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“Circle of Life”

Our final game drive 😭

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Tuesday, February 5

This morning started out pretty rough, but by the end of the day I was literally dancing and squealing, having had an absolutely amazing time. I may have spoken too soon yesterday when I said the Nottens game drive probably wouldn’t live up to Kwa Mbili 🙊 Different sights, different sounds, different crew and different guests, but both top notch and phenomenal experiences.

Monday night’s deluge provided a lovely pitter patter for sleeping. However come Tuesday morning when the rain continued as a fairly steady drizzle, it was not so lovely. But when you’ve traveled all this way, you’re not about to let a little rain keep you from what you came for. So 5am wake up and off to the Jeep by 5:30. Once Veronique joined us, everyone was on board looking oh so chic in our ponchos, and we were off.

I don’t even recall a lot of that morning drive as it was so rainy and I was getting increasingly chillier and chillier. Sandals and short sleeves under my poncho may not have been the smartest option. And by the end, I was shivering under what felt like a wet blanket thankful when Riaan would blast the heater for a minute or two. I didn’t even bring my camera out the entire first half and really wouldn’t have minded just cutting the whole thing short.

But thankfully we didn’t cut it short, but actually stayed out longer than anyone else, bonding our crazy little group and getting some phenomenal shots in the process. The first thing to warrant a wet camera was the zebras and giraffes (those giraffes get me every time). Eventually we took off hot on the trail of a leopard tip. There was a large male hanging out on a rock just chilling. It was pretty cool, but I was having issues seeing him and getting the camera to work right. So mental photos it was. But not to worry as there was yet another leopard waiting for us.


Thankfully by this point the rain had pretty much ended and we got an ideal parking spot to observe this leopard, with his kill, up in the crook of this fabulous tree. I have no idea how they are able to get the kill up there with them, but it was mind blowing to see (even if all we could see of the other animal were his poor little limp, dangly legs). Sometimes the light worked just right to perfectly spot the leopard in all his spotted glory, and other times he’s just this perfect silhouette against the sky. Riaan figures he may have had another kill on the ground as he leapt down from the tree at one point and was hidden in the long grass feverishly doing something. But that’s when we realized we were the last Jeep out and still a decent distance from Nottens. So time to hightail it back.


Upon our return we trudged to breakfast. It was yet another over the top display of anything and everything you could ever want, and that was just the stuff sitting on the buffet. Each table had a hot breakfast menu for you to order from too. I really think I’m going to need bigger pants before I leave this place 🙊🤣


Brenda and I opted to forego the bush walk (along with pretty much everyone else it turns out). Having spent several hours already cold and wet, plus the fact that we did two heart stopping bush walks out at Kwa Mbili, we didn’t feel the need for another. Turns out that was a good decision as Julia and Zack said they didn’t see a whole lot anyway. And possibly most important of all, Brenda and I still had our bottle of Muratie’s Amber Forever dessert wine to drink. There was no way we were packing that thing for another flight, so drink it we must.

Back at the room we dried out and set up our wine drinking photo shot before cracking that baby open. Then Brenda lounged and napped inside while I sat on the deck typing. Once we reconvened and realized there were snacks to be had right in our room, we polished off the rest of that bottle along with salt & vinegar Pringles. It may sound like an odd combo, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it 😀


By the time our pre-lunch snack was over, the sun was out again so we went down by the pool and chatted with Sue and Simon for a bit. Ya gotta love a good discussion about the royals (well we do at least) 😝 And even better is one with people with more first hand accounts straight from England. Or maybe as Simon suspected, I was loopy from too much dessert wine and Pringles 🤣


In no time at all they were setting up for afternoon tea and yet another grazing session for the humans. Seriously, I don’t know where all this food comes from or what they do with all of it that doesn’t get eaten, but I’m starting to feel a bit guilty. We had time to pop back to the room and grab our things before the afternoon (ie our final 😭) game drive. It was at that point that from the bathroom, Brenda spotted a little deer looking animal hiding in our shrubs by the outdoor shower just nibbling away on the grass and leaves. We left him to his dinner and headed back to the Jeep.

