A PIONEERING APPROACH TO CONSERVATION UNDERPINS A BREATH-TAKING SAFARI EXPERIENCE AT SABI SABI.
“Always be scanning the horizon,” advise the team as I check into Sabi Sabi’s luxurious Earth Lodge in eastern South Africa. Unfenced and fully integrated within the bush, this stunning setting swiftly brings with it a vivid realisation of my proximity to nature at its most iconic – a feeling that remains undimmed as I get to know the neighbours – the inquisitive warthogs who join us at lunch, the kudus grazing the surrounding bush and a vociferous hippopotamus occupying the waterhole just 50 metres away.
Privately owned since 1979, the resort sits within the Sabi Sands private game reserve – ecologically integrated with Kruger National Park to the north – is home to an incredibly diverse population of wildlife, including, thrillingly, an opportunity to spot the Big Five in their natural habitat. Sabi Sabi’s four lodges are spread throughout the reserve and each come with their own personality, with Earth Lodge a charismatic blend of traditional African art and clean-lined modernism. Its 13 elegant suites each feature a private pool and bush views, while additional touches include easels and watercolours for the artistically inspired.
Lux Suite Exterior
And there’s plenty to spark the imagination. Each day starts early, with a pre-dawn wake-up call preceding a morning drive led by charismatic double act Jamiel, our ranger, and local Shangaan tracker Patrick, with their deep knowledge of the bush delivered with expert insight and good humour. It doesn’t take long before our first close encounter.
After Patrick spots tracks in the dust, we tentatively head off road and past a thicket, where we come across a true local legend – a 13-year-old male lion accompanied by one of his sons. Languid and unperturbed, he looks at us and yawns before returning to sleep as Jamiel immerses us into his compelling narrative. Ousted from his pride by young pretenders, yet too old to join another, teaming up with his progeny has given him a far stronger chance of survival. “The only way I can describe it is a real-life Game of Thrones,” adds Jamiel.
Earth Lodge Water
Many more unforgettable moments follow – a herd of elephants gathered by a waterhole at sunset; a crash of white rhinos with their young; a rare sighting of the tough-to-track wild dogs; and – on our final night – a heart-stopping close encounter with a leopard. All accompanied by a host of Sabi Sabi special touches – scenic sundowners, ad hoc riverside breakfasts and a fascinating guided bush walk, which all provide compelling conversation starters at mealtimes – sophisticated spreads accompanied by a sizable South African wine list.
Central to Sabi Sabi’s is an impressive commitment to conservation. Strict safari etiquette ensures animals are witnessed displaying natural behaviour and, by engaging in daily habitat management, anti-poaching initiatives and wildlife research, the resort has played a key role in not only safeguarding these endangered species but helping them flourish. As I depart Earth Lodge, swapping the bumpy prop-plane to Johannesburg for the rarefied surroundings of Qatar Airways’ business class cabin, I feel enriched, my Earth Lodge experience equipping me with memories to last a lifetime.
Lux Suite Bedroom
It proves an apt choice of airline, too, with Qatar Airways’ Rewild the Planet programme designed to fight wildlife trafficking and illegal trade of animals. Working in conjunction with NGOs, the company repatriated seven rescued lions to South Africa last year, building upon the transfer of Eric, an endangered black rhino from San Diego Zoo to a new home in Tanzania a few years before. Small steps that – supporting the work of pioneering safari destinations like Sabi Sabi – gives renewed hope for the continued existence of these majestic beasts.
by Ben Olsen
Rooms at Sabi Sabi private game reserve start from R16,000 per person sharing per night; sabisabi.com
Qatar Airways flies from London to Johannesburg, from £740 economy and from £3,499 business class: qatarairways.com