Champagne cocktails right in the bush after our afternoon safari drive at the Sabi Sabi Game Reserve
The other day, on safari in Sabi Sabi, one of South Africa’s top private game reserves offering one of the best safari luxury experiences in the world, a ranger asked us an interesting question while we were having champagne cocktails out in the wilderness, after an afternoon safari drive.
We’d just driven around the game reserve for about 90 minutes, and in that short span of time, we’d seen an amazing diversity of wild animals including giraffes, rhinos and springbok.
Then, our ranger found a nice spot to park and he and our tracker took out tablecloths, champagne glasses and a bottle of bubbly for a sunset drink right in the wilderness.
Neil, who was one of our two rangers, during our stay, asked the Boss and myself: “Why did you choose Sabi Sabi?”
I guess what he meant was that, being experienced travelers with a yen for adventure and not very many constraints except time, we could have gone anywhere in the world for a luxury safari experience.
There are a couple of great safari experiences around the world, and Sabi Sabi is definitely one of them.
I answered for us as I had been in charge of choosing the best places to stay in South Africa, while the Boss had been in charge of all domestic logistics, restaurants, and sightseeing.
I replied: “I heard you have great animal sightings and excellent service.“
Our great animal tracking team from Sabi Sabi’s Selati Lodge. We went out everyday at 530 AM and 430 PM for about three hours each time.
A SABI SABI LODGE FOR EVERYONE
I also liked the fact that Sabi Sabi has four different kinds of lodges, catering to all preferences, and each has a specific theme that is carried out beautifully. I stayed in the presidential lodge of the Selati Camp and that was simply an amazing Out of Africa experience.
More on this in a later blog entry.
The Sabi Sabi is part of the Greater Kruger National Park in a land area called the Sabi Sands.
This is where all the great safari lodges in this part of South Africa are, and they’re all next to each other, usually simply marked by a dirt road.
Among the top safari camps in Sabi Sands, there’s quite a bit of competition so jeeps from one safari camp don’t cross over into each other’s territories, and everyone knows where the borders are, even if we guests don’t.
So as long as you’re in Sabi Sands, the playing field is pretty even in terms of animal sightings and the animals you see will be pretty much the same.
It’s all a matter of luck, timing, and the talents of the rangers and trackers.
On the former, a lion may be on one game reserve today, but he may be in the next game reserve tomorrow.
On the latter, the talents and dedication of your ranger and tracker make all the difference in the world.
Here’s a view of Sabi Sabi from the air, by the way…
WE LUCKED OUT
The Boss and I had two wonderful rangers and two excellent trackers, one pair each for each of the two Sabi Sabi lodges we stayed in.
Neil was our ranger during our stay at the Selati Lodge, Sabi Sabi’s intimate and nostalgic 1920s themed lodge.
He was the one who picked us up from Sabi Sabi’s private airstrip when we flew in on a small charter plane from Johannesburg.
I still remember clearly that mixture of amazement and excitement, and anticipation over a wonderful and new adventure, that I had when we flew in from Johannesburg.
Our pilot took us low and advised us to look out our windows in case we saw rhinos or giraffes running around on the game reserve — and beneath me I saw the vast expanse of beautiful Africa.
That’s our ranger Morah, and our tracker who accompanied us throughout our stay at Sabi Sabi’s Earth Lodge.
Then Morah was our ranger during our stay at Earth Lodge, Sabi Sabi’s futuristic but environmental-friendly lodge with a wow factor.
She took us back to the airstrip on our last day, for our flight back to Johannesburg. That was done in a ten-seater plane, by the way, and we only had one pilot.
The Boss was worried that the really tiny plane would freak me out as I don’t like small enclosed spaces, but I took out my Mac for the one-hour flight and I was fine for the trip.
We took this pretty cool Pilatus plane from Johannesburg direct to Sabi Sabi’s private airstrip
ANIMAL LOVERS WITH A PASSION
We were so impressed with our rangers and trackers.
