South African Safari In The Sabi Sand

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Years of watching The Lion King and dreaming about a safari trip, could not have prepared me for the experience we were about to encounter in the Sabi Sand. This part of our trip was beyond our expectations and I just hope I can do it justice in this post. I feel the experiences we had during our three days on safari, are beyond description but I will do my best to share with you our amazing memories as well as any tips we think may help you when planning or taking such a trip.

The Sabi Sand region borders the Kruger Natural Park (one of Africa’s largest game reserves) with the advantage of fewer restrictions in comparison to a national park. Being a private game reserve, Sabi Sand was such an incredible place to really feel immersed in the wild and get up close to the animals in their natural habitat. I feel this is something well worth considering if going on safari as it is often a ‘once in a lifetime’ trip and you want to do it the best way you can.

The difference between a private game reserve and a National Park, is that the rangers can go ‘off-road’ in a private reserve when tracking one of the ‘Big Five’ while they must stick to the roads at all times in a National Park. The rangers were very morally conscious when they took us off-road and only did so if it was in pursuit of one of the rarer animals and non-invasive for the vegetation.

If you haven’t heard of the ‘Big Five’ (we hadn’t until we started planning our trip), you will hear LOTS about it once you get the ball rolling. The term was used in the past by African hunters to describe the five most difficult and dangerous animals to hunt on foot. Obviously, these beautiful animals aren’t hunted anymore but the term is still used and acts as a check list for people on safari. The list includes the lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros. We were lucky enough to see all five on our trip…but more about that later!

Accommodation:

Although we had stayed in some amazing places throughout our trip, our stay at the Savanna Lodgewas out of this world. We felt the exclusive vibe of this 5-star destination, the moment we arrived. The Lodge comprises of 9 magnificent suites making our time spent there feel like we were with family. The rangers all made a huge effort to get to know everyone in the lodge and even ate with the residents for each meal. There was one long table in the dining area where we all ate together, making the whole experience so personal and different to anywhere else we have stayed in the past.

The rooms –

The suites were outstanding and like nothing else we had experienced before (apart from ogling over Instagram images!). We had our own private pool at the front of our suits with sun loungers and towels prepared for us daily. The minibar was generously stocked with spirits, local wines, beer all of which was complimentary…I seriously feel this should be a feature in every hotel!! There was also a complimentary selection of tasty snacks and treats that were replenished throughout the day (we definitely didn’t take full advantage of this as they fed us too well at our meals!)

The bathroom in the suites was one of dreams; with a free-standing bath, a wet-room type shower AND an outdoor shower. Each night on our return from the evening game drive, we were welcomed with a pre-dinner drink of port or bottle of chilled champagne, and a bath run in a candle-lit room. Knowing there was an army of chefs preparing our dinner as we soaked in the bath and sipped on our drinks was a feeling of pure bliss.

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The food –

It was probably a good thing that we only had a few days in this amazing destination as there was an abundance of delicious food every time we sat down to eat. The on-site chefs cooked hot breakfasts and lunches every day as well as having buffet options to compliment these meals too. The staff were so conscientious and attentive and were always watching for people with dietary requirements or individual requests.

Dinner each night was always a great treat too. Each night there was a different theme or surprise to look forward to. On our first night at the lodge, we experienced a traditional African ‘boma’, where we were taken to an open-air clearing in the bush to enjoy drinks under the stars and dine around an open fire. The next night, we had dinner on the deck of the main lodge where we all sat around the long dining table and shared stories of what we had seen on our evening game drive. Comparing animal sightings with the other residents and listening to stories the rangers happily shared, is one of my fondest memories from our stay. It was truly the perfect way to finish each spectacular day. The warmth and happiness we felt at the lodge is something the staff certainly should be commended on.

Our final night at Savanna had another surprise in store for us. While we sipped drinks, and nibbled on entrees around an open fire at the lodge, we were serenaded by an amazing local choir. The vibe they created was incredible with authentic costumes and sincere delivery of their songs. The staff added something extra special to the performance by getting involved in the action and had us all up dancing, ensuring we were fully immersed in this iconic African experience.

