Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Savanna Private Game Lodge, Sabi Sands

On the 19th and 20th June I had the privilege of staying two nights at the Savanna Private Game Reserve in the western sector of the Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve, as part of my educational trip to that part of South Africa. The object was to do a site inspection of this property, and more importantly for me, to experience the game drives such as those that would be experienced by our clients. Savanna claims that they are in an area where 'Big 5' sightings are so frequent, it would not be unusual to see lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino in a single game drive – this I needed to check out. We have all read the various web-sites of lodges, and most of them make this claim. There is hardly a game lodge in South Africa that will not claim to have leopard on their property, and that their game drives are exceptional - so this had to be verified. Savanna lived up to their claims!
Now the Savanna Private Game Reserve is a quality lodge, from the accommodations to the staff to the game drives. Just as an example, they phoned me at about mid-morning just to see at what time I would arrive, our check-in was handled without any fuss, and the lodge requirements and activities were well explained. During winter their programme is a wake-up call at 05:30, followed by tea/coffee/juice and something to eat, before departing on the game drive at 06:00. Upon your return, brunch is served roughly at about 10:00 (or whenever you return) and then followed by high tea at 15:00 with the afternoon/evening game drive thereafter. One then returns to the lodge to freshen up and enjoy dinner, before following the same programme the next day. Oh, did I also mention that they stop for snacks and drinks during the morning drive and sundowners during the afternoon drive? Well, they do, so if one goes hungry here, there is no-one to blame except yourself.
Now, what to call our accommodation at Savanna? Is it a tent? No. Is it a suite? No. Is it a room? No. Is it a chalet? No. It can best be described as a combination of all of these. We had the Standard Luxury Suite – they also have a Savannah Suite and three executive suites. These luxury suites have brick walls under canvas nestled amid indigenous trees that attract a variety of birds. These suites have an outsized bathroom with free-standing bath, double vanities, shower and toilet as well as outdoor shower atrium. The bedroom has a plush sitting area and a door that opens onto covered patios facing two waterholes in the bush. The bedrooms have draped ceilings creating an atmosphere of romance and intimacy and the tented roof blends into the African bush while solid walls provide quiet and security. What else? Oh yes, an air-conditioner, overhead fan, a bar fridge, plenty of clothing cupboard space, hair dryer and fancy toiletries.




The communal spaces at Savanna Private Game Reserve offer the comfort of the public lounge with its spacious patio, the main pool looking out over the gardens and floodlit waterhole, a barman who is constantly in attendance to ensure the humans' thirst is looked after, a viewing loft above the lounge makes a pleasant nook for a quiet game of chess (if you can find the time that is), as well as a bird's eye view of the waterhole, while an adjoining library provides wireless broadband internet access and offers guests the means to transfer digital photographs, freshly captured on their safari, onto CD or DVD.



Meals at Savanna Private Game Reserve offered gourmet dining as an essential component of the experience. Breakfasts provided full English fare plus fresh fruits, yogurts, pastries, home-made mueslis and 'smoothies'. An innovative lunch buffet offered a large variety of salads, hot meat and vegetable dishes and cheeses. Candle-lit dinners, with traditional local dishes adding spice to the best international fare, were served on the deck of the main lodge. On the second night a sumptuous barbecue was enjoyed under the stars round a blazing fire in an open-air 'boma'. We were treated to the stirring voices of a local choir who entertain during dinner –one of the upliftment projects undertaken by Savanna to favour the local community. Cuisine was of the highest standard, with much emphasis on quality and presentation, complemented by good South African wines.



Now, this is all good and well, but what about the main reason for being here? The safari! Our guide was Neil and our tracker Julius – both well suited to what they do. Land Rovers have been specially modified for guests' comfort and safety with bucket seats separated by large storage boxes. In order to maximise photographic opportunities, there are never more than two people in a row unless guests request otherwise. The vehicles are set up to seat seven but can easily be adapted to seat 10 guests if required. In addition, there are never more than two vehicles at a sighting, except with very relaxed animals in open terrain, in which case three vehicles are allowed.
Now dear reader, I am not going to bore you with what animals we saw on which drives, but as usual with my blogs, I will concentrate only on the exciting sightings on any particular drive. Suffice to say that all the “big 5” were seen, as well as hippo, wild dogs, lesser bushbaby, white-tailed mongoose and then the usual suspects of wildebeest, warthog, impala, waterbuck, serval, genet, and much more. I will not even get into the birds that we saw, time and space preclude this!
Neil knew of a pack of wild dogs that were denning on Savanna’s property, and en route to visit the den we first watched a hippo performing for us. On arrival at the den we found it empty, but it was not long after that that we located the six adults and eight pups. These very active animals were playing around in some long grass, but I did manage to photograph them in various stages of poses, but gee, they don’t stay still! For those people who don’t know, wild dogs are a very special sighting and we were very lucky to see them, especially as they abandoned their den the very next day and disappeared. We must have covered some fair distance to keep these animals in sight as they were moving continually.