This time we were the last to arrive, taking our seats in the middle row. Like I mentioned earlier, by this point we were one big, happy, international family, ready to tell Riaan exactly what we wanted to see: lions and rhinos and a big orange sky for me. And from there it was a lot of talk and laughter and so many animals and trees and sky and stars that it just makes me smile to think about it.

I kinda wish I had a go pro documentation of the whole night just to fully capture and remember it all. There’d be numerous episodes of laughter from Surge, causing the rest of us to laugh and try to shush him. Then we’d hear Simon doing all zee accents from French to Australian, with a bit of American thrown in for good measure. There would be political and animal discussions, and of course me being mocked for my tree and sky fascination. All the while I’m not sure if Riaan knew quite what to make of all of us.

I can’t name everything we saw that drive, but I do know the prize for cutest spotting goes to the 4 little mongoose we saw right off the bat. I actually had Riaan stop the vehicle more than once for a tree photo op 🤷🏽‍♀️ But hey, hopefully he will always think of Jackie’s Jackalberry every time he passes it. There were also quite a few rare and beautiful birds he pointed out (Neil did warn us we may become bird watchers as a result of this trip). Then we came around a corner and there was one of our requests: 3 white rhinos just lumbering toward us. They really do look like some kind of prehistoric animal that doesn’t quite fit in. But oh my gosh...so cool!!


Next up was the watering hole excitement (we really have had a lot of luck around these watering holes). Anyhoo, this time it was the cute elephant grabbing a drink in the corner. And then a big old hippo decided to get in on the action, doing one of his dislocated jaw, full on mouth open moves so Surge could get a look at his teeth. Then from the elephant corner there were suddenly two teenagers fighting and going at each other, before the adults chased them away. And that left us to hang out with the not one, but two hippos who continued to put on their mouth open show.


The request list was moving on to lions. Riaan already had us pointed out toward their usual stomping ground, having warned us that it was quite a ways out. I was sitting back soaking in the scenery mentally belting out “The Circle of Life,” lest I sing it out loud and have them think me a complete nut job. In the midst of my rousing rendition, Brenda says, “look, there’s Prides Rock.” Guess we both had the same vibe going on. More fun trees, even some flowering ones...and you know those warranted a stop request. Then we found what we’d been looking for: three female and one male lion, just lounging by the side of the road. We admired them for a while, until the male finally opted to wander off.


Hmmm...this afternoon is going so well, what else should we request?! 🙈 Well there is still the matter of that red African sky, but I keep being told to be patient (not one of my strong suits). Then Riaan gets this strange look on his face and stops the Jeep. He says something to AB who shakes his head yes and proceeds to pull his feet way up on to his seat. That’s when we noticed the Cape Buffalo like a foot or two from my side of the jeep, just laying in the muddy ditch. Please don’t laugh now Surge, please don’t laugh 🙊


To celebrate surviving that, it was time for our drink stop. Riaan found thee perfect little clearing to park it with a long view of the big, open sky behind the most bee-you-tee-full line of trees. Cue the angels singing as I was at long last going to get the red African sky moment I have been hoping for for months 😍😍 The only way it could’ve gotten better is if a stray giraffe or elephant had wandered into the shot. But let’s not get greedy. Riaan did proceed to show me a bunch of shots just like that which he has had the opportunity to take (show off 😝).


But back to my sky moment. I took well over 50 photos from almost the same spot. But you know, some of them were zoomed in and some of them were more wide shots, and with the sky continually changing colors, they’re all very different and necessary (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). I guess someone asked Brenda at one point if I was for real and she was like oh yeah, just let her be. Simon mocked me...until he realized I was the perfect height to use as a camera bipod and decided to join me. After the orange came these glorious colored cloud striations and Sue joined me for that portion. I was a bit sad to miss out on the drinks and conversation, but this is thee thing I was obsessed with seeing, so I didn’t have much time to be distracted.


