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  • Shelley Dark

16. Sabi Sabi Sands

This is the Sabi Sabi story, in one big fat marathon post. You might like to read it in a couple of sittings, or make yourself a big cup of coffee and settle in. 

I know I told you this story about leaving Joburg on our way to Sabi Sabi Sands in an email but I'd like to include it in this post so just skim over it.

We caught the Gautrain to the airport and then were ferried by our driver Sipho (pronounced see-po, photo above) to the light aircraft side of the airport.

As we climbed into the van, I commented on his pleasant aftershave. Yes Mumma, I'm a gigolo and I have to smell good for my ladies. We couldn't help laughing.

We hit a huge bump at speed. The trailer with our luggage flew into the air and we felt the pull as it crashed down hard again. I was so glad I'd insisted on having my computer in the van with me.

Soapie, do you ever have any breakages in the luggage? I asked casually. Helen snorted at the unintentional mispronunciation.

Oh no, never, Mumma, said Sipho, it all has 'FRAGILE' stickers on it.

Our sides are aching again.

a wildlife welcoming committee at Sabi Sabi - photo courtesy Sabi Sabi  

We were on our way north again, this time to Sabi Sabi Sands Bush Lodge on the edge of Kruger National Park.

We flew for an hour under grey skies across a parched brown landscape to arrive at the bitumen airstrip with its stylish low rammed-earth terminal. 

This photo hangs on the wall at Bush Lodge: banker Hilton Loon and his artist wife Jacquie who bought Sabi Sabi in 1980 as a struggling game park with two small lodges. They're now shareholders in a company which employs 250 predominantly local people in an enterprise which has won a Fair Trade award for employment conditions. 

We were met at the airport by Zwa, our guide for the duration of our stay. Thirty-six years old, unassuming and quietly spoken, highly educated and widely read, he has been a generous companion, dedicated to helping us make the best of our stay.

How delightful to see landing stages with steps and railings! At Mashatu the vehicles had vertical metal side-ladders with a decent drop to the ground. We totally failed to master the art of a graceful downward swing and often ended either facing the wrong way or in a heap on the ground.

Our vehicle's identification is B11. Which makes sense now we know what happened to B10.

Bush Lodge's low thatched buildings are totally open.

photo courtesy Sabi Sabi 

There's a two wire electric fence around the lodge compound but it doesn't stop smaller animals. The night before we arrived a leopard had strolled along the space between the open plan deck and dining tables, much to the delighted horror of the guests! Zwa cautioned us against walking from our rooms at night without phoning for an escort. 

The suites have polished concrete floors with throw rugs, an outside seating area, sitting room, bedroom, study area, and the bathroom has both indoor and outdoor shower.

An outdoor shower, with leopards strolling around?????? Note: daylight hours only! Adrenalin and shampoo would be novel companions.

A one-monkey welcoming committee on the chair outside my bedroom.

This is Aaron's equivalent of a guffaw, try as I might to make him laugh over the time we've been here. He's been a tracker for many years, and during that time he's been sending money home to Mozambique to his wife to buy cattle. He's about to retire in November and has 47 cows in his herd. A man of few words, he's thoroughly nice and absolutely dedicated to his tracking work.

This is one of two young male lions who've been seen being hunted away by the females of a fifteen-strong pride. With one eye half closed and cut all over, he's reconsidering his pickup line.

We left him to lick his wounds while we drove on. We're amazed at how quickly Zwa and Aaron can spot a huge variety of birds on our drives. Don't skip over the birds - I'll be giving you a test! 

photo by Dave via Wikimedia Commons

The ground hornbill lives on snakes and reptiles and rarely drinks. Baby chicks fight to the death in the nest so that only one survives, and they're two years old before they become independent of their parents.

photo by Francesco Veronesi via Wikimedia Commons

We saw the very bossy and territorial striped kingfisher. The male and the female face each other, flicking their wings open and shut as they sing to each other. The gentleman beats large prey to death and then holds the food steady while the female tears pieces from it.

