“You have the lucky room 3,” says our smiling host, after depositing me in my lavish, underground accommodation at Earth Lodge, Sabi Sabi Private Reserve in South Africa. “Just last week a lion went up to the window and, seeing his reflection, started pawing at the glass. It was fantastic”, she enthused.
Well, I would think it was fantastic too, as long as I was on the inside and not out lazing in my plunge pool or reading in the comfy day bed.
Sabi Sabi is part of the 65,000 hectare Sabi Sand Wildtuin, in the south-western corner of Kruger National Park. There are four lodges in the Reserve, Bush Lodge overlooks a waterhole and is the pick for families thanks to the brilliant EleFun Kids Centre. Little Bush Lodge is smaller and more intimate and can be booked by groups, and Selati Lodge is classically elegant. Earth Lodge is the most luxurious, with its 13 lavish suites quite something, the spa fantastic and the food and wine offerings first class.
The mane attraction
While you do see wildlife without leaving the lodge, it is the safaris that are the main attraction. The safaris book-end the day, done in the early morning and late afternoon when the animals are more active. You get the same tracker and guide for the duration of your stay – we had the lovely Ryan as guide and Candy, a local Shangaan, as tracker. Ryan would knock on our doors at 6am, then after a quick cup of tea and a muffin, we would head off in the safari vehicle – tucked under a blanket with a hot water bottle.
It wasn’t long before we were jolted awake, with animal sightings constant and plentiful. Herds of nervy impala, disdainful zebra, wildebeest, white rhino, kudu, elephant, baboon and wild dog – and not just one wild dog, a pack of 21 of them including a squad of playful pups who wandered right up to the vehicle and passed under my door.
We were also treated to front row seats to watch Kruger’s Southern Pride of lions – twice. We saw them all piled up together under a bush having a midday nap, a tangle of paws and tails and manes. We were so close I could hear one of the males snoring. The next day we were ringside to watch them tuck into a feast of wildebeest, caught and killed in a flurry of morning activity that surprised everyone. We could see – and hear – every, bloody, bite.
Not as bloody but every bit as exciting was watching a leopard munching on a warthog it had killed and dragged up a tree. Afterwards, she climbed down with incredible skill, and cleaned herself like a large tabby. Simply magnificent.
Many of the staff at Sabi Sabi, like our guide, Candy, come from local Shangaan villages. Sabi Sabi offers guests the opportunity to experience village life first hand by doing a community tour at Lillydale. We sign up and head off in a mini bus to the village, where we visit the Mazinyane School, visiting several class rooms to high-five crowds of kids eager to show us what they are learning.
Hands still smarting and smiles still beaming, we move onto the local sangoma’s house, who is a big part of village life giving out blessings, healing with her potions and giving advice. Like any doctor, there are certificates on her wall showing her accreditations but her medicine cabinet is unlike any I have seen.
Our visit finishes with a song and dance under a marula tree outside the Induna’s (Chief's) House. The voices ring true and the smiles shine bright, all of us tugged into a dance in the South African dust.