Day made (let’s be real, trip made), I was even giddier and more squirrelly on the ride back. And then I laid my head back and saw all those bright, beautiful stars doing their thing without any light pollution. Ok, time for Riaan to dazzle us with an astronomy lesson. When we finally arrived back at Nottens, the last Jeep yet again, we burst into applause. The perma grin was still squarely on my face, and would be for the rest of the night 😊 I was one very happy tree lady.

After a quick break, we all reconvened for dinner. Tonight the table was even longer, and just as packed with food and drink. Our Jeep crew sat together, continuing the laughter and good times, handing out travel advice and sharing stories. We were the last to leave, finally saying our goodbyes with hugs and talk of future visits (and Simon insisting they’d make sure to come wake us up early the next morning). Sue & Simon and Veronique & Surge had another day at the lodge, while Brenda & I were pretty jealous of that fact. More than once that next day we commented about wishing we could be in the Jeep too...but alas Victoria Falls was calling.


Posted by JackiesJourneys 22:08 Archived in South Africa Tagged sunset africa safari sabi_sands nottens Comments (0)

🎵 Bless the rains down in Africa 🎶

View Africa 2019 on JackiesJourneys's travel map.

Monday, February 4

Up again at 10 to 5:00 this morning and sadly another strike out for red skies. The couple from Germany decided to sleep in as they are heading home today, so it was 6 of us on the game drive.

Ty took off from our camp like a batt outta hell, so we knew there was something exciting happening. One of the neighboring camps had a leopard there, which actually had some of their guests stuck in their rooms. But bonus for us as we got our second leopard sighting. She was trying to hide behind a stump, but eventually stood up and wandered off giving us a full view of her size and elegant movements. They can actually tell them apart by the spot formations around their eyes.


With the big cats and lions, if they remain alive and in the area to the age of 5 or 6, then the trackers give them names. Most of the trackers, like Tipple, come from the same village. When the land was turned into private reserves, they worked with the villagers to move the entire village. As a result of this relationship, they continue to work together for the good of the animals. So when trackers are needed, the elders in the village will choose what trackers to send where. Ty was explaining there is a lot of respect and competition amongst the trackers. Tipple will put himself into what we see as dangerous situations, but where he is completely calm and composed, for the pride of being able to say he tracked a specific animal.

After the leopard, we ended up in an elephant traffic jam. There was a small herd on the road less than a football field length in front of us. And this time we got to see both adults and babies. We followed them for a bit, just watching them play and eat. Once they were used to us and didn’t care, our Jeep got pretty close...like keep your hands inside or a trunk could reach out and grab you kinda close 😀


As they wandered further off, we changed direction and that’s when we finally got a good look at some zebras. I don’t even recall where we were headed then, but I do know that’s when we ended up smack in the middle of another herd of elephants. It’s unreal that something so massive can sneak around so quietly. I mean there was literally 4 or more full grown ones hidden in the trees. They are just the fattest, cutest little ballerinas around 🤣 But ballerinas that when playing around, can knock their tusks together so loud you would think one of them had to have broken.


Ty heard over the radio then that there was a pair of mating leopards in the area. We were second in line to see them, so off we went. The male was sitting alongside the road when we finally saw the female coming toward him. Very interesting to finally see a side by side size comparison. But they weren’t up to mating on public display (can’t say I blame them), so off they moved into the thicker brush. Their mating is actually a 4 day process that takes place every 15 minutes and is not a pleasant experience for the female at all (let’s just say there’s ripping and bleeding involved). Our final leopard encounter was when we heard a young male had killed something but was too skittish to eat it. We briefly saw him, and then a small animal thrashing around in the grasses, so we moved on hoping he would come back and eat it. If not, the little animal will lay there and suffer for not reason.


