Tuesday, September 03, 2002

South Africa: part 2

continued from the previous post about South Africa (taken from an article I wrote, published in Preview Magazine).

Toting three cameras, and eight rolls of film we headed to Sabi Sabi Game Reserve in Skukuza, South Africa. An hour away from Jo’burg by plane (five hours by land) the reserve has three lodges all set up to suit different tastes. The Selati Lodge is intimate and best for couples still in the throes of love. Earth Lodge is modern and more suited for families. Being a mom and daughter team on the go, we stayed at Bush Lodge instead. The prices at the reserve are on the higher end of the scale but the staff of Sabi Sabi make you feel like you are getting far more than your money’s worth.

Our three-day tour included four safari drives. Each guest is grouped into vehicles of six and given their own rangers and trackers for the duration of their stay. The morning drives begin at 6am and last until 9am, after which a lavish buffet breakfast is served. There is nothing quite like seeing the sunrise as you drive through the veld to whet your appetite. There’s a mid-morning walking tour through the bush guided by your ranger that brings you up close to the animals. Then there’s a lazy lunch (buffer style again) at the lodge restaurant. After bulking up, retreat to your personal lodge, wash up, sit on the porch and read. Or laze in the main lodge’s pool until you leave for the afternoon safari.

The afternoon drives last from 4pm to 7pm, including a sunset drink taken out in the bush. You cap the day off with a communal dinner at the open-air boma with a blazing fire in the center to give you warmth. Buffet again by the way. Your safari drive group determines dinner seating and your ranger joins you again. He tells you all sorts of interesting factoids throughout your stay. Like did you know that a warthog has zero percent body fat? No wonder its meat (which we had for dinner once) was so tough and stringy. Or did you know that most of the belly of a zebra is actually filled with gas, making it among the most flatulent animals on the African plains?

As if four safaris and full buffet meals weren’t enough, the personal lodges on the reserve are out of this world! A complimentary snifter of brandy, a coffee tray and a large bottle of cold water wait for you. Then there were huge beds, the two sitting areas (one inside, the other out on the porch overlooking the bushveld) and the nicest bathroom I had ever seen. There’s an indoor shower stall, an outdoor shower area and a tub so deep toddler could learn to swim in it. The craziest thing of all? One wall is made entirely of glass so you can look out into the plains while you lazily soak in a bubble bath. I was once in the middle of such a soak when an elephant crossed over from the plains to have a snack from one of the trees right outside our lodge! Intense!

And not only did they think of plush robes for after the bath but they also provided sunblock, mosquito repellent and all the toiletries you think you’ll need. De-ca-dent much? Oh yes, and worth every Rand spent.

It’s almost impossible to want to leave your lodge but there are animals to spot. On our safari drives we saw all shapes and sizes of animals. We saw the Big Five (the leopard, elephant, rhino, hippo and buffalo) along with cheetah, impala, giraffes and all sorts of birds. I kid you not, the entire cast of the Lion King was captured on many rolls of film. The animals have become so used to the jeeps that they walk right up to you, seeing your group as just another large, oddly-shaped creature of the plains.

The best thing about the reserve is that the nature watching doesn’t need to end when your jeep pulls into the lodge. The entire area is built without fences so animals come and go as they please. The same elephant that played peeping Tom to my bath walked into the main areas and trampled through the gardens on an eating binge. Sometimes we would look up from reading by the pool to see a family of monkeys traversing the trees above us. All lodges are built near natural watering holes as well so all throughout the day we would spot wildlife coming over for a sip.

All in all, it was an amazing experience. The drive away from the reserve to make our flight back to Jo’burg was not without it’s sad moments – watching the bushveld disappear as the tiny airport came closer to view. But there was one thing that consoled us – a return trip to the Rosebank and Sandton malls for last minute shopping!

For a visual safari click the link and wander through Skukuza, South Africa

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