My two favorite words are clearly audible over the two-way radio – ‘Mdoda Ingwe’ followed by ‘May I be on standby?’. My heart races faster than the speed our ranger Angelique Borlinghaus has picked up to get us to the sighting. A male leopard! Yes! ‘He is on the move’ is the update and I cannot hide my disappointment. “Has he left the area?” I ask in my smallest voice, trying very hard to mask my dismay. “We will take a look anyway,” she assures me.
Our family trip started two days earlier with an Airlink flight, flying us from Cape Town International Airport direct to the iconic Skukuza Airport in 2 hours and 30 minutes. The Airlink Embraer 135 flight is the most convenient way to get you from city to bush in true style, cutting down substantially on driving time to your destination, thus affording you more special moments on safari.
The decision to stay at Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge was simplified by the fact that they offer a complete package of luxurious accommodation in a family friendly atmosphere. The four Sabi Sabi lodges form part of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World, making them distinctive in their own right, claiming their equitable place through sustainability, authenticity and excellence. Second to my excitement of having my husband and daughter along with me was the trepidation of seeing wild animals in their natural habitat.
We arrive at Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge in time for a late lunch, followed closely by the most scrumptious afternoon tea. The table on the viewing deck is laden with the most exquisite offerings of cakes, sweet & savoury things and whichever drink tickles your fancy and mine is a Nespresso cappuccino made to perfection by Angelique.
“Meet me at the vehicle, I’m just getting my rifle”, Angelique announces. At the Sabi Sabi safari vehicle, we meet Voster Matabula, tracker extraordinaire, who makes a formidable team with Angelique. Angelique starts the vehicle and off we go, crisscrossing through the Sabi Sand Reserve. Along the way, Angelique and Voster communicate in fanagalo, a pidgin mixture of Zulu, English and a small Afrikaans input. The interaction between the two is very respectful and their incredible partnership yields the perfect culmination of exchange and results.
Our first sighting is of a wildebeest spending time with a herd of impalas. The elephants and rhinos are revelling in the lush foliage that comes with the summer rains, making it easy pickings for the herbivores. With new life abounding, the carnivores plunder at whim and any reticent behaviour is fuelled by their desire to eat until they cannot move anymore. A family of dwarf mongoose are playing hide-and-seek on the side of the road and after sunset, we stop the vehicle to spend time observing the Southern Pride of lions rousing from their slumber and stretching their jaws. There are six youngsters and five lionesses and their early evening antics make for spectacular viewing.
We decide to go straight to dinner after our game drive as we are famished. The buffet style food caters to a variety of palates and whether you are vegetarian or carnivorous, there will be something for you to feast on. Our waitress, Petunia Mkansi, takes our order for soup and starters, after which we are free to help ourselves to food. The chefs are at hand to grill your meat order to perfection and if you are still hungry, you can go back as many times are you wish. You will never go hungry at Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge.
Despite being accommodated very close to the main lodge, we are escorted to our room as the reserve isn’t fenced so animals can stroll around at their leisure. We are staying in suite 15, and the layout of rooms at Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge is so widespread that you would never know that there are 25 rooms in total. The suite is more than adequate in size for the three of us and my daughter is content to have her own ‘wing’ with a bed, air conditioner and en-suite bathroom with shower.
We recline in the lounge area before making use of the pristine bathroom facilities – I luxuriate in a bubble bath with the magnificently fragrant Charlotte Rhys bath and shower products. The extra-large king sized bed is so enormous that I can almost position myself diagonally across it without disturbing my husband.
After a good night’s sleep with the only disruption being the sound of rain on our skylight, we cover up with ponchos on the game drive vehicle as the dark clouds look threatening enough for us to huddle together. With no roof on the vehicle, we are at the mercy of the elements and when the first drops start to fall we hope the game drive will not get washed away. Angelique and Voster spot a herd of elephants and we start following them through the bush. The herd is substantial in size and we all grab our cameras to photograph the cutest ‘baby baby’ elephant as we name him. He is so tiny he is completely obstructed by the other elephants in the herd. Three elephant bulls put on a show while having a sparring match and much to everyone’s amusement, the one has a ‘face-plant’.
An agitated male leopard is seeking refuge in the dry riverbed, showing his displeasure with a snarly grimace. He is breathtakingly beautiful but so swift that we abandon following him. Back at the lodge, breakfast is served and again, you can eat to your heart’s content. A lovely feature at Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge is the focus on children – with their own Kid’s table at breakfast, offering cereals, yoghurt, smoothies, pancakes and Oreos. To ward off any boredom kids could experience, there is the EleFun centre, catering to children of all ages with a variety of activities – from arts & crafts, obstacle courses, a mini zip-line, slip & slide to sport games. My daughter has a lot of fun doing sand art and making a bracelet. The daytime temperature has warmed up enough for the kids to enjoy a swim while I sit watching the passing game at the watering hole.
A buffalo lies immersed in a pan, much to the delight of two oxpeckers who try to clean the inside of the buffalo’s ear. He shakes his head in annoyance while continuing his reprieve from the hot day sun. After our drinks stop, the search lights come out to look for the nocturnal animals. We see him lurking in the shadows, expediting his pace – a gorgeous leopard searching for prey. He loses us in the shrubbery and appears brandishing a scrub hare that has met his fate and will serve as a snack.
Tonight, we dine in the Bush Lodge outdoor grill, dining on an array of delicacies with a South African twist. The next morning, after a restful night, we embark on our last game drive. A giant land snail slithers across the road, but my incessant silent cajoling for a leopard to make its appearance has paid off – he is found at Earth Lodge, Room 6. Since the radio message came through, he has managed to kill a common duiker.
The elderly leopard is seemingly floating on a tree branch, enjoying every single morsel he is ingesting. Two hyenas are anxiously waiting for any scraps to land their way and this sight is not for the faint-hearted – the leopard is savouring the entire animal and the sound of breaking bones is almost too much to bear. We wait for him to finish his meal and descend the tree, which he does very ungracefully, almost losing his balance on a lower branch. Just another incredible day at Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge.
| Photographs courtesy of Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge, by Heléne and Jodie Ramackers
Views expressed are the author’s own.
* Thank you to Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve for arranging our stay.
* The closest airport to Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge is Skukuza Airport.
* Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge is situated in a low-risk malaria area. Speak to your healthcare practitioner before travelling about anti-malaria prophylactics.
* Kruger National Park has summer rainfall (November to March), making it lush and green.
* Winter is the dry season with lower temperatures and pleasant, sunny days.
*When entering Kruger National Park and Sabi Sand, you will be liable for an entrance fee as well as a conservation fee, which you can settle at Skukuza Airport or added to your Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge account.
Airlink is a privately owned Airline business. The Regional Feeder Airline offers a wide network of regional and domestic flights within southern Africa and operates as a franchisee to SAA.
Route Specific Information: Direct scheduled flights between Johannesburg and Cape Town to Skukuza Airport, Kruger National Park.
Connectivity: Through our alliance with SAA travellers can connect conveniently with SAA, their Partner airlines and other carriers throughout Southern Africa and the world.
Frequent Flyer Programme: Airlink is a member of South African Airways (SAA) Loyalty programme – Voyager.
Websites: www.flyairlink.com and www.skukuzaairport.com
Flight Bookings: online, booking agent or SAA Central Reservations +27 11 978 1111.