Sabi Sands Safari

Sabi Sands Safari

When visiting South Africa, the goal is to see the “Big Five” game animals: lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros. The term was originally coined by hunters to represent the five species most difficult to hunt on foot, but has since been adopted by the tourism industry to denote optimum viewing experiences.  Adding in two additional animals — the hyena and cheetah –means that you have also achieved the “Magnificent Seven.” Although never a guarantee, we were very fortunate to sight all seven animals during our safari.

My recent articles highlighted my family’s adventure in South Africa — truly a trip of a life time. Our journey began in Cape Town (read recent articles here) where we enjoyed city, wineland, and national park exploration. Next, we hopped a bush plane to reach the next leg of our trip — safari in Sabi Sands (for safari planning tips, click here).  We stayed in Little Bush Camp, located in one of the great private reserves adjacent to Kruger National Park. To read about our experience at this amazing lodge, click here.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Out of the hundreds and hundreds of photos we snapped, it is impossible to play favorite. So, here are just a few that will give you a small taste of the wild and wonderful creatures we encountered during out travels in Sabi Sabi:

Sabi Sabi South Africa
Sabi Sabi South Africa

Sabi Sabi South Africa

At a kill, a lion tends to gorge himself and can consume up to 25 percent of its body mass in only a few hours. Afterwards, a rest is much needed!

Sabi Sands South Africa

Sabi Sands South Africa

We came upon this matriarchal breeding herd of elephants. The females can be identified by their tusks, which are smaller than the males’.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

The African Buffalo, also known as the Cape Buffalo, can travel amongst very large herds and can spend up to 18 hours a day foraging and moving.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

The Greater Kudu, noted for its long and twisted antlers, is related to the antelope.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Sabi Sabi South Africa

The cheetah is the fastest land animal. We were lucky to catch him at rest, mid-meal.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

The leopard’s whiskers help guide it through the thick vegetation and compliments its excellent night vision making it a lethal predator.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Sabi Sands South Africa

We witnessed these wild dogs as they pursued an impala. Our safari vehicle could barely keep up with them as they raced through the bush —  the dogs’ initial speeds can top 66 kilometers per hour.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Sabi Sabi South AfricaSabi Sands South Africa

Despite the giraffe’s long neck, it contains only seven vertebrae — the same number as a human and most mammals.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

The hyenas’ bite is the most powerful of all mammals and will crush the thick bones of their prey in order to access the nutritious marrow contained within. Seeing (and hearing!) them in action in the pitch darkness was an intense sight to behold.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Sabi Sands South Africa

The beautiful stripes of the zebra actually serve a purpose: to effectively heat and cool the animal.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Sabi Sabi South Africa

We followed along in our vehicle as this leopard, which had suffered an injury in a fight with another animal, walked the stream bed in search of water.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Wildebeest have many predators: lion, leopard, cheetah and wild dog.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

All creatures great and small are part of the safari experience. Here a dwarf mongoose peaks out of his home, a repurposed termite mound.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Hippos cannot float, which is why they are often seen resting in shallow water.

Sabi Sands South Africa

We couldn’t help but name this hornbill “Zazu” in honor of the character in the movie “The Lion King.”

Sabi Sands South Africa Warthog

And, not far away we spotted his “Lion King” companion, “Pumbaa,” otherwise known as a warthog.

Sabi Sands South Africa

Impalas are known for their characteristic stripes, but only the males have horns.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Unfortunately, rhinos are being hunted into near extinction. More about this in an upcoming article highlighting our visit to Tinstwalo Safari Lodge, located in the Manyeleti Private Preserve.

 

SHerricks Travel American ExpressUBSCRIBERS: 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

Advertisements
Little Bush Camp, Sabi Sabi

Little Bush Camp, Sabi Sabi

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.
Little Bush Camp, Sabi Sabi
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.Little Bush Camp, Sabi Sabi

Little Bush Camp, Sabi Sabi

Little Bush Camp, Sabi Sabi

Little Bush Camp Lodge

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.
Little Bush Camp
Little Bush Camp, Sabi Sabi
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.

Little Bush Camp, Sabi Sabi

In Sabi Sands, the guides can take you off-road into the bush

Sabi Sands, South Africa
Little Bush Camp, Sabi Sabi
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).
Sabi Sabi
Sabi Sabi
Sabi Sabi
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.

Sabi Sabi

Enjoying “Sundowners” with our tracker and guide

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.
Little Bush Camp, Sabi Sabi
SHerricks Travel American ExpressUBSCRIBERS: 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

South African Safari Logistics

South African Safari Logistics

When planning a South African safari, the name Kruger immediately comes to mind.  This National Park (the size of Wales) is located in the northeastern part of the country, with neighbor Zimbabwe to the north and Mozambique to the east.  It offers popular camping spots and self-drive tours with a variety of accommodations (mostly run by the National Parks board).  However, if you are looking for a more unique, intimate safari experience in South Africa, a stay in one of the adjacent, private reserve areas is the key to a memorable trip of a lifetime.