The next morning we had about four different elephant sightings; some so close that I could, if I were severely mentally challenged, (not slightly as now), reach out and slap it on the forehead! Of course I did not do this, and I would never attempt something like this – these guys are big! We followed both lion and leopard tracks that morning, but sadly did not find any of them. I must say that we did go off-road into some dense bush after them, so kudos to Neil for his effort. Again the usual suspects were seen and of the big-5, rhino, elephant and buffalo were on the list.



That afternoon proved to include some more excitement. Neil was determined to find the leopard that we had tracked that morning, so off into the thick bush we went, and it was not long after this that we found her. We followed here for some distance in this thick stuff, and let me tell you, a Land Rover can go where a leopard goes. This was also good exercise, ducking out of the way of thorns and branches, swaying from side to side to avoid shrubbery and being bounced around, and this total workout is included in the price! As we were following her she stood still for a split second and then leaped into the air. What she had seen, and we hadn’t, was a Grey-headed Bush Shrike perched in the tree above her. The bird took off, and the leopard snagged it about two metres off the ground, in mid-air – incredible. She then proceeded, right next to our vehicle, to make a short meal of this little snack. She dispatched of the feathers, and one could hear her crunching those little hollow bird bones. If you don’t know this bird, I have included a photo of one of them, and happily for this particular bird, not the one that was caught. This leopard attack happened so fast that no-one on the vehicle had time to react, never mind take a photo.



When she had finished here snack, we left her in peace and drove further. Once it was almost dark we came upon three male lions in an open clearing. Neil said that we should wait as they were sure to begin calling soon, which of course they did. Now if you have never heard this, it is very difficult to describe – it is not only that ancient, bone chilling call, but the sound also reverberates through one’s whole body, even the vehicle seemed to vibrate!
Our last game drive the next morning was just as exciting. Apart from the general game (you know, elephant, buffalo, all manner of antelope, zebra etc.) we came across the three male lions from the previous night. Now in the light of day it was clear that these were not zoo animals, these were rugged, scarred and tough wild animals. They eventually led us down to a dry river bed where we found a lioness with two cubs, so the camera had some more work to do.



What really impressed me about Savanna was that there was no rush to get back to the lodge. If you are out there and the viewing is good, the rangers here will stay out, unlike at some other lodges where they adhere fairly strictly to the 3-hour game drive. Neil was quite happy to stay out as long as we liked – the emphasis here is on game drives after all. On one of our evening drives I had my “star-pointer” (a green laser) with me, so whipped this out so that Neil could point out some of our night sky, which he did admirably. But, he then took it one step further, as one of the guests could not see a scorpion in the constellation of Scorpio – he whipped out his iPad, aimed it at the stars and this then brought out the constellation in prefect clarity. Now I’ll be the first to admit that technology is not my forte, but I was mightily impressed with this. I even tested it on some unknown constellation and it brought up all the details of this. Apparently it is an “app” (whatever an “app” is) that can be purchased for this little machine. Oh, and not only did he clarify the night sky for us on this, he also had the full field guide of Southern Africa’s birds on this, so if someone missed a bird that he pointed out, he would call it up on his iPad and not only show us the bird, but also play its call – another “app”?

3 comments:

  1. Well what an Introduction to the Savanna, I like most other first timers to -Africa have been driving my self insane trying to select the "PERFECT" lodge and more importantly awesome game viewing and with any luck a relaxing comfortable welcoming atmosphere all rolled into one.I was beginning to think I was asking for to much although most of what I have reviewed offer some outstanding qualities ,for me atleast they just didn't seem to complete the Perfect picture I was painting in my mind so I was beginning to compromise with my itinerary but your blog was like a breath of fresh air and just wanted to say thank you for turning a stressful decision into a simple no brainer !I will be checking availabily today !fantastic article CHEERS from AUSTRALIA

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  2. It is a good venue - please contact us on farwild@iafrica.com to check availability.
    Jeremy Williamson

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