South African Safari Logistics

South African Safari Logistics

When planning a South African safari, the name Kruger immediately comes to mind.  This National Park (the size of Wales) is located in the northeastern part of the country, with neighbor Zimbabwe to the north and Mozambique to the east.  It offers popular camping spots and self-drive tours with a variety of accommodations (mostly run by the National Parks board).  However, if you are looking for a more unique, intimate safari experience in South Africa, a stay in one of the adjacent, private reserve areas is the key to a memorable trip of a lifetime.

Map of South Africa

Sabi Sands Private Reserve is a wildlife conservation private reserve, (the oldest privately owned reserve in South Africa) which means it is not available to day-visitors.   Considered part of the Greater Kruger Wildlife Enclave, it covers roughly 250 square miles. A reservation for one of the lodges is required for entry. Sabi Sands derives its name from the two rivers, River Sabi and River Sand, which flow through the savannah and woodland areas that sustain the diverse flora and fauna.   The western perimeter is fenced, however the eastern perimeter (which adjoins Kruger) is 50 kilometers of unfenced border allowing wildlife to roam freely.  This is not a “zoo” – animals are not “fed.” They are existing in their own biodiverse and natural environment (except for water sources that were part of the original agricultural land).  It’s home to the most sought after animal sightings: the Big Five (buffalo, elephant, rhino, lion, leopard), the Magnificent Seven (Big Five plus the wild dog and cheetah), and 300 species of birds.

Sabi Sands South Africa

A safari in Sabi Sands gets you face to face with the the Big Five

Sabi Sands Reserve Map

Sabi Sands Reserve map

Sabi Sands lodges include meals and off-road safari privileges with an experienced guide in a designated Jeep or vehicle. (In Kruger National Park, you must stick to paved roads, which means you cannot follow a stalking leopard into the bush or an wild dog pursing its prey).  It is divided into several privately owned game reserves including Sabi Sabi, Ulusaba, Singita, and Londolozi, each with its own set of individual lodging areas from modest to luxury.  Some are more child-friendly, while others cater to honeymoon couples or small groups.  Some come equipped with private pool, private deck, or connecting suites. Some lodges have only six or eight villas – a more intimate experience – while others offer amenities like a spa, resort pool, or kids club. All provide other activities besides safari, including visits to the local communities and bush walks.

Sabi Sands rhino

Up close and personal with a rhino, one of the Big Five

Leopard in Sabi Sands

Sabi Sands is well known for its leopard sightings

Our stay this past July was in Little Bush Camp located in the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve.  Sabi Sabi has four lodges, each with its own distinct style and flavor: colonial themed Selati, family-friendly Bush Lodge, ecofriendly Earth Lodge, and Little Bush Camp, which features six individual huts all nestled on the banks of the Msuthlu river.

How to get to Sabi Sands? There are several choices including taking a scheduled commercial flight from Johannesburg or Cape Town to local airports in Nelspruit (towards the southern area of Sabi Sands) or Hoedspruit (closer to the northern part of Sabi Sands) then transferring to your lodge by vehicle or “bush plane” depending on travel distance.

South Africa, Federal Air

Boarding our bush plane in Joburg

The most efficient way is by chartered flight on Federal Air, based out of OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg, which takes you directly to the various private reserve landing strips (some paved, some not so much) all within Sabi Sands.

After spending several days in Cape Town, (check out my recent articles here) we flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg on a scheduled South African Airways flight then transferred by minivan to a Federal Air flight. Located a short drive from the main airport terminal, Federal Air has its own dedicated lounge with beverages, snacks, and bathrooms.  The aircraft are parked right outside the lounge — no jetway or staircase needed.  Our flight was 1.5 hours nonstop to Sabi Sabi, (there is a possibility for one or two quick stops to drop off or pickup other passengers staying in other areas within Sabi Sands). Be aware that time of flight departure is not confirmed until 24 hours prior, so make sure to include ample layover time in Joburg if making a connecting flight post safari.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

From the Sabi Sands landing strip it was a quick ride by Land Cruiser to Little Bush Camp

Micato Safaris, South AfricaAlso note that the luggage limit is 44 pounds per person (including carry on) since these are small bush planes (Cessna Grand Caravan or Beechraft 1900 are typical). We used soft-sided, rolling duffels (thank you Micato Safaris!) – hard-sided luggage is not allowed onboard.  Our plane held about 12 passengers and two pilots and was a smooth flight – the only real discomfort was from the lack of bathroom on board, so plan accordingly!

As you plan your South African safari, make sure to check government websites for information on proper shots and malaria pills, or consult with a travel doctor several months prior to departure in order to educate yourself on immunization recommendations.  Also, the South African government now requires that all children under the age of 18 must possess an unabridged version of their birth certificate (along with their passport) reflecting the particulars of the child’s parents. For more information (including documents required for children traveling with only one parent), click here.

Sabi Sands South Africa

More about Cape Buffalo in my next article

Stay tuned for my upcoming article and photos from our stay at Little Bush Camp and Sabi Sabi safari including notes on weather and packing.



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Cape Town’s Best Bets

Cape Town’s Best Bets

As I mentioned in my last post on Table Mountain National Park, no visit to South Africa is complete without a stay in Cape Town. Before you embark on a Kruger safari adventure, set aside a few days for some urban exploration. This coastal city overflows with natural wonders and historic sites so make sure to take time to cover it all:

Table Mountain National Park: Stretching across the Cape Peninsula from city-centered Table Mountain in the north to Cape Point in the south, this national park is exceptionally biodiverse. For more insight, please read my recent article.

V&A Waterfront, Cape Town

Photo-op at the V&A Waterfront

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden: Take a stroll on the Tree Canopy Walkway a curved, timber and steel bridge that hovers over the garden’s canopy of trees offering great views of the peninsula. Or, pack a picnic, and head for a hike up Table Mountain, which is easily accessible from here.

Robben Island, Cape Town

Robben Island

Robben Island: Required reading (or viewing) prior to a trip to South Africa is Nelson Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom,” the autobiographical work that chronicles the former president’s life and 27 years imprisoned on Robben Island. This UNESCO Site is accessed by way of ferry originating from the Nelson Mandela Gateway Museum at the V&A Waterfront. The 3.5 hour tour includes the ferry crossing, guided bus tour around the island, and visit to the maximum-security prison and the cell that housed Mandela, the global icon of bravery and freedom. Most memorable part of the tour? Meeting with a former political prison who recounts his own story of imprisonment and life under Apartheid.

Robben Island, Cape Town

Our tour of Robben Island was led by a former political prisoner

Robben Island, Cape Town

We met with prison guard (and author), Christo Brand, who formed a “friendship behind bars” with Mandela

Hooked on history? Try a Tunnel Tour and get an up close view of the underground canals that date back to 1652 and once served passing ships with fresh water. The District 6