Map of South Africa

Sabi Sands Private Reserve is a wildlife conservation private reserve, (the oldest privately owned reserve in South Africa) which means it is not available to day-visitors.   Considered part of the Greater Kruger Wildlife Enclave, it covers roughly 250 square miles. A reservation for one of the lodges is required for entry. Sabi Sands derives its name from the two rivers, River Sabi and River Sand, which flow through the savannah and woodland areas that sustain the diverse flora and fauna.   The western perimeter is fenced, however the eastern perimeter (which adjoins Kruger) is 50 kilometers of unfenced border allowing wildlife to roam freely.  This is not a “zoo” – animals are not “fed.” They are existing in their own biodiverse and natural environment (except for water sources that were part of the original agricultural land).  It’s home to the most sought after animal sightings: the Big Five (buffalo, elephant, rhino, lion, leopard), the Magnificent Seven (Big Five plus the wild dog and cheetah), and 300 species of birds.

Sabi Sands South Africa

A safari in Sabi Sands gets you face to face with the the Big Five

Sabi Sands Reserve Map

Sabi Sands Reserve map

Sabi Sands lodges include meals and off-road safari privileges with an experienced guide in a designated Jeep or vehicle. (In Kruger National Park, you must stick to paved roads, which means you cannot follow a stalking leopard into the bush or an wild dog pursing its prey).  It is divided into several privately owned game reserves including Sabi Sabi, Ulusaba, Singita, and Londolozi, each with its own set of individual lodging areas from modest to luxury.  Some are more child-friendly, while others cater to honeymoon couples or small groups.  Some come equipped with private pool, private deck, or connecting suites. Some lodges have only six or eight villas – a more intimate experience – while others offer amenities like a spa, resort pool, or kids club. All provide other activities besides safari, including visits to the local communities and bush walks.

Sabi Sands rhino

Up close and personal with a rhino, one of the Big Five

Leopard in Sabi Sands

Sabi Sands is well known for its leopard sightings

Our stay this past July was in Little Bush Camp located in the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve.  Sabi Sabi has four lodges, each with its own distinct style and flavor: colonial themed Selati, family-friendly Bush Lodge, ecofriendly Earth Lodge, and Little Bush Camp, which features six individual huts all nestled on the banks of the Msuthlu river.

How to get to Sabi Sands? There are several choices including taking a scheduled commercial flight from Johannesburg or Cape Town to local airports in Nelspruit (towards the southern area of Sabi Sands) or Hoedspruit (closer to the northern part of Sabi Sands) then transferring to your lodge by vehicle or “bush plane” depending on travel distance.

South Africa, Federal Air

Boarding our bush plane in Joburg

The most efficient way is by chartered flight on Federal Air, based out of OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg, which takes you directly to the various private reserve landing strips (some paved, some not so much) all within Sabi Sands.

After spending several days in Cape Town, (check out my recent articles here) we flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg on a scheduled South African Airways flight then transferred by minivan to a Federal Air flight. Located a short drive from the main airport terminal, Federal Air has its own dedicated lounge with beverages, snacks, and bathrooms.  The aircraft are parked right outside the lounge — no jetway or staircase needed.  Our flight was 1.5 hours nonstop to Sabi Sabi, (there is a possibility for one or two quick stops to drop off or pickup other passengers staying in other areas within Sabi Sands). Be aware that time of flight departure is not confirmed until 24 hours prior, so make sure to include ample layover time in Joburg if making a connecting flight post safari.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

From the Sabi Sands landing strip it was a quick ride by Land Cruiser to Little Bush Camp

Micato Safaris, South AfricaAlso note that the luggage limit is 44 pounds per person (including carry on) since these are small bush planes (Cessna Grand Caravan or Beechraft 1900 are typical). We used soft-sided, rolling duffels (thank you Micato Safaris!) – hard-sided luggage is not allowed onboard.  Our plane held about 12 passengers and two pilots and was a smooth flight – the only real discomfort was from the lack of bathroom on board, so plan accordingly!

As you plan your South African safari, make sure to check government websites for information on proper shots and malaria pills, or consult with a travel doctor several months prior to departure in order to educate yourself on immunization recommendations.  Also, the South African government now requires that all children under the age of 18 must possess an unabridged version of their birth certificate (along with their passport) reflecting the particulars of the child’s parents. For more information (including documents required for children traveling with only one parent), click here.

Sabi Sands South Africa

More about Cape Buffalo in my next article

Stay tuned for my upcoming article and photos from our stay at Little Bush Camp and Sabi Sabi safari including notes on weather and packing.

 

 

SUBSCRIBERS: to view this complete article online and read my previous articles, use this link: uniquefamilytraveler.com.

Herricks Travel American ExpressTo 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