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Issue 17
Africa Travel> Issue 17
UPDATED: July 10, 2015
Heaven on Earth
Sabi Sabi – a South African wildlife oasis with a glowing global reputation
By Jo Kromberg

Rustic luxury (Louis Donald)

You can never go home, they say. And when I finally end my perpetual quest for this ubiquitous "they" and located "them", I will tell "they" that "they" are poor, cynical creatures never having experienced a place such as Sabi Sabi. For here I am, for the second time. Home. And this is exactly what it feels like. Already the bleak cold of Johannesburg seems like a far off memory when the 25 degree heat of Sabi Sabi wraps itself around us after the hour-long flight on Airlink – which

connects passengers to 35 destinations in nine African countries - into the beautifully revamped Skukuza airport in the Kruger National Park of South Africa. I breathe again. Deeply. The enveloping warmth of the bush is like mouth-to-mouth resuscitation administered to an almost atrophied soul. 

"Welcome!" says Matt, our driver, with a beaming smile. "The trip to the lodge will take at most an hour, depending on the game we see along the way."

We are welcomed at Bush Lodge with a lovely drink from Lawrence Lyndie and shown to our palatial bungalows. The suites are a delight with separate room leading out from the main bedroom featuring a daybed and classic Victorian desk and lamp as well as a humungous bathroom with bath and indoor and outdoor shower, leafing into the outdoors with a veranda overlooking the bush.

Accommodation in tune with nature (Louis Donald)

Global reputation

 "'Tshmakahle' – this means stay well in my home language Shangaan." So says the letter from my personal butler Patricia, which I find on the desk in my room. Such are the little subtle touches that put Sabi Sabi in a class of its own. Other personal, thoughtful gestures in the rooms include throws everywhere, a daybed, complimentary  sherry and letter addressed to you personally indicating the weather for the following day and also a beautiful turn-down at night with your gown, pillows and chocolate laid out for you, muted colours and luxury yet understated fabrics.

No wonder it has such a global reputation for excellent, finesse and class. Since 1979 Sabi Sabi has hosted visitors from all over the world. Situated in the world-renowned 65000 hectare Sabi Sand "Wildtuin" in the South-Western section of the Kruger National Park, it is a veritable wildlife oasis.

Lunch consist of tilapia fish with a delicious lime sauce, the usual luxury buffet fare as well as exotic things like crocodile carpaccio and venison.

A siesta between lunch and high-tea gives me the chance to just sit and revel in the sounds of the bush on my veranda.

World lodge recognition from National Geographic (Louis Donald)

Fountain of bush knowledge

Our game ranger for the afternoon drive is a gregarious and larger-than-life character called Jabulani. Almost part of the furniture, Jabulani has worked here as a guide for almost 25 years and his knowledge – ass well as the way he imparts it – is scarily impressive. He tells us that female impalas can delay their pregnancy for up to two months if there is no rain or other nature factors not conducive to the birth of the babies. We take in a beautiful sunset while he regales us with tales of the bush and his illustrious experiences over a gin and tonic. There is nothing about anything this man doesn't seem to know regarding his environment and he makes the smallest, seemingly insignificant thing fascinating. "It is not just the animals, it is everything around you in the bush," he observes sagely. Sabi Sabi is home to the Big 5 - lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo and elephant - as well as cheetah, wild dog and some 200 other animal species indigenous to the area, including more than 300 bird species.

Wine cellar to please the most discerning tastes (Louis Donald)

A couple of hyenas sniff around us in the last light of day and we decide to pack up and head back to the lodge for a boma barbecue feast by candlelight and lanterns.

Before that we run into a herd of about 600 buffalo in the darkness – exciting stuff!!

Jabu joins us for dinner and as he tells us tales of life, the universe and everything under the winter night sky, a German word comes to mind. Germans, not the world's leading authorities on human and social interaction did however invent the one word which talks to all of us as warm, relating human beings – mensch – and that is exactly what Jabu is.

Later I sit silently outside on the patio, listening to the quintessential bush sounds – the bone-chilling laughter of hyena, the cries of a jackal far away and the intermittent deep grumble of a feasting lioness.

Leopard on guard (Louis Donald)

National Geographic rated lodge

The next morning after a scintillating breakfast, it's time travel time.

The Sabi Sabi philosophy of 'yesterday, today and tomorrow' stems from over 100 years of safari experience; a history richly woven into the atmosphere of each of its four uniquely individual safari lodges - Selati Camp, Bush Lodge, Little Bush Camp and Earth Lodge.

Selati Camp is located under ancient trees and takes you back to a decadent, luxurious colonial era, filled with decorative memorabilia of great white hunters and gin and tonic sunsets. The entire camp seems drenched in palpable and pervasive serenity. The Presidential Suite has a 360-degree view of the bush outside and if you don't like the sound of your own voice, don't speak while in the en-suite bathroom. The echoes will haunt you...

The last of the Lodges we visit represents "tomorrow" – Earth Lodge.

