An experience that money can't buy
Why 24 hours in the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve left me feeling like the luckiest person on Earth.
I was watching a juvenile bateleur preening in a dead tree when I heard guide Mike Palmer whisper, ‘Cheetah.’ Almost immediately there was a collective intake of breath as everyone in the game-drive vehicle refocused their gaze on the cheetah, frozen in the soft morning light.
Its body was poised long and low to the ground. Everything about its posture indicated action, despite the fact that it was standing dead still. Then suddenly, quicker than we could follow, it darted in front of us and out of sight.
Minutes later, easing the vehicle through the thick bush, we found it panting with exertion, an impala ewe between its jaws. While the timeless ritual of the hunt is commonplace – it has to be for predators to survive – it’s usually conducted away from the curious eyes of visitors. Sightings like this are incredibly special, even in a place like Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, which is world-renowned for its quality wildlife experiences.
No two trips to Sabi Sabi will be the same because in the bush nothing is predictable. 'We’re incredibly lucky,' confirmed Mike as we sat, tolerated by the cheetah, enjoying the moment. 'Incredibly lucky' was pretty much how I felt throughout my time in the bush. Hosted by Sabi Sabi and the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency, I had joined about 20 specialist travel agents to experience what the province has to offer. We had less than 24 hours in the bush, but it was special from the moment we arrived at Bush Lodge, one of Sabi Sabi’s four luxury lodges in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, which flanks and is open to the Kruger National Park.
I knew I was incredibly lucky when I tasted executive chef Wilfred Mtshali's chocolate, orange and mascarpone cake at high tea, which was better than anything else I can recall tasting. Ever. I knew I was incredibly lucky when we came across a herd of dagga boys (old buffalo bulls) that were taking unadulterated pleasure in a large mud wallow. Watching them rolling and glistening with thick, chocolate-coloured mud in the evening sun gave me a vicarious thrill, and I’ve never wanted to be a buffalo more in my life. I knew I was incredibly lucky when, as the sun set, we stopped to watch it, sipping chilled gin and tonics. As the sky flamed in defiance of the approaching darkness, I realised this was a one-off, never-to-be-repeated show and I was there, watching every second of it.
I knew I was incredibly lucky when, just as the evening's inkiness turned from indigo to black and the heat of the day began to seep away, we spotted a leopard on the hunt. She ignored us completely. I've never felt so lucky to be ignored as I was then, watching her in her element, queen of her domain.
I knew that I was incredibly lucky when we arrived at a lantern-lit dinner in a boma (outside eating area) in the bush, where the soft firelight flickered to the rhythm of a group of dancers and drummers. We ate to a mix of music and night sounds, choosing from a buffet of exceptional variety and quality laid out in the most exclusive, atmospheric dining room of all. I knew I was incredibly lucky when Mike stopped the vehicle on the way home and we listened to the fiery-necked nightjars call while the stars tugged at our eyes and thoughts, turning them upwards and outwards. I was humbled.
Then after a deep, deep sleep, there was a glorious dawn, that young bateleur, the cheetah, a flock of amur falcons, a soulful nyala, the singing of a black-crowned tchagra, and traces of a black rhino that had been feeding on a euphorbia (perhaps the most special sighting of all, even though all we had were tracks and evidence that it had been right where we were not too long before).There were also all the moments in between, the experiences that stitched together a unique tapestry, a set of memories that are mine – to hold on to, to remember and to share. No two trips to Sabi Sabi are be the same because in the bush nothing is predictable. As gorgeous as the accommodation is, as impeccable as the service is and as delicious as the food is, it’s the moments that you can’t control – the unexpected gifts you get on a trip like this – that make this such a luxury holiday.
It's an experience that money can’t buy.
With special thanks to guide Mike Palmer for his excellent photography tips.