Savanna Tented Game Lodge provides a surprisingly comfortable home base for a Sabi Sands safari for familes in South Africa.
For personal comfort level, expectations were kept in check when we arrived at our “tented camp” in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve of South Africa. Sabi Sands is adjacent to the more famous Krueger National Park and a delightful surprise was the Savanna Tented Game Lodge. It’s privately owned and operated by a government-sanctioned ecotourism group which trains park rangers and fosters programs to help preserve the wild life in its natural habitat.
On Safari at Sabi Sands
The Savannah Tented Game Lodge (+27 (013) 751 2474; address: P.O. Box 3619, White River 1240, South Africa) has only nine “suites” or tents, guaranteeing a maximum of eighteen people on safari at any time. Set on a permanent base with stucco walls, working windows and A/C, the overhead is canvassed like a real tent. Inside we find embroidered linens, a marbled bathroom with sunken bath, a glass walled shower, double sinks and separate toilet. So much for roughing it in the Bush!
To see wild animals up close and personal, Savanna is a great place to start, but safety issues are serious. The tents are not fenced in and animals wander around the campsite at will; between sunset and sunrise even adults are escorted to and from their tents by a security guard. That is why Savanna welcomes children over 7 years only.
A Safari Morning
It’s still dark as we gulp down hot coffee following a 5am wake-up call, before boarding the specially equipped Land Rover for our first game-viewing expedition. Duncan, our driver, guide, head ranger and camp manager all in one, works as a team with Ephraim, his “spotter” who sits perched over the left front wheel.
Ephraim looks, listens and points; he rarely speaks. He is the eyes and ears of the expedition, and reads tracks, interprets droppings, notices every tell-tale movement in the bush, and spots birds and animals we would never otherwise see. He soon sees a family of elephants, a pride of lions with tiny cubs, a herd of Cape buffalo, white rhinos and countless impala. The locals call impala “the McDonalds of South Africa – there’s one on every corner and everybody eats them”. They are graceful creatures and, fortunately, prolific breeders for they are low on the food chain in lion country.
As the sun rises, the vast silent plain looks as it must have done for thousands of years and we realize this is home to the animals, it is we who are the interlopers. Duncan quietly tells us that the elephant suckling her youngster not 20 yards away sees our vehicle only in silhouette — we are part of it. Our scent is masked by the vehicle, he tells us, and while this condition is maintained, we are safe.
Exhilarated, we return to camp about 9am for a full English-style breakfast. For those who choose, Ephraim later escorts a walk in the Bush. His encyclopedic knowledge of animals, birds and the environment quickly becomes apparent. He points out flowers, trees and grasses with many different uses, some medicinal, some decorative and some part of local life and folklore. We move warily through the bush, quietly concerned that Ephraim carries only a metal spear, until he demonstrates his skill with it, using a distant tree stump as his target.
We are very impressed; he says, “I’ve never lost a tourist.”
More Sightings in the Bush
Lunch in the shade of a cooling thatch is followed by a cat-nap for those not too busy filling in their “Safari Sightings” list, and soon it’s time for the afternoon drive to a different part of the reserve. We see baboons, more lions — not the same ones, say rangers who recognize them. As darkness falls, we see nightjars, hyenas, ring-tailed bucks and more impala, very alert now it’s getting dark. It’s feeding time for the predators.
Back at camp by 9pm, we join the group around a log fire for drinks and discussion of the day’s sightings and are joined at the dinner table by Duncan and his assistant manager, wife Louise, working mother of 1-year-old Megan, who is being raised here. Isak Dinesen would surely approve! It’s been a long day but already we’re looking forward to our 5am call, to see still more wildlife.
On our pillow a handwritten note reads, “We hope your visit with us was very special. When all the animals are gone, man will die of loneliness.” We treasure it.
More Family Safari Lodges at Sabi Sands
We adored every minute of our stay at the Savannah Lodge, but other sustainable luxury camps have opened here. Some also make more of an outreach to families with younger children.
Ulusaba is a property of Richard Branson in the reserve, and has many family programs such as a Cubs Club and pricing specials for children.
The Exeter River Lodge is another luxury option, with only eight suites. The lodge is not fenced in against roaming wildlife from the Sabi Sands Game Reserve, and you can watch for hours from your private veranda or while soaking in the plunge pool. Bird-watchers will apprciate these private perches to look for the reserve’s more than 300 different bird species, including the Saddle-billed stork and Scarlet-chested Sunbird.
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