Explore Africa’s wildlife without sacrificing comfort at the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve
If you have a travel bucket list, an African safari is probably on it. And they don’t come much better than the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve adjoining Kruger National Park in South Africa.
While everyone travels to Sabi Sabi to admire the wildlife, it’s the lodge’s gourmet cuisine, premium South African wines and luxurious spa treatments that have made it an award-winner.
Every time I ventured on a safari drive with park ranger Marcus Hack and local tracker Patrick Myalungu, they appeared to be men on a mission. Together with five American adventurers, I piled into an open-topped four-wheel-drive as Marcus fired up the motor. Most visitors come to see Africa’s ‘Big Five’ – lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and buffalo. Within the first day, we had seen them all. We were also informed that the name Big Five is actually an old hunting term that reflected the difficulty in shooting the animals.
“It’s better than the zoo and so much more thrilling without the fences,” commented one of the younger members of the group. Patrick sat at the front of the jeep casually motioning with his hands to point out wildlife to our driver/guide Marcus, who swung the vehicle wherever Patrick indicated. Patrick’s uncanny ability to spot wildlife and to remain perched in his spotter’s seat at the front of the vehicle as it bounced and pounced forward was a source of amazement to us all.
As well as the Big Five we saw grazing giraffes and hungry-eyed hyenas lurking in the sparse undergrowth. Wildlife here is so abundant that you almost get impatient with sitting around too long to photograph yet another herd of elephants or a congress of mischievous baboons.
Suddenly, a message crackled across the jeep’s two-way radio and Marcus became animated. “Yes! have I got something really special for you all!” He flattened the accelerator and Marcus off we sped, weaving through the low scrubby bushveld as if we had an important appointment. Naturally, we were all guessing as to what the excitement was as we made final checks on our cameras to ensure we were prepared.
Two other jeeps appeared in a clearing to indicate a sighting, and using a very well orchestrated viewing order, one vehicle departed as we arrived. Despite being well camouflaged, a majestic cheetah was visible just 15 metres away. Completely nonchalant to our existence, it sat on its haunches peering straight through us into the distance.
Photos done, it was time to sit and just relax while admiring the wild cat. After at least 30 minutes, the cheetah slowly spurred into action, firstly bristling the hairs on its neck and then tilting its head forward. It had sensed something between us and the near distance. Naturally Patrick was the first to spot the herd of impalas. Mere mortals like me saw only spindly bushveld until the flicker of a tail here and the startle of a head there indicated the herd, estimated to be in their hundreds by the ever-observant Patrick. As the cheetah stalked slowly across the parched plains, Marcus repositioned the vehicle and followed the hungry cat from a safe distance in accordance with Sabi Sabi’s policy of not chasing animals.
It wasn’t long before the cheetah hit a top speed that according to Marcus, could reach 90kph. But at this speed, they quickly overheat and burn out, he added. From amid the dust and commotion of the dispersing impalas, the despondent cheetah reappeared with its head down in the knowledge that it wasn’t yet time for dinner. The impalas had cheated death once again and life on the bushveld returned to calm.
On the way back to the lodge for yet another gourmet breakfast, we were informed that cheetahs were indeed a rare sight, only seen a few times a month. Both our guide and tracker were extremely satisfied with their morning’s effort as they had ticked all the boxes for us and fulfilled everyone’s expectations. Now, if only I had captured a glimpse of the rare wild dog that I knew lived in the reserve. Maybe next time.