The Kruger National Park is spectacular and offers some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities in Africa. Surrounding the Kruger National Park are the private game concessions that make up the Greater Kruger and Sabi Sands region. The Sabi Sand Reserve areas itself is an association of freehold landowners, many of whom manage commercial safari operations. These areas were originally private hunting lodges or cattle farms owned by wealthy white farmers and have been passed down through the same family for generations. Many of these families have now turned their hands to wildlife tourism. There are a bewildering number of lodges and options in the area and something for every budget. The main difference comes down to the number of guests the private reserve allows on its property and the size of the land they have access to. As some of these private reserves are relatively small they have done deals with neighbouring lodges and share land access to increase the likelihood of seeing wildlife. This can mean that there are a lot of vehicles and people trying to get a glimpse at the same thing at any one time and the animals are highly habituated to vehicles and people. The upside is it is easy to see wildlife.
Singita and Malamala offer the most exclusive and authentic experiences in the area. Having stayed at Singita properties before it is fair to say that they offer the guest an exceptional stay (click here to see the post about Singita Lebombo). Whilst in Sabi Sands we stayed at Sabi Sabi and Londolozi both are excellently located within the Greater Kruger & Sabi Sands area and it was Sabi Sabi Selati that revealed itself to be the real hidden treasure in Sabi Sands.
Sabi Sabi has 4 gorgeous lodges and each lodge has a distinctly different feel to it: from the traditional colonial to uber eco-modern cool. Each lodge is located in a different area of their reserve and the diverse habitats of the area mean that each lodge has a unique setting compared to the others. The area has a very colourful history and was one of the first in the area to turn its hands to wildlife eco-tourism. The first recorded camp at Sabi Sabi was back in 1830 when European hunters used the south bank of the Sabie River as a base
for their hunting expeditions. Nowadays the only shots are those taken with cameras and Sabi Sabi is an excellent place for wildlife photography and specialises in photographic safaris as well as regular wildlife spotting. Of the four lodges Sabi Sabi Bush lodge is the largest and has a classic African safari lodge feel to it; Sabi Sabi Little Bush Camp is more intimate, with a rustic in the bush feel. In contrast the new Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge is a uber modern African eco-lodge and the pretty Sabi Sabi Selati has an old world charm to it that conjures up the 1870’s great safari era, as it looks out over a classic African watering hole.
Sabi Sabi Selati only has 8 individually thatched suites, which are scattered throughout a beautifully kept garden surrounded by the wild African bush. It has an interesting past and is close to the oldSelati railway line, from which it takes its name. The railway line was built-in the 1870’s to take gold mined from the Drakensburg Mountains in the interior of the country to Mozambique. The railway disappeared long ago but the old railbed can still be seen in the north-eastern section of Sabi Sabi and is a favourite hang-out for the Sabi Sabi pride of lions. The camp is full of old colonial and railway memorabilia and is a reminder of days gone by when the white settlers tried, and succeed, to create ordered gardens in the wilderness to remind them of home. There is a colonial style bar and dining area with fantastic views over the waterhole and we enjoyed several meals watching buffalo, wildebeest, elephant and rhino coming down to drink. The pool and lounge area also look out over the waterhole and are perfect to relax between game drives, unless you are lucky enough to stay in the Ivory Suite,
where you have your own private plunge pool and veranda that look directly onto the bush. Evening meals are taken under the stars in the traditional boma, which is lit up with light from scores of pretty lamps and candles and has a camp fire at its centre.
Game drives go out early morning and late afternoon and every drive is different. This is one of the exciting things about going on a game drive, it is a blank page, and no one is sure what one will see on that drive. The Sabi Sabi reserve is composed of a diverse range of habitats and their area is made up of open plains, rocky outcrops, river frontage, indigenous thickets, seep lines and arid bushveld. This in turn creates an environment for different plants and trees to grow, which attracts different herbivores which attract the predators. You are likely to see the “big five” and plenty more, forSabiSabi is home to giraffe, zebra, waterbuck, wildebeest, kudu,inyala,impala, leopard, lion, rhino, buffalo, elephant and hippopotamus, as well as a huge variety of birds and smaller animals.
We saw a great variety of wildlife during our stay and highlights included a pride of young lions at night setting out to hunt; a female leopard with her club who had just killed and dragged their kill into a Marula tree; a crash of rhinos with a very young and curious calf; 3 lionesses who had recently brought down a waterbuck; and a tiny, tiny chameleon hiding on a twig by the roadside, which Polly our tracker managed to spotted in the pitch black of night as we were heading back from our last night safari. Click here and here to take a look at some of our sightings in South Africa.
Londolozi on the other hand is very different. It clearly has a powerful marketing vehicle at its back, which is focussed on its main market: America. What it lacks on the ground it makes up for with a super slick website and social media feed. They sell themselves as having five separate lodges, but the truth it is that all the accommodation is in the same place. The 5 lodges are linked by boardwalks and are only 5 minutes walk apart. Londolozi has over 30 rooms, designed to accommodate large family groups, and this means it can be pretty busy both at the property and out on safari. Londolozi has the feeling of being managed as a branded hotel resort and this is noticeable in every aspect from the food, to the decor, the activities and the staff. This approach is undoubtedly a successful model, in fact it has been successful exported around the world and many visitors may prefer this approach to hospitality. But it is worth noting that Londolozi is definitely more disneyesque than anywhere else we have visited* in Africa. The game drives felt like we were being driven round the roads of a wildlife park rather than the African bush. Our guide/driver seemed to work off a script, the same stories were churned out daily and he was unenthusiastic (or nervous) when it came to taking the vehicle off the designated roads, unless other vehicles were already there. Unfortunately the guide/driver seemed to be completely oblivious to his surrounds, insisting on talking loudly the whole time, raising his voice when we were close to wildlife and causing the animals to move away. Londolozi will probably appeal those who are looking for a hotel experience in a lovely setting. Sabi Sabi on the other hand was a real gem, authentic, caring and personal, with excellent wildlife viewing opportunities and professional guides who seem to have a genuine passion for their job.
For more information about the Sabi Sabi camps and lodges go to: http://www.sabisabi.com/
For more information about Londolozi, click here: http://www.londolozi.com/
* the writer has spent time in both East and Southern Africa. She lived in East Africa for 2 years and over the years has had the privilege of going on safari in the different parks in Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa. She has also visited the Congo (to see the Gorillas), Uganda, Malawi and Swaziland and continues to visit Africa whenever possible.