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Tip: There is a full, complimentary laundry service in Savanna. If you pop your clothes in the laundry basket (there is also a bag for hand-wash items!), they will be returned washed, ironed and parcelled in a beautiful wrap material. No need to dread mountains of laundry on your return home after this trip!

Things to see/do:

The main reason for visiting this incredible destination was to participate in daily safaris and we certainly capitalised on this intention at Savanna. On our arrival, we were introduced to our personal ranger (Kevin) and also met the other couple that would be sharing the jeep with us. It was just the four of us in the jeep with our ranger and tracker (Lybon), so we had plenty of opportunity to ask questions and indeed, tailor the drives to our personal interests.

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Each day we were taken out on two long game drives:

-the morning drive went from about 6am to 10am, and

– the afternoon drive ran approximately 3pm to 7pm.

The rangers and trackers were outstanding at their jobs and knew the region inside out. The also kept in regular contact with other rangers and shared sightings to ensure everyone experienced the best of each drive. Even when we had periods of not seeing many animals, our ranger engaged us in such interesting conversations about the area and its inhabitants that we hardly even realised.

The game drives were totally out of this world. Seeing such extraordinary animals up close in their natural habitat was such a grounding experience for me. We had strict instructions to stay sitting and keep our arms inside the vehicle at all times. Sudden movements and loud noises were a complete no-no. It seems such an unrealistic thing to be able get so close to these animals without something disastrous happening but as these particular animals have been exposed since birth to the jeeps, there is a mutual respect between them and the rangers. The rangers and trackers are also extremely experienced in reading the body language of the animals and knowing when to stay away. They have such an admirable understanding and respect for these beautiful creatures that we felt completely safe throughout each of our game drives.

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Over the three days, we encountered each of the ‘Big Five’ as well as MANY other animals too. On our first evening out, we came across a scene in which a leopard had previously killed an impala and had dragged it up a tree for safe keeping. Watching this (real life!!) leopard cleaning herself after her incredible kill was something I could never have imagined seeing up close and personal. On another occasion, we found ourselves in the middle of a parade of elephants on their way to a local watering hole. We watched the dynamics of the pod as the dominant male exercised his position over the other males and shunned them from the prime eating areas. We also saw the baby elephants meandering through the line, slipping and sliding in the puddles as they kept their watchful mothers busy. Images of lions and rhinos basking in the sun unfazed by our presence, is something that will always fascinate me.

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As each morning drive was coming to an end, our ranger would seek out a safe clearing and we would all share in some morning tea. Freshly made biscuits and a hot drink served in the African savannas is the thing of dreams for me now. On colder mornings, a shot of Amarula in your hot chocolate would warm you from the inside out – the ‘bushman’s hot chocolate’ we were told! On the evening game drives, just before sunset, we were treated to the perfect ‘sundowners’. Once a safe space was located, the jeep would stop and our picnic table set. We had our choice of drinks and entrees to nibble on as we watched the sunset over the African plains (even writing this is making me want to go straight back!)

Tiyimiseleni – home-based care centre

Something I like to find when I visit a new destination, is an orphanage or local school. On enquiring at Savanna, I was delighted to learn that the lodge had set up and is committed to some amazing initiatives in support of local communities. The one that captured my interest was the home-based care centre where daily care and support is provided for over 300 local orphans and venerable children. Kristen, Savanna’s Community Project Manager, was delighted to chat to me about the project and even took me out one afternoon to visit the centre. She introduced me to the incredible volunteers that run the centre and I had the opportunity to interact with the children when they arrived for lunch.

Another project supported by Savanna is that of a local nursing home. If you have the time during your stay to visit these initiatives, it is an incredibly worthy cause and such a genuine and grounding experience. Being lucky enough to participate in this trip of a life-time, I feel that a reminder of the less fortunate in our world is always so vital.

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And so, it is with a heavy heart I finish this post and return to the land of reality for another week. I hope this information can be of help to anyone considering a trip to this luxurious African destination or that perhaps we have persuaded you to consider treating yourself to an upgrade.

Thank you for taking the time to read our post and we would love for you to check out our earlier posts on the previous stops we made on our African adventure.

If you would like some tips on what to pack for a trip to African, and some general tips of what to bring, check in later this week for our upcoming ‘Check Lists’.

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We hope to see you again soon.

Richard and Michelle.

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