COOL FOR BIG CATS
Cool for big cats - Luxury Travel Magazine
|By: John Borthwick, Issue 49 Summer 2012|
|THERE’S BEEN NO HUNTING ON THE SABI SABI RESERVE IN SOUTH AFRICA’S MPUMALANGA PROVINCE FOR OVER 30 YEARS WHICH IS|
WHY AFRICA’S PREDATORS PARADE UNPERTURBED BEFORE, BEHIND AND EVEN UNDER JOHN BORTHWICK’S LAND ROVER ON HIS TWICE-DAILY GAME DRIVES.
|Such is lunch in Africa. Not 50 metres from my table a large and leathery elephant is siphoning a huge drink from a pool. Then, with spinnaker ears flared wide and trunk aloft, she sluices herself with the grandmother of all showers.|
A younger elephant in need of the same cooldown soon joins her. The floorshow eventually moves on and, putting down our cameras, we guests can return to an excellent chilled green pea soup entrée. “Expect the extraordinary” might well be the motto on the menu here at the Earth Lodge in Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, some 500 kilometres east of Johannesburg.
Heat gusts off the plains. The lion sleeps today, as does almost everything except these elephants, a few chittering birds and the burbling plunge pool in front of my suite. Heat and hunger are the imperatives that shape the day for animals and guests alike. Early each morning we climb into open-topped safari cars to roam, creature-spotting, across the 6,700 hectares of Sabi Sabi Reserve. These are the tranquil, temperate hours in which many species come out to drink and graze, and in some cases to hunt their fellow drinkers and grazers.
In a typical three-hour morning cruise, our driver-guide Brett Du Bois and extraordinarily sharp-eyed tracker Antony Ubissi bring us without fail to where the lion and antelope play, not to mention the kudu, gnu, mongoose, baboon, eland, leopard, hippo, rhino, giraffe, vulture, impala, duiker and most members of the African Ark, bar the cheetah and zebra. With the onset of midday heat this grand menagerie retreats to rest and conserve energy. Around 4.30pm when it’s again cool for cats, the animals begin to forage once more and we, too, head out again. We track them until dusk, halting midway for a very civilised sun-downer at the appointed magic moment.
On each excursion Africa’s predators, along with sundry herbivores, parade unperturbed before, behind and even under our Land Rover. Because there has been no hunting here for over 30 years the leopards, for instance, are so at-ease near humans that they prowl nonchalantly beside us. Similarly, a pride of 13 lions – mothers and cubs – that we follow during two days, treats our mount as no more than a dumb metal dinosaur worthy of neither eating nor fleeing. The older lionesses are far more concerned with two grizzly
males stalking them, seemingly intent on hunting their young cubs for a lazy lunch. Yes, we humans aren’t the only cannibals.
Wild, vast and dramatic, Sabi Sabi Reserve in South Africa’s Mpumalanga Province shares fenceless borders with its enormous neighbour, Kruger National Park and all that roam within. For many of those creatures the playbook of life is basically “kill and be killed.” Fortunately, life for us is far more genteel in the newly refurbished Earth Lodge, the premium accommodation among Sabi Sabi’s four luxury lodges.
The other three lodges – Selati Camp, Bush Lodge and Little Bush Camp – are superb examples, in sepia, as it were, of classic, African colonial-style design and décor. By way of contrast, Le Corbusier wearing an Afro might have designed the unique Earth Lodge. Its 13 stand-alone guest suites and main receptiondining buildings are low-set, austere, modern concrete constructions in earth tones, recessed into the hillsides. My “Bwana bunker” (so to speak) is very smartly appointed with art, Wi-Fi and good lighting, and no television. Instead of CNN I have panoramic windows that look out across the plains, there to reveal at times rhino, elephant or waterbuck.
The Earth Lodge suites are cool, enormous (108 square metres) and blessed by a bathroom you could almost live in – huge tub and torrential shower – plus that outdoor plunge pool. Meanwhile back at the public areas – reception, bar, spa, dining, library and wine cellar – there’s plenty to explore and savour. The cuisine is contemporary and international, with occasional game meat such as tender gemsbok venison, plus an impeccable, all-South African wine list.
Our guides are superstars at finding needle- in- a-haystack creatures, but the good cheer and general loveliness of the less celebrated local staff, such as waiters, cannot go un-remarked upon. Pointing to the full moon, one woman explains to me that where we Westerners see “the man in the moon”, Africans see a mother and child. Once you know it, you’ll never miss it.
Sabi Sabi Reserve is prolific with both bigname game and less lauded creatures. Among the latter is the elegant champagne bird, which has changed its name from “black-bellied bustard” – as you would. And there’s no-one’s favourite, the dour buffalo, whose split carapace of horn resembles a barrister’s grubby wig or, when riled, psychosis with a centre-part. Such is the huge variety at Sabi Sabi that the constant, post-safari question, “Did you see the Big Five?” quickly becomes banal. My answer was, “No. But we did see the Big Twenty.”