Half way through our South African safari, I knew this trip was unique when my two sons said: “this is THE best vacation!” I knew exactly what they meant. Knowing of their travel experience to 37 countries, people always ask: “what’s your favorite destination?” They could not play favorite … until our recent trip to South Africa. Combining history and culture, with stunning landscapes and wildlife encounters, this vacation checked all the adventure boxes. While Cape Town and Johannesburg were a history lesson come alive, safari was nature in four dimensions: big sky, vast plains, majestic creatures, and a spiritual other-worldliness.
I dreamed of Africa… and still am.
After leaving Cape Town (read my recent articles here), we flew to Johannesburg and then hopped a bush plane to the landing strip in Sabi Sands, a private reserve adjacent to Kruger National Park. (For more details on this private reserve, read my article here). We were met by our safari vehicle and whisked away on dirt roads to Little Bush Camp, a Sabi Sabi lodge comprised of six thatched-roof suites, each with private viewing deck all overlooking the banks of the Msuthlu River.
We were greeted warmly by our hosts and given instructions on safari schedules, dining, and excursions. My husband and I checked into one cottage, and my two sons next door in their own. Our three days in the bush were a whirlwind of game drives and animal sightings. Awoken by our guide, Aniska, at 6am each morning, we joined our lodge mates by the fireplace in the main lodge for a much needed cup of hot tea and plates of fresh fruit, homemade muffins, and warm scones. At the end of the garden path, we boarded our Land Cruiser, which we shared with a lovely honeymoon couple from Australia. Our visit was in July (winter in the southern hemisphere), so early mornings were brisk and required extra layers, including wool cap, gloves, and scarf. Blankets and hot water bottles placed on our seats in the open-top vehicle came in VERY handy.
Our morning drives lasted approximately three hours, after which we would return to the lodge to eat a hearty breakfast and then spend time relaxing and reading in our huts. Intermittent Wi-Fi and sporadic cell service were a blessing, giving us a chance to really “power down” on this vacation.
Following our alfresco lunch there were activities available: a visit to one of the other Sabi Sabi lodges, an excursion to the local community to learn about their culture and history, or a bush walk on guided walking trails outside the lodge’s perimeter. Upon our return, we would grab extra fleece jackets and vests (having shed them because the midday sun can be exceptionally strong even in winter) and embark on the evening drive.
The highlight of the evening drives was “Sundowners,” South Africa’s very civilized version of “Happy Hour.” As dusk arrived, our guide pulled over in an open grassland and set out a lovely spread of snacks and beverages on a fold-down shelf perched on the front of the vehicle. With hiking boots on the ground, we had the opportunity to see, hear, and feel the bush up close as we watched the setting sun.
At nightfall, we drove back to the lodge where we were greeted by a candlelit dinner. We joined our lodge mates and guides at a large family table for an intimate evening of conversation and safari story telling by moonlight. After our meal, exhausted, we retired to our thatched cottages escorted by a guide with a lantern to ward off wandering wildlife. (Leaving your accommodations on your own in the dark is discouraged — the lodge’s fencing only keeps out larger animals like elephants).
Our guide/driver, Aniska, was a “bush baby” who grew up in the local area and was well versed in all creatures great and small. All the lodge guides work together as a team, seamlessly communicating their location and animal sightings by radio so multiple vehicles don’t overwhelm the wildlife. My sons loved when Aniska went into full “Ferrari safari mode,” racing off to see a unique sighting — wild dogs pursusing a herd of impala or a cheetah devouring its kill — before it disappeared into the bush.
Seated at the very front of our vehicle was Voster, our tracker, who hails from the Shangaan village which abuts the game reserve. These experts are completely in tune with the many clues and hidden signs that animals leave behind, be it foot print or dung heap, and work hand in hand with the guides to track the game and provide you with the up-close wildlife encounters this area is famous for.
One evening, Aniska parked on an empty plain, turned off the vehicle lights, and in the pitch darkness, we gazed up at the pristine night sky — the lack of light pollution allowed for an endless blanket of stars. With her laser pointer she highlighted the Southern Cross and Milky Way and we even caught a glimpse of the International Space Station silently making its way across the universe. Wow, how very small we are.
It is hard to put into words all of the sights we saw, each more wondrous than the next. Viewing animals in their natural habitats, existing together (and yes, sometimes eating each other!) truly illustrates the “circle of life” no matter how cliche it sounds — queue the “Lion King” score. Each night, at bedtime, we scrolled through the hundreds upon hundreds of photos we snapped and reflected on the day’s adventures, so very thankful that it was not just a dream.
Stay tuned for more photos of our animal sightings in Sabi Sands and articles on our second safari stop in Manyeleti Private Reserve plus tips on packing.
SUBSCRIBERS: to view this complete article online and read my previous articles, use this link: uniquefamilytraveler.com.
To become a SUBSCRIBER, look for the “subscribe to this blog by email” box, and then respond to the follow-up email.
For more information on my trip planning services, please click here.
Herricks Travel American Express