This plump little chook which we also saw at Mashatu is called a francolin (pronounced franklin). They're ground dwelling birds who'd rather run than fly, with a hooked beak for digging at grass tussocks and root balls for their food. 

This the yellow-billed hornbill whose beak is huge in comparison with its body. Interestingly they have long eyelashes! Like the ground hornbill, the female builds herself and her eggs into a mud prison inside a hole in a tree with only a slit for the male to pass food through.  

In her self-made spa, she sheds all of her flight and tail feathers simultaneously and regrows them. Once the chicks are half-grown, she breaks out of the nest to help the male while the clever chicks rebuild the wall. When they're fully grown, they break out too.

The colourful lilac breasted roller nests in a hole in a tree and the eggs are incubated by both parents, who gamely take on raptors and other birds to defend their babies. During the breeding season the male shows off for prospective girlfriends by flying to great heights and descending in flashy rolls and swoops and dives.

This striking bird is the cape glossy starling which flies in large flocks and is very clever at imitating sounds. Zwa says he eats fat ants.

​We've seen several herds of twelve or more elephants grazing peacefully, stringing out across the bush or drinking at the camp waterhole. ​ 

This little comedian was scratching his head, experimenting with his trunk, pretending to pick things up and put them in his mouth. Just like a baby.

This little one was thirsty. Elephant teats are between the front legs, not the back. He'd wander behind his mother for a while, then become distracted and be left behind with his head stuck in the middle of a bush. Mother would stand patiently, waiting for him to wake up and follow her.

As Mum passed the front of the vehicle, she suddenly decided she didn't like having us so close to the path she wanted to take. She walked right up to tracker Aaron, shook her ears at him, took another step forward and stood there, staring threateningly. He sat immobile.  

Helen and I froze. In that instant we both thought she was going to keep coming. She shook her ears again in irritation then another malevolent stare. Everyone sat still. She trumpeted a loud scolding and then turned to walk slowly away as if all was forgotten, calf ambling nonchalantly along behind.

Zwa said they hadn't been worried, she's a young twelve-year-old cow and they knew she wouldn't keep coming - in their experience, only the matriarch of this herd would ever be likely to attack a vehicle. 

This is head chef Enoch. Lunches are buffet style with attractive salads, cold cuts, cheeses and hot dishes. Each evening he prepares a three course meal served at the table, with a choice of each. Neither of us are very adventurous in our menu choices, but we've had a divine carpaccio of smoked springbok, and the farmed zebra steak was indistinguishable from tough-ish beef. 

Petunia looks after us at each meal.

In the early mornings, it's fun to climb into the game vehicle, full of anticipation, hot water bottles and blankets waiting on the seat. 

A bull elephant disadvantaged by one short tusk has been killed by a stronger male. These hyenas and vultures are breakfasting on the carcase. It's a tough world, isn't it?

Herds of impala were basking in the morning sun.

We recognise them by their pretty twirling horns and the M on their bottom.

We've seen bush babies, bush buck, kudu and nyala too.

This young white rhino gave himself a facial on the roots of a tree.  He's near B10 territory. The significance of the name B10? You guessed it. He destroyed that vehicle. Plus the private car belonging to the lodge's interior designers. He's a grumpy old man who doesn't take kindly to trespassers on his territory.

When we saw B10 approaching HIS waterhole, Zwa stopped the vehicle without switching off the engine. B10 ignored the water hole and started making his way towards us. Zwa drove forward. B10 kept coming. Zwa drove forward. B10 didn't falter. Zwa pressed the accelerator and B10 stopped to watch us drive away before turning back to have his drink. Another invasion averted.

Zebras each have their own 'barcode', and a mother stays away from the herd until her foal can recognise her particular marking.

Lions like hunting zebras because they're so fat, but their stripes make it harder for a lion to single one out.

A mother giraffe and her calf eating foliage from a tree. If threatened by a lion, giraffes are able to kung fu kick with deadly accuracy in all directions.