Fuel range: 946 kmCO2 emissions: 196 g/km

Warranty: 5 years/150,000 kmService plan: 5 years/100,000 kmBase price: R419,999

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