We made it to Africa! As the greatest rewards for our 23-hours of travel, we went straight on safari in the Sabi Sands region of Kruger National Park. The South African bushveld is so spectacular that any old camp would have been more than enough, but to take this mind-blowing safari expedition up a notch, we experienced it with Sabi Sabi. Rated among the top 15 hotels in the world by Travel + Leisure, Sabi Sabi has four top-notch camps on their 5,000-hectare game reserve and we got to stay in the most prestigious of them all, Earth Lodge. This lodge knows luxury but, most importantly, they know the bush. Bringing us closer to the Big Five then we ever thought possible in three days, our South African safari experience was the grandest welcome to the continent.
When we opened the doors to our suite, we swooned. Not only was it as big as our Hoboken, NJ apartment, it was decorated to perfection. From the dramatic wood wall sculpture that stretched the length of the room to the plush texture of the embossed velvet pillows, it may have been the most exquisite hotel room we’ve ever seen. The goodies in and out of the room were so thoughtful and totally decadent. Taking our complimentary decanter of sherry out to the lounge chairs beside our private plunge pool (yes, you read that correctly), we started our animal sightings from the comfort of our patio. Talk about luxury!
Each morning with French-press coffee and blueberry rusks in hand, we went out to watch the African sun cast its golden rays over the grasslands. Shortly after, our safari vehicle would greet us around 6:30am with a wool blanket, hot water bottle, and binoculars to help us fully appreciate the ride through the open-air Land Rover.
Thanks to the incredible skill of our safari leader Mike and our fearless tracker Patrick we were able to get within a few meters of every single one of the Big Five (lions, rhinos, elephants, leopards and cape buffalo).
One of the best parts of safari is parking the vehicle and allowing nature to run its course all around you. Preoccupied with their cape buffalo kill, this pride of 12 adults and six lion cubs barely noticed us watching them feast, nap, play and go about their evening.
With all the big cats busy digesting, this lion cub got his chance at the meat. Putting his new incisors to the test on a rib cage five times his size, this cute cub would make even a vegetarian say awwwwwww.
Cape Buffalo are one of the fiercest animals in South Africa, constantly honing their battle techniques fighting off lions and rival herds. If this old codger could talk we’re certain his war stories would fill volumes.
With four game drives and one walking safari under our belt we had seen four of the Big Five, only missing the elusive leopard. Patrick and Mike were not going to let us leave Sabi Sabi with an 80% on our report card. On our last game drive we rounded the corner to find this incredible cat protecting his dinner from the hyenas below. At one point the leopard dropped the 75kg kudu from the tree, forcing him to leap down 15 feet to clutch it in his jaws and scamper back up the tree as two hyenas literally leaped for the carcass. It was straight out of a National Geographic (view this rapid-fire photo sequence here).
While many people go to Africa in search of the Big Five, we think the bird life is often times just as majestic as the mammals. Here, a Lilac Breasted Roller (or “troupant” in Afrikaans) perched on a tree branch, dancing around and fluffing his feathers with each snap of the shutter. Fun Fact: In Afrikaans culture, it is said that the man used to propose by wrapping a feather from the troupant (which translates to wedding ring) around his wife-to-be’s finger.
The shapes you find in the African wild are like nothing you will find anywhere on earth. This elephant ear was calling my name and the texture of his skin created a wonderful juxtaposition to the sun’s shadows.
An evening drive isn’t complete without a “sundowner.” We had never heard of such a thing until Africa but now we’re in love with the concept: When the sun goes down, stop what your doing, have drink, and toast the day! To take this idea to the next level, Earth Lodge sets their sundowners up with a full bar and appetizers served on a magical cocktail table hooked to the hood of the car.
As the sunlight bled from the sky over the Sabi Sands and most would assume the day has come to a close, our tracker Patrick fired up his spotlight for the night game drive. We spotted a slew of nocturnal critters as we wound our way back to camp for a delicious dinner and a night of unforgettable story swapping.
We couldn’t believe just a few days prior we were in America then scrambling between international airports (good thing we had flight insurance) to arrive a world away and in a world apart. Africa had quickly stolen our hearts and filled us with hope for an amazing three months across the continent.