Exciting morning by 7:15, it was time for our coffee stop. And that didn’t get any less exciting...although not in a good way. All was fine and well as we chatted and watched the warthogs. Everyone was close to finishing up when I heard a snoring noise and thought the German lady had fallen asleep. That’s when her son saw her and ran over by her. Luckily she had just sat down in the front of the Jeep, because she was now having some sort of seizure or fainting spell. She came out of it quickly, but still very scary to see. The Dutch lady is a doctor, but without any equipment, she couldn’t have done a whole lot either. Later on Ty said he was concerned that she may have been bitten by something. Regardless, break over and time to head straight back to the lodge to get her checked out. A bit down the road, we saw white rhino, but no time for that as she got sick when he stopped the car for a minute.

Once back to the lodge, she and her son went off to their room and the rest of us waited for breakfast. That actually gave Brenda and I just enough time to get all our things packed up, and Shayna was able to prepare our bill while we ate. With our pickup time not until 11:00, Ty said we had plenty of time for a bush walk with the French and Dutch contingent.

This bush walk ended up being one of the coolest things...yet Brenda and I agree still having some heart racing moments. We went back to the same dam we walked around yesterday, and the mama and baby hippo were still there. Only this time she had other more pressing matters to keep her occupied...like the herd of Cape buffalo drinking on one side and the herd of elephants splashing around in the water on the other. At one point we were crouched between trees with a view of all three at the same time. Then the buffalo took off and we moved on so we could get closer to the swimming elephants. Oh man were they cute and entertaining: shooting water, jumping on each other, holding the other’s head under water. So basically like any family reunion at the pool 🤣🐘


We kept making our way around the water and got a better viewing of the hippo today. Since everything was calm, Ty was also able to point out a bunch of little flowers and plants. Here I am trying to walk all gingerly so as not to disturb anything. And then you turn around and see a big old bull elephant just smooshing things down left and right or ripping apart trees and grasses. Yeah, I guess it really doesn’t matter how gingerly I walk.

After our loop around the water, it was time to hop back in the Jeep and head to Kwa Mbili (meaning “place of two”) for the last time 😢 Just as we pulled in the drive, our transport van was right behind us. When Tipple came to get our luggage, we warned him to warm up his smile for some photos. Pictures taken and hugs handed out, we were now in the hands of Benett to get us to our next destination.


This is the portion where I wasn’t quite sure we were going to make it out alive 🙈 We thought the off roading in the Jeep was bumpy, but it had nothing on the potholed trip we were about to embark on. The roads in these small villages and townships are horrible. If you’re not in a pothole, you’re probably going over a speed bump. And to avoid the potholes, everyone just maneuvers their car where they want. So basically lanes are just suggestions and you may be passed at a moment on any and every side. I finally just had to pull out my phone and start typing all of this, as looking through the window was far too frightening. The few times I did look up though, it was crazy to see all the people along the road either walking or sitting or selling things (like the ladies making amarulo fruit beer and selling it in plastic Coca Cola bottles - I don’t foresee us trying any of that).

It took a good 2 hours I think before we pulled into the Sabi Sands game reserve and finally into the Nottens driveway. From the minute we rolled up, we knew we had landed in the luxury realm (for us at least, not necessarily for our fellow travelers). It was a gorgeous, hot, sunny day and numerous people were lounging by the lap pool (no small, murky plunge pool around here). The lodge is huge with the entire back length of it being open overlooking a big watering hole. And then there are all the high ceilings and beams and shwanky furniture and what we quickly discovered is the bar with an endless supply of alcohol.

But anyway, Desmond greeted us and helped get our luggage down to room 7. Ours is one of the last rooms, meaning we must be escorted to and fro after dark so we don’t encounter any wild animals on our own. There’s a little walkie talkie system with someone on duty at all times. Walking in to our sitting room area my eyes got big and continued to get bigger at every turn. We actually have our own giant deck (with room enough for 3 tables and 6 chairs 😳 - which is actually where I’m sitting right now, taking in all the bug and bird noises, hoping some animals may yet stroll on by). Then there’s the bathroom where we may have found our best discovery: a door on both the shower and the bathroom 💃🏽😝 It’s the little things that get us excited 😆 We also have an outdoor shower, but since that can’t be used at night, there may not be time for either of us to try it out. And speaking of night, there are minimal lights and most things are done by candle, lantern or torch (flashlight).


