A dream destination for all and essential to any once-in-a-lifetime Safari, the name Sabi Sand conjures up images of the best of Safari. This beating heart of the South African bush is the place of fairytale experiences, the closest you are likely to get to Lord Tennyson's "Nature, red in tooth and claw" that we all love from our wildlife documentaries on television.
The World's Finest Safari Lodges
Sabi Sand is blessed with the world's finest Safari lodges where your every whim is fulfilled. Big Five sightings, the order of the day, are orchestrated by trackers out beating the bush from before the spectacular African dawn to promise you great game viewing on your Drives at the start and end of each day.
In between activities, venture out on a guided walk or let the magic of the bush wreak its unique relaxation on you with a supporting cast of drinks around the pool with a view, a treat at the spa, stunning cuisine and long tales around the roaring fire. The sun plummets rapidly into darkness to leave you gazing at the breathtakingly bejewelled sky before turning in to accommodation as sweet as the dreams you will enjoy.
Exclusivity is guaranteed with lodges consisting of the most stylish and luxurious thatched, individual units built after the traditional style, but offering all modern amenities including outdoor showers with stunning views and, in some cases, plunge pools. They ensure privacy and solitude by limiting their capacity to five or six rooms per camp.
This well-known Reserve derives its name from its two perennial rivers whose water, geology and ecosystem ensure it offers a particularly game-rich experience.
Londolozi, a name forever associated with leopards after haunting National Geographic films were made here, blazed a trail in turning African eco-tourism into a luxury pursuit for the super-rich in the 1970s. It remains an extremely high class establishment and charges accordingly.
Sabi Sand routinely cleans up at national and international award ceremonies; recent recipients of acclaim have been Sir Richard Branson's Ulusaba property with its stunning position atop a rock-strewn koppie, and Lion Sands on its perch next to an excellent stretch of the epic Sand River.
The Newington and Shaws Gates are reserved for the use of the southern Lodges. The northern Lodges in "the Sands" (as it gets called) are slightly more affordable. They are a bit more difficult to get to by road via the Gowrie Gate which requires a drive around the outside of the southern part if you are coming from that side. You can fly directly in to any of these areas by charter, or by scheduled flights to Skukuza in the Kruger and the urban centres Nelspruit and Hoedspruit, all serviced from Johannesburg and Cape Town. Airport transfers vary between twenty minutes and 2.5 hours depending on your arrival point and destination Lodge - much of this will be a game drive in big five territory.
Elephant Plains and Nkorho are two Lodges in the northern part of the Sabi Sand Wildtuin occupying prime locations close to the national park boundary (there are no fences allowing free movement of game); both have a reputation for offering good value for money.
A well kept Sabi Sand secret if you are travelling in a group, is that you can take over the entirety of some of Sabi Sand's camps at a price that represents remarkable value. Whilst this destination is usually self-catering, a chef can be arranged, and you benefit from the same excellent rangers and trackers offering morning and evening game drives and walks at the luxury Lodges. You also get a vehicle to yourselves.
SABI SAND SPECIES
Abundant species diversity includes elephant, spotted hyena, leopard, large buffalo herds, rhino, hippo and the rare pangolin.
Various antelope species, from impala, waterbuck and duiker to kudu, bushbuck and nyala can also be seen, as can giraffe and warthog. However, it is the leopard that is the real star of the show at Sabi Sand, with the area well known for some of the best leopard experiences in Africa. This shy and elusive animal, normally the most solitary of the African cats is often viewed both in daylight hours and during game drives.
This daytime hunting habit occasionally creates spectacular sightings of the fastest animal in the world in action. The fascinating social structure of the spotted hyena can also be clearly observed in a number of packs in the Sabi Sand.
Sabi Sand also boasts an ample array of bird life, ranging from water birds, which congregate in the riverside reeds to a staggering array of birds of prey. The bateleur, with its distinctive shape and energy-conserving flight technique, is a frequent sight in Sabi Sandâ€™s skies. Africaâ€™s largest eagle, the martial eagle, is also often spotted on the reserve. Their gigantic nests, in the shape of an inverted cone, decorate many a knob thorn or other large trees throughout Sabi Sand.
A number of lion prides have territories in the Sabi Sand area and are regularly spotted on game drives. Although not as common as the leopard or lion, the cheetah is also occasionally seen at Sabi Sand. Built for speed instead of power, this formidable predator generally hunts during the day when its rivals, the lion and the leopard, are resting.
A WORD ABOUT TRAVERSING
Whilst large Reserves such as Sabi Sand are unfenced and offer freedom within their boundaries to their flora and fauna, the situation is slightly different for you as human visitors. These reserves have grown over time through the incorporation of separate parcels of land in to a larger, unfenced conservation area. These ownership deeds to these pieces of land ("farms") remain in the hands of private landowners. Each Lodge or landowner can choose to enter in to agreements for their guests for reciprocal access (or not) with their neighbours (or land that is farther away).
The result is that these Reserves are effectively a patchwork of separate properties, some of which are accessible to others; some of which are not. Some properties (the highest profile, and typically most expensive), own vast tracts of land and keep them to themselves. Singita, Londolozi and Mala mala fall in to this category. By contrast, certain groups of owners such as the north western Lodges of the Sabi Sand have banded together to provide reciprocal access (these include Dulini, Exeter, Idube, Inyati, Leopard Hills, Leadwood, Savanna, and Ulusaba). Each Lodge is on separately owned land, but they share the area (and sightings) between themselves.
This phenomenon is known as traversing. So, in addition to knowing how big the land your chosen property owns is, it is useful to know how much additional traversing it has.
By terms of raw traversing access, the best off Lodges are the triumvirate of Singita, Londolozi and Mala Mala (they own their own huge pieces of land, and do not traverse outside, or let anyone else in). The north western Lodges share substantial land (those above) and are blocked from the rest of the Sabi Sand to the East by Singita. The north central Lodges have similar arrangements between themselves that vary slightly. Arathusa stands out as having the widest traversing of these, and Cheetah Plains and Djuma Vuyatela are also well-positioned in being the only commercial operators with access to a large tract of land between Sabi Sand and Manyeleti which was the farm Buffelshoek.