WINTER: Escape to the bush

Four Seasons in South Africa: WINTER

Fires, food and the Big 5… There’s nothing better than the bush in winter!

And, if you break free and hightail it deep into the world-famous Sabi Sand Reserve, you’ll find the truly special place that is Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, set in 65 000 hectares of pristine bushveld in the south-western section of the Kruger National Park. Its four unique lodges honour the area’s rich heritage through Sabi Sabi’s philosophy of ‘yesterday, today and tomorrow’: Selati Camp – named after the old Selati Railway Line that linked the goldfields to the coast, represents the past; Bush Lodge and Little Bush Camp – the present; and mystical Earth Lodge – the future. Together they accommodate

Spend a weekend with OnRoute at Sabi Sabi's luxurious Bush Lodge!

the different needs of individuals, couples, families and groups, while gently coexisting amongst the nature that abounds here.

Bush Lodge

Recently OnRoute had the pleasure of staying at family-friendly Bush Lodge. The lodge sits along a dry riverbed with the central/communal area’s beautiful viewing deck overlooking a waterhole, and the chalets nestled in the undergrowth on either side. The contemporary and spacious, temperature-controlled thatch chalets, complete with private open views, are a cosy retreat for a family on chilly winter nights. The lodge staff is highly attentive, ensuring guests get the most out of their stay with the Sabi Sabi family.

Here, it’s a case of “live to eat” not “eat to live”, with magical infusions of local flavours by talented Chef Wilfred Mtshali and his team. In particular, we enjoyed the succulent fillet steak and lamb chops, the osso buco, and halibut. Game meats included crocodile, warthog and zebra loin. There are tasty vegetarian options, salad components (including the softest Danish feta and speckled quail eggs, amongst many others) to make any salad you can conceive, as well as a variety of freshly prepped veggies. Leave space for the array of local and international cheeses; and irresistible desserts and high-tea treats if you have a sweet tooth, think nut and fruit-filled carrot cake, Rooibos panna cottas and animal-shaped biscuits, temptingly displayed… Simply leave your kilojoule-controlled diet at the N4!

Morning and evening game drives

Be assured that your game experiences will be unforgettable! Each tracker-ranger team in an open off-road game vehicle hosts the same guests for their stay, and skilfully seeks out the most fascinating game sightings.

This could include an exhilarating high-speed tracking, based on radio-ed word of “ingwe” (leopard in isiZulu), crashing over undulating terrain through near-impenetrable thickets while bobbing and weaving to avoid being whipped by leaves. This time, the endeavour turned out to be highly worthwhile since our prized spot was a beautiful leopard known as White Dam’s Madoda (male/son). Madoda then moved out of the dense copse to easily be observed in plain sight, highlighting it’s the unpredictability of wildlife that makes it so captivating to experience in person!

The trackers and guides know every resident leopard by name. Although, with open-border policies with the Kruger National Park, big cat legends, like the famous Charleston brother lion whose lower canine hangs precariously from its jaw, are free to roam as they please, so appear intermittently or sometimes disappear altogether. This once “pretty boy” lion miraculously survived a blow to the face by an angry giraffe’s hoof!

Our tracker, Sydney Mnisi was born and raised in the area and, with nine years of anti-poaching work prior to his three years here, draws on his lifetime of wisdom to decipher scents, sounds and spoor. Our highly professional guide, Mike Palmer, shared his enviable and infinite knowledge in intriguing detail. A tracker and guide have a profound relationship, always ensuring their and the guests’ safety in this potentially deadly job, their many invested hours together and a mutual passion for the bush.

The Big Five and “Small 5005”

The reserve is home to the famed Big Five – elephant, rhino, lion, leopard and Cape buffalo – but because Sabi Sabi lies within a recognised hotspot of biodiversity, other rare sightings, like honey badger, pangolin, aardvark or even cheetah and wild dog, aren’t impossible! While off-roading is permissible only for the Big Five, there are hundreds of other species that can cross your path, including 47 large mammal species; 57 species of reptile as well as myriad smaller animals such as bats, small rodents, amphibians; invertebrates such as insects, spiders and scorpions – to which Sydney will attest with his painful sting while clearing branches; over 350 species of birds – including Verreaux's eagle owl and southern white-faced Scops owl which we were lucky to see this time; and over 90 species of indigenous trees and many more shrubs and grass species.

Winter Wonderland

Seasoned bushveld visitors tend to have a favourite time of year. For us, it’s the cooler but dry winter months, when the grass is low, visibility good and the bare trees are majestically silhouetted against a rising or setting sun. It’s a dream backdrop for disembarking from the game vehicle for a creamy Amarula morning coffee, or a G&T sundowner and snacks.

Not rising at 5.30am with the sun and birds for a game drive is unthinkable – the air is chilly and invigorating and, as you snuggle under blankets, usual work commitments and rush-hour traffic couldn't be further from your mind. The night skies are spectacular too, with constellations clearly visible for breath-taking stargazing

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Winter month-by-month

April

Autumn makes its appearance. The trees start changing to vibrant reds and yellows. Rutting season begins and the animals prepare for winter. The days are shorter, and mornings and evenings still comfortably warm. With little or no rain, the skies are clear and bright.  

May

Water becomes scarcer and as the grasses get drier and shorter, animals are abundant. The migratory bird species start their long journeys northwards – some travelling as far as India and China.

June

Winter is here but the mild climate makes for pleasant warm days with chilly early mornings and nights. Game-viewing around the pans and waterholes is superb!

July

Midday temperatures are still warm, but layer on your clothing for game drives. Dry conditions prevail and big herds break up into smaller groups. Endless blue skies and bare silhouetted trees are a photographer and Instagrammer’s dream.

August

A promise of spring is in the air as days get warmer and start to lengthen. Vegetation is sparse and wildlife is still easy to find; pans and waterholes are by now the only water sources. You get the sense the bushveld is holding its breath hoping for early rains…

To enquire about Sabi Sabi African Safari packages email res@sabisabi.com, call 011 447-7172 or visit www.sabisabi.com. Follow @sabisabireserve on Instagram for fascinating glimpses into daily bush life.

Photos: supplied by Sabi Sabi