The sounds of safari

It’s so quiet that I can hear the crunching of bones as a baby leopard eats what its mother has brought it, some unlucky antelope. She sits close by with her eyes closed, and pants. We’re in a safari vehicle, so close that I can smell the blood from the carcass. That’s the one thing that I found most incredible about my first safari, the sounds and the smells. I’ve watched a lot of amazing footage of South Africa on the National Geographic Channel but it’s the real sounds and the smells that make the big difference.

I can hear a hooting call off in the distance. I think it could be an owl close by in a tree, but my guide tells me it’s a wild dog calling to its pack, telling them something is nearby to eat or just to identify itself. He tells me that it’s farther off than I think because it makes this sound at the ground so the sound will travel farther. I listen to it again with even more interest and amazement. Unfortunately, the wild dogs eluded us for our entire stay. Our guide told us the wild dogs of South Africa are very hard to find as they are often moving and at rapid pace. They need to catch their prey with their pack and eat fast, as there is always a bigger or more ferocious animal approaching to take it from them. 

Safaris are as popular as ever and it continues to be a lifelong wish of many to experience these majestic animals in their natural habitat. Right now there are more lodges than ever to choose from in South Africa. For a first timer, the big difference in the experience will be about which lodge you choose. Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve is a family-owned private reserve resort that is comprised of four separate lodges: Bush Lodge, which has 25 suites; Selati Camp with eight; Little Bush Lodge with six and Earth Lodge with 13 suites. All the lodges at Sabi Sabi are very luxurious.

From the comfortable accommodation with private plunge pools at the Earth Lodge; gourmet meals and spa treatments available at the Bush and Earth lodges; there is everything you need to make your experience the best it can be. All of the lodges have a boma dinner. The boma is a traditional South African enclosure using natural elements such as branches or bushes to keep livestock safe from predators. At Sabi Sabi, the boma dinners are amazing. Protected from those hungry predators, barbeques are set up to grill African game meats, an assortment of salads and desserts all under the stars. It’s such a fantastic way to end the day.

After dark, all guests must be escorted by an employee when walking to their suites. With all of the lodges only enclosed by a small fence, the animals are free to wander in whenever they choose. Many an elephant has chosen the lodge’s gardens and trees for a feed. “Oh well, it’s their land”, says the general manager as the giant pachyderm happily chews up the most recently planted shrubs. Such is life in South Africa.

The service at Sabi Sabi is flawless, with staff always ready to assist with whatever is required, including providing information on wildlife since this is their homeland and they have grown up with these animals around them.

A typical day on our safari began with a knock on the door at a little after 5am. Knowing that it was safari time soon was an amazing feeling. Dawn and the cool African air with its smells of the bush are incredibly invigorating and exciting. Our quick pre-breakfast of coffee, fruit and freshly baked muffins – prepared for us on the common balcony – our chauffer-driven convertible truck is waiting to drive us around the African bush on a clear, cool morning with the sun rising – what a start to a day! This is the morning drive we are on. Being a national park, the animals go about their lives and will graze and move at their whims. I say this because every safari is different. Some days you may see elephants or hyenas and not the lions that you wanted to. Other days it may be giraffes and zebras and no leopards. If you go out on the drives with no expectations of what you want to see, you will appreciate your experience so much more.

All of the guides have communications with the other guest safari trucks, so if one group observes a particular animal, then they will radio the other trucks to inform them as well. With Sabi Sabi being a private game reserve, you won’t ever see more than two other vehicles observing an animal. Often times, we were alone and had the animals all to ourselves.

After a couple of hours we stop for a quick break. Our guide and tracker quickly set up a table and coffee, waters and snacks appear. We stand around and chat for a while and then head back to the truck for another hour until we go back to the lodge for full breakfast by 9:30am. After a leisurely breakfast, we go back to the suite for the hotter part of the day, where we sit by the pool and have a rest to recuperate after such an early start. We were lucky to have a family of elephants for company and watched them cool off in the distant water hole. Soon after some giraffe joined us – all this from our lounge chairs in the shade. Breakfast seems like just an hour ago, but soon lunch is served. We often just ate salads at lunch but full lunches are available.

After another short period of downtime, we are advised that we need to get ready for the afternoon game drive and be at the vehicle by 4pm. It was my favourite drive of the day. I loved leaving in the late heat of the afternoon and being out in the bush for the sunsets, they are magnificent.

After driving for an hour or so, we find a nice spot for our afternoon break, again quite a set up with waters, drinks, beers and some tasty snacks (not to mention gin and tonics, yes). We sat near a lake and watched and listened to a group of hippopotamus’ fight, fart and snort – it was great fun. During this time of the day, the light drops down as well as the temperature. The stars came out and we continued our drive. Sitting back with a blanket on the cold drive home, our tracker shone his light and scanned for signs of life. The nocturnal animals were out and in search of dinner. We were really fortunate one night to see a honey badger foraging. I could tell this was special when our tracker, who has been doing this for 15 years, said that it was only the third one he has ever seen. We also had to drive around a small pack of hyenas that decided they were bedding down in the middle of the dirt road. Oh well, it’s their land.

The drive back in the dark was particularly special, with super clear skies showing all of the shining stars, the fresh and cool night air made me ready for dinner. We arrived back by 8pm normally if we weren’t diverted to go see some lions or some other animal somewhere. Freshen up or go straight to dinner is the choice – dinner is ready when you are. Usually as soon as dessert was finished, so were we.

The day started early again and I couldn’t wait to see what we were going to find in the morning. Hopefully, something as exciting as the leopard family and their recent kill that they dragged up into the tree to feast on – an unforgettable sight.

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