I get asked a lot by people wanting to come on safari about the difference between the Kruger National Park (KNP) and Sabi Sands. For the uninformed, Sabi Sands is a private reserve that adjoins the greater KNP. It is named after the two rivers that run through and along one of its borders, namely the Sand River and the Sabie River. The reserve is populated by dozens of privately owned lodges and camps, each of which has their own boundaries. Some of the camps have traversing rights on each other’s properties, but for the most part you’re unlikely to encounter much traffic from neighbouring private reserves when you’re there.

There are no fences between KNP and Sabi Sands, so animals are free to roam between the two parks, generally oblivious to the fact that we humans regard these as two different places. The total size of the Sabi Sands reserve is approximately 65,000 hectares, which put into perspective is just shy of 3% of the total size of the Kruger National Park, or if you prefer to put it into human habitat perspective, a shade over half the size of New York City’s 5 boroughs combined. The Kruger Park itself is about the size of Hawaii, or close to the size of Switzerland if, like me, you have no idea of how big Hawaii actually is.

One of the interesting statistics about the Sabi Sands is that it has the highest density of leopards to be found anywhere else in Africa, and ergo the world, for that matter. They practically fall out of trees here. On our first safari there in 2010 we saw leopards more often than we saw lions. It was somewhat different this last time around, mainly because the Southern Pride of lions has established the area of Sabi Sabi as its main hunting territory. That pride is now over 20 strong and if you follow Richard DeGouveia’s (RangerRich) and Ben Coley’s blog you’ll be able to read a lot more about how this pride is changing over the years. There are constantly territorial battles being fought between themselves and other male lions that want to move into the area. Fascinating stuff, to which we were witness during our week long stay there at the beginning of October.

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Chef Shadrack cuts some home baked bread for our Safarians

_1020309.jpgOnce we arrived at Little Bush Camp our hosts Hugo, his wife Alta and their staff gave us a very warm welcome, briefed us on how the program would run for the week of our stay and invited us to have our first lunch on the deck adjoining the lodge’s main lounge. For me it was kind of like a homecoming of sorts. Little Bush Camp is very intimate and there are only 6 suites there, each of which can accommodate 2 persons. This makes it a perfect spot for our photographic safaris because we can book out the whole place and as a result we get to alter the daily program however we like. The suites at LBC are lovely and each of them has a private deck overlooking the Sand River, as well as a Jacuzzi and outdoor shower.

Little Bush Camp is situated in the middle of the reserve and there are no fences around it to prevent predators from entering. There is a strand of electric fencing about 1.8m high which is used to keep out the elephants because they can be very destructive. Moving between the main building and the suites at night you will have to be accompanied by the rangers, otherwise you run the risk of becoming leopard dinner!

The experience is entirely authentic and that’s what makes it so exhilarating.

On our first drive that Monday evening we came across a lioness resting in the shade of a tree, not very far from LBC and right next to a rocky hill overlooking the northern part of the reserve. According to the rangers she had become separated from the Southern Pride during a hunt and they weren’t sure if perhaps she might have been ousted from the pride as well. With the afternoon sun about to drop below the horizon I found myself willing this lioness to wake up and walk up the hill so that we could get some decent shots of her. Well, it was almost as if she was tuned into all of our thoughts because she did exactly that and we were rewarded with some wonderful images of her looking into the very last of the day’s sunlight.

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The sleeping lioness awakens

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The waiting game

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The reward of patience

But, it was about to get better. I was remembering our first trip to Sabi Sabi in 2010 and how we got lucky with a male cheetah chasing an impala shortly after beginning our first drive of that trip. The thoughts had barely solidified in my mind when our comfortably perched lioness spotted a wildebeest moving through the bushes in the distance. Oh my. She began stalking the wildebeest on her own and suddenly there were some very excited photographers watching this unfold through their lenses. Considering that the light had changed from the golden hour to the blue hour, I switched to shooting video of the hunt using my newly acquired Olympus OM-D E-M5 and 45-175mm Panasonic Lumix zoom lens, which has been specifically designed for video and even has a power zoom function. Now, I am not a video person by any stretch of the imagination but I thought that if I was going to get anything from this event, video would be the best thing to go away with.

We followed the lioness for a while as she continued stalking the wildebeest and she got pretty close to it before it sensed her presence and bolted. The little OM-D was battling to keep the lioness in focus as she moved between the bushes, something that reinforces my respect for those wildlife photographers who rely entirely on manual focus to keep track of animals as they move through objects that will definitely confuse any electronic auto-focus system. Oh well, with the wildebeest having escaped becoming a lioness’ dinner (this time) we headed off in search of other attractions from the cast of many creatures in the reserve.

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When evening falls, more magic appears

In the next instalment of this series I will introduce you to a typical evening at Sabi Sabi.

Side Note:
The Sabi Sands is designated as a low-risk malaria zone, meaning that while it isn’t as prevalent in this part of Africa, it is always wise to keep yourself protected against the disease by taking prophylactics such as Malarone. On the previous safaris I had been taking the “other” well known anti-malaria medication known as Larium, much to the dismay of Pepe who informed me of the severe side-effects it is known for, not least of which is psychotic behaviour. On the 2009 trip I didn’t have any side effects that I could notice (it’s entirely possible of course that my fellow Safarians were keeping me in good humour so as to avoid any possible states of psychosis or emotional melt-downs), but in 2010 I definitely noticed that I was having some seriously bad dreams while on the medication. Bad enough to make me wonder if I had been dreaming or not. Waking up in cold sweats is not something I like to experience too often, so I stopped taking the pills midway through that trip.

Since the people who work in the reserve can’t take anti-malaria medication constantly and none of them seemed particularly concerned about it, I decided not to medicate myself at all for this safari. Risky, but I came quite well prepared with long pants and long sleeve shirts for the evenings and a little stick of Tabbard, which is like a roll on anti-mosquito substance that doesn’t leave any residue or feel sticky on your skin.

On arrival at LBC I asked where our good friend Calvin (the barman) was and was told that he was off work, suffering from a very bad case of malaria. I ordered a Gin & Tonic immediately! From what I am told, malaria is not pleasant and once you get it, you will continue to have relapses in the future as the parasite that enters your blood stream literally lives there forever and will only die when you do. I think in future I won’t take the risk again. Malarone, whilst expensive, does seem to be an effective protection against this killer disease.

We strongly advise all our guests to avoid the stress of wondering if you’re going to get infected by using an effective anti-malaria prophylactic like Malerone.