De-stress at the Earth Spa (Louis Donald)

This place is like nothing I have ever seen. The walls are made of a mix of concrete, sand and grass, made to resemble the genuine walls of mud huts in the villages. and all the colour hues are earth colours. The toilet in your room is self-flushing and apart from the in and outside showers and massive oval bath, you also have your own splash pool.

To qualify as a National geographic Unique Lodges of the World, you need to tick some pretty serious boxes. and Earth Lodge has it in spades, pardon the pun. "In spectacular places all over the world, we have singled out rare retreats," They say about the criteria on the website. "These are not simply hotels, they are the concepts of dreamers come to fruition: unique lodges that defy the imagination in their design and detail, founded on a deep desire to protect the cultures and precious ecosystems that surround them."

Sculpted into a slope of the earth, almost invisible in the landscape, Earth Lodge uses texture, light and space to present a lodge like no other. Taking its cue from the surrounding environment, it has been described as the most environmentally sensitive lodge in Africa. It almost feel like you are entering a bunker so indistinguishable is the entrance from the outside mound.

African dream (Louis Donald)

Earth Lodge reveals itself in a series of sensory revelations. On arrival a hidden corridor leads you down on a journey to a unique and unforgettable experience. The unexpected entrance opens to a panorama of bushveld. Home to 13 ultra-luxurious suites including the Amber Presidential Suite, the lodge breaks with traditional bush lodge style to create a masterpiece of artistry and innovation. Each of the suites at this luxury lodge features individually designed furniture, en-suite glass fronted bathroom and indoor and outdoor shower. The natural wooden sculptures by renowned South African artist Geoffrey Armstrong add a powerful magic.

The outdoor boma, its walls sculpted from tree roots and piled up piece by piece, captures the drama of the African night and evokes the power of the wilderness.

An indoor/outdoor dining area overlooking a waterhole and unending bushveld, a secluded library, art gallery, meditation garden; and an underground wine cellar with a collection of over 6000 bottles of rare wines, the venue for an unforgettable dining experience - everything at this luxury lodge has been created for your indulgence.

While on safari escape to the Amani Spa at Earth Lodge and indulge in holistic body, skin and beauty rituals, treatments and massages. Nadia and Liezl are our charming hosts and lunch is served. Carrot soup, pangasia fish and heavenly salted caramel chocolate tart make up the daily changing menu apart from the gourmet grub like burgers, wraps and salads. The coriander roast chicken salad is a triumph.

I forgo the afternoon drive to luxuriate in my private cocoon for an afternoon nap followed by a delicious and decadent bubble bath in the oval tub while looking out at the sunset. I am of course later filled with regret as I hear the others relating excitedly the lions and leopard they saw. Oh well….

Ranger Mike joins us for drinks before dinner and his astounding knowledge and stories have us fascinated and in stitches respectively.

Lioness with her kill (Louis Donald)

The 5-course dinner menu we indulge in could have been plucked from any Michelin star establishment in the world and includes an option of two starters each and three main course. The dishes are varied and excellently designed and include venison carpaccio, beetroot and goat's cheese salad, grilled prawn salad with lime juice as well as coconut and butternut soup as starters and then to-die-for indulgences like Karroo lamb and pan-fried cob as main courses with vegetarian options and malva pudding for dessert. The staff are an experience in itself. Always warm, attentive but never obsequious, they are as much part and parcel of the Earth Lodge experience as anything of the other amazing lovely elements here.

 Earth Lodge is uncontained and unhinged and for anyone yearning for an experience impossible to repeat anywhere, this is the spot…

We retire early but I can't sleep. I keep thinking of having to go back home to a sprawling city, grey masses of people and insidious pollution. But at least I will always have this place.... this place which made my soul breath again...


For further information go to http://www.sabisabi.com/ or contact Sabi Sabi head office:

Phone: +27 11 447-7172

Fax: +27 11 442-0728

E-mail: res@sabisabi.com

Getting there:

Flights from China: There are no direct flights between Mainland China and South Africa at present but many multi-stop airlines will get you here.

Getting to Sabi Sabi by air - Airlink

Airlink operates daily scheduled flights between Johannesburg and Cape Town direct to Skukuza Airport, gateway to the Kruger National Park.

- Airlink also operates convenient direct flights from Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town to Nelspruit KMIA with connecting flights to Livingstone (Vic Falls), Zambia and Vilanculos in Mozambique.

Book a short air transfer flight on Airlink from Nelspruit direct to Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve or an open vehicle road transfer from Skukuza Airport.

Book your flights on line or through your booking agent.

Visit www.skukuzaairport.com or www.flyairlink.com


- 500 km from Johannesburg, an easy five-hour drive on National Roads.

- Road transfers from the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport to Sabi can be arranged on request.

- Sabi is a two-hour scenic drive from Nelspruit. Transfers from the airport can be arranged.

The Sabi Sand Wildtuin (SSW) has advised that, with immediate effect, the gate fees into the reserve will be $16 per vehicle (this applies to vehicles larger than 3.5 tons). There will be a further charge of $4 per person levied.

(All photos courtesy of www.sabisabi.com)

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