They all love animals with a passion. You can tell if the rangers love what they’re doing or whether they just think it’s a job by the way they keep photos of recent animal sightings on their mobile phones.
You just know you’re in the company of real animal lovers if they’re showing you photos of baby impalahs or colorful birds on their phone.
THE SECRET IS IN THE DETAILS
The table setting at Selati Lodge in Sabi Sabi in South Africa
The rangers, like almost everyone we met in the staff during our stay, paid keen attention to the quirks and preferences of each guest.
And in our case, we stayed at the smaller and more personalized Sabi Sabi lodges so we really got to know our rangers, and they got to know us.
The Boss and I both like Rooibos tea with no sugar or milk for breakfast, for instance, and just about whenever tea is offered; and I think we were only asked once about how we liked our tea, and from then on it was always served the way we liked it — one pot to share, with no milk or sugar.
Of course, perhaps the most important reason for having excellent, top-notch rangers is the safety factor.
Your life depends on the instincts, discipline and courage of your ranger when you’re out in the bush; and both our rangers were just amazingly dedicated and professional.
A LION IN THE DISTANCE
A four-course dinner by lamplight at Sabi Sabi’s Selati Lodge
One night at Selati Lodge, for instance, we were all having dinner on the terrace on a long and beautifully set-up table, just like a fancy dinner table.
The Boss and I were seated across Neil — your ranger usually joins you for dinner — and we were having a wonderful meal when suddenly a lion roared in the distance.
THE LION’S ROAR
Neil immediately ssaid: “Ssshh. Can you hear the lion roar? That’s 300 meters away.”
What a sound it made.
It also made our hearts beat faster as up till then, we were 36 hours intothe Sabi Sabi safari experience and we’d already seen the Big 4 plus so much more.
This is very unusual, by the way, and we were extremely lucky. It had been a dry spell for lions recently and two couples from Selati Lodge had gone home without seeing the lion.
But if you know the Boss and I, we both don’t stop at just “okay.”
We wanted to see the Big 5 — and we wanted to see the lion.
STRAIGHT INTO THE NIGHT
Neil quietly got up from dinner.
Then while we were enjoying simple but lovely dishes like duck confit and steak, he’d jumped on his jeep and headed straight out into the darkness and the cold to hunt down that lion.
Dinner at Selati Lodge of Sabi Sabi
The Boss and I saw the headlights of his jeep in the distance, from the dining table.
I said to The Boss: “Look at Neil. He didn’t have to do this. He could have said, ‘Right. We’re having dinner, but let’s try and wake up early to see that lion tomorrow.”
MALVA PUDDING OR A LION…
Instead Neil came back, all flushed and excited.
He said to us: “If you’d like to see that lion, we can do so so now after the main course and you can have your dessert afterwards.”
We’re big on dessert, and on that menu that night was Malva pudding, a local specialty that had been on the wishlist of The Boss ever since David Higgs, one of South Africa’s top chefs and right at the helm of the new restaurant Five Hundred in Johannesburg, had served us malva puddingtopped with foie gras for dinner in Johannesburg, a few days before our safari.
The Boss then said: “Let’s have our malva pudding before going out to see the lion.”
Yeah. Of course the lion would be willing to wait for us outside while we had dessert.
I replied: “Are we on safari to eat malva pudding or to see a lion?“
That’s a photo of our tracker and Neil at the wheel, and we’re seated at the back of the jeep. And we’re racing after a lion in the dark!
That kind of put things into perspective for him.
So we jumped into the jeep, bundled up, and had a good half hour up close and personal with a beautiful lion.
If Neil hadn’t been so dedicated — I’m sure he’d had a very long day and was dead tired –– we might not have seen the lion at all during our Sabi Sabi stay.
HAPPY AND ELATED
Selati Lodge of Sabi Sabi in South Africa
Needless to say, the Boss and I returned to Selati Lodge feeling on top of the world. We were so happy.
What an exhilarating feeling it is to have completed seeing all the wild animals on your wish-list, in their natural habitat.
The Boss then said to me: “I can now understand why some people get addicted to the safari experience.”