We had some time before afternoon tea to get settled and have a look around. That’s when we scoped out the lodge and went down by the pool. At 3:00 we discovered “tea” is actually code for a gourmet lunch feast to get you ready for the afternoon game drive.

So at 4:00 it was time to find our Jeep, ranger and guide, as well as meet our fellow riders. The ranger is Rian and his tracker has some long name but goes by AB. Having done 2 drives with them now, it’s gone well and they are very nice...but they’re no Ty and Tipple combo like we’re used to. The whole vibe of this camp is just completely different from where we came. I mean I absolutely love the accommodations at Nottens, but I miss that small camp personalized feel we had before. The workers are all very nice and accommodating and willing to do anything, but they will never top the game drive experience of Kwa Mbili.

Speaking of the game drive, Brenda and I hopped into the back 2 seats. Up front were Sue & Simon, a couple from London who are a lot of fun. We were waiting on 2 more but why wait by the lodge when we can drive around by the watering hole and sit smack in the middle of 20 or 30 elephants?!? It was amazing yet again and especially the couple month old baby who still looked a bit wobbly with his legs and trunk.


Then we pulled around the corner to another watering hole by a Cape buffalo and all these crazy little yellow birds. The males make the funniest little nests that they hang upside down from. And if the female comes along and doesn’t like it, he demolishes it and starts a new nest over from scratch. Cool stuff, but Brenda and I were both like come on, let’s get this Jeep moving! Why are we just sitting here?! Turns out we were waiting for the last French couple to be brought out to us. Once they were on board, and thankfully didn’t cause the buffalo to charge in the process, then we were off.


We saw a lot of the same smaller animals as before. It is quite a bit thicker and lusher around here and they seem to have more birds. Then we saw a bunch of zebras, and finally, shortly after I told Brenda “the trees are taller, hopefully that means this is giraffe territory” we came across a little group of them 🦒🦒 Gaaaa so cute and graceful and gangly all at the same time. And the eyelashes on most of these animals. Yikes!!


The rest of the drive continued in much the same way. Rian is not nearly as good of an entertainer and communicator as Ty was. Like with Ty, we always knew what we were looking for or what had been spotted. Here sometimes it feels like we’re just aimlessly driving around and hopefully we’ll bump into something. Unless of course it’s the leopards. After our drinks stop, we zoomed off toward a leopard sighting near where we had stopped. And actually while we were drinking & chatting, we had seen this herd of impala start running and Simon commented about a predator in the area. Might’ve been cause that’s when we were hot on the trail of the leopard. It was getting dark and a bunch of jeeps were working together with spotlights to follow her. So we started and ended the day with a leopard 🐆...how was your Monday?! 🤷🏽‍♀️🤣

Back to the lodge where dinner is eaten on that gorgeous viewing area in one long table. There were 18 guests total I believe. Breakfast & dinner are eaten at separate tables, but dinner is one big food and beverage party to compare stories. It’s a very nice atmosphere with all the lanterns and candles. There is more food than you could ever possibly try...and it is all 5-star restaurant quality that they will cater to your needs. We had actually been seeing lightening on the way back, but didn’t know if anything would come of it. Well we got a proper African rainstorm when the skies completely opened up and started raining buckets. We tried to wait it out, but sleep was beckoning so we finally grabbed umbrellas, our torch and our escort to brave the soggy walk back to the room. Upon arrival we could do nothing but laugh as it was quite the romantic setup with all the candlelight and water in the bath and a bottle of champagne chilling. There is not nearly enough hours in the day to consume all the alcohol provided 🤷🏽‍♀️


Posted by JackiesJourneys 03:52 Archived in South Africa Tagged safari sabi_sands Comments (0)

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