There are few experiences more exhilarating than driving through the African bushveld, on an open Landrover at full throttle, under the gaze of the orange sun – as you spot wild animals in their natural habitat. You are galaxies away from the concrete jungle and you are at one with nature. And when this experience is combined with a luxury bush lodge, like Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge , as your home base, then the whole experience can only be incredible.
We recently spent two nights at Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge in the acclaimed Sabi Sand Private Reserve. which borders Kruger National Park. It is renowned as one of the most prestigious game reserves in the country and is where most international celebrities and royals stay when they come to South Africa for safari.
The Sabi Sabi group has four lodges in the reserve, each representing a different era in history, embracing the Sabi Sabi philosophy of ‘yesterday, today and tomorrow’. The ground-breaking Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge represents the future, the nostalgic Selati Lodge represents the past and the contemporary Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge and the intimate Little Bush Camp epitomize the present.
Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge is fairly large. It has 25 luxury suites, including a presidential suite. The public areas have huge viewing decks which overlook a large waterhole that is frequently visited by the resident wildlife. It also has an enclosed lounge and two swimming pools, also overlooking the waterhole. There is an Amani Spa and a boutique shop on the premises.
We were welcomed with refreshing mocktails and our programme for the weekend was explained to us. After a light lunch on the deck, we were shown to our room - which happened to be one of the lodges two luxury villas. To say that we were impressed would be an understatement. It was certainly one of the most luxurious bush accommodations we had ever stayed in and I hope that I can do justice to it with my description and photos.
Our villa consisted of a master bedroom and a second bedroom for the kids - both en-suite, a lounge area with a library nook, and a patio with a private plunge pool. The bedrooms were huge and featured draped four-poster beds, and reading alcoves.
The main bathroom consisted of his and hers vanity stations and a dressing area with a closet. This led to a glass-walled outer bathroom, with his and hers bathtubs positioned side-by-side, a huge Hans Grohe rainshower and an al-fresco shower, all with panoramic views of the bushveld.
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The entire villa was tastefully decorated in natural tones. It was understated opulence at its best yet so comfortable that I could stay there…forever. Even the wooden chandeliers, which were composed of branches and twigs, and the furniture pieces, masqueraded as artwork. Bathrobes, slippers, a Nespresso machine and a fully-stocked mini bar were all provided.
Our days consisted of an early morning wake-up call followed by coffee and pastries before our morning game drive. After the 3-hour game drive, we were served a huge breakfast, then spent some time relaxing in our luxurious villa while the kids played at the Elefun Centre.
One can also choose to get pampered at the spa, go on a bush walk, visit the neighbouring Shangaan communities, enjoy a dip in the pool or relax on the comfortable viewing deck and watch the wildlife at the waterhole. Then it was time for lunch, a short siesta and afternoon tea before the evening game drive. We returned to dinner, then it was bedtime.
Yes, there was a lot of food and you may leave the reserve with a few extra kilograms. You are served three delectable meals a day with two tea-times, and tea breaks between game drives too. And don’t expect ordinary food. If you ask for eggs for breakfast, you are offered a choice of duck, egg or quail. We opted for Duck Eggs Benedict with salmon for one of our breakfasts. It was delicious.
A hearty multi-course dinner is served every night, either in the boma under the canopy of the star-lit sky or in the main lodge, depending on the weather. On 19 March, we celebrated Earth Hour at the lodge. All lights were switched off and we dined by lantern-light. The ambience was amazing.
Villas come with a private vehicle, ranger and tracker. The camps are unfenced so rangers escort you to and from your room during the dark hours. Jonas, our game ranger, was a wealth of experience and could answer any wildlife question we put to him. At dinner, he regaled us with fascinating bush anecdotes. Doc, our Shangaan tracker, was attuned to the environment and constantly impressed us with the sightings he led us to. Together, they showed us the Big 5 in the first half of our first game drive after we expressed our desire to see the leopard.
It was the first time I'd seen the elusive leopard in the wild in four years. Although the Sabi Sand Game Reserve is known for its wildlife sightings I was amazed at how this leopard allowed us to follow it for a long while instead of slinking off into the bushes as leopards normally do. But then I learnt that the leopards here are more accustomed to humans because of the respect they are treated with from the time they are born. A few days before our arrival, another lucky set of guests saw an astounding 7 leopards in one drive!
Later, we watched a group of lions pursuing another group over a heated territory fight. One had a broken tooth dangling from his mouth, which had been kicked by a giraffe. The next morning, we saw two adorable lion cubs frolicking around lethargic lionesses. We saw herds of buffalos, elephants and rhinos and magnificent birds. We watched a boomslang slithering in a tree at night, at close range. The rangers recognised the larger animals and referred to them by the names they had given them. There was an aura of mutual understanding and respect between the animals and the rangers.
Bush Lodge is the only Sabi Sabi lodge that welcomes children of all ages. They are allowed on game drives from the age of 6. At breakfast, there is a special kids corner with child-friendly breakfast treats. The Elefun centre is a vibrant children’s facility within the lodge grounds which offers hands-on, interactive activities. Professional child-minders take care of the kids and inspire them to learn more about nature. Our children enjoyed themselves here with the other young guests. They even made their own backpacks, greeting cards and animal mobiles.
This was my first visit to the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve. I am now counting it is as one of my favourite safari destinations. The wildlife encounters are especially close and the game viewing experience is rich and fulfilling. The bushveld experience is enhanced in the company of highly experienced game rangers, without tens of other cars coalescing around the sighting. And when you return from your game drive, you are embraced by the warm hospitality at your luxury bush lodge, where the safari experience is extended by your proximity to the waterhole. It all makes for a magical safari experience.
To read about Sabi Sabi's other stunning lodges, click here
For more reasons to visit Mpumalanga, click here.
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