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The Sabi Sands Game Reserve - Big Five Safari Experience



Climbing onto the small Airlink plane at Johannesburg International Airport already feels like an adventure, not to mention a substantial downsize from the previous flight into Johannesburg. Each row of seats is only able to accommodate three people, one on the right and two to the left, with a narrow aisle for the very necessary tea and coffee trolley. The flight into the Kruger National Park is just one hour long, making it an easy and accessible journey to one of the greatest experiences on earth.

 

No sooner have I drunk the last of the caffeine swirling in my cup, the pilot is already announcing our descent. As we break through the clouds we are welcomed by the most glorious sight; miles and miles of wilderness seamed together by a network of dusty roads. We are flying directly over Big Five territory, a place where lions and elephants roam, leopards dangle from trees, and rhino and buffalo amble through the savannah grasslands. While I’m busy romantising a new life, similar to that of Kuki Gallman in ‘I dreamed of Africa’, we have touched down and are rolling down the runway towards Skukuza Airport.

 

Built in 1958, Skukuza Airport is the only commercial airport in the Kruger National Park and was named the prettiest airport in the world by Forbes in 2018. Resembling a safari lodge the airport blends effortlessly into the African bush that surrounds it and, once inside, you immediately feel at home with the warm and laid-back atmosphere. There are multiple ways to reach the Kruger National Park and your route is dependent on the location of your lodge within the park. Skukuza is in the southern section of the Kruger and Skukuza Airport services many private reserves and lodges within this region, such as the southern Sabi Sands Game Reserve.

 

On arrival I spot my name on a sign and receive a friendly greeting from the ranger who will transfer me to my lodge in the Sabi Sands. We walk outside to collect my suitcase, which is resting peacefully under a thatched roof among my fellow passengers’ goods - a far cry from the manic airport carousels that require you to haul your suitcase off a moving machine in a matter of seconds without causing bodily harm.

 

My lodge is an hour and half from the airport and our journey there will take us out of the park for a portion of the trip to shorten the drive. As we leave the airport, herds of impala can be seen dotted along the road, reminding us that the safari has already begun. Within the park there is a speed limit of 50 km/hour and animal sightings can slow the journey down, especially if they are obstructing the roads. Fortunately, there are numerous gate entries into the Kruger, so it is sometimes quicker to reach your destination by exiting the park and entering at another gate closer to your lodge. Despite the slow pace of Africa, we are on a schedule and need to arrive in time for the afternoon game drive which usually departs around 4pm in summer and 3.30pm in winter.


The Sabi Sands Game Reserve is South Africa’s premier safari destination and is located directly next to the Kruger National Park with no fences separating the two, which allows animals a greater space to roam. The reserve is made up of 65 000 hectares of land and is renowned for Big Five wildlife sightings, most notably the elusive African leopard. Within the reserve there are private reserves, which are home to a range of luxury tented camps and lodges.

 

After check-in there is time to freshen up before meeting in the lounge area where high-tea awaits before the afternoon game drive (there is never a shortage of food on safari and fortunately some lodges have gym facilities where you can burn off the extra calories consumed along the way). The lodge has a medium-height electrical fence surrounding its perimeter to keep animals like elephant out, but lions, leopards and hyenas have been spotted at night so in the evenings there are well-lit pathways and well-built rangers available to walk you to your room. While some may be thinking neither of the two would bring peace of mind, you quickly learn that both are a powerful source of comfort and security when staying in unknown territory (wildlife rangers and trackers in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve are among the best on the continent and highly trained in their profession).

 

After indulging in sugar and spice, and all things nice, it is finally time to head out on safari! Safari vehicles are generally roofless, very comfortable and spacious, and can take up to ten guests. In places like the Sabi Sands you will never have more than two vehicles at an animal sighting, one of the many reasons that make it such an exclusive and sought after destination. Rangers and trackers work together to bring guests incredible wildlife sightings and are in communication with nearby reserves to monitor animal movements, and this ensures you get the most out of your time here.

 

On our first game drive we have already spotted three of the Big Five, with one of these being the exquisite leopard. As it causally walks past our vehicle, close enough to touch it, I realise what draws people from all over the world for this bucket-list safari experience. What a thrill, and we’ve only just begun!

 

 

References:

 

History and Geography of Kruger National Park; Krugerpark.co.za;

Skukuza Airport; Wikipedia.

 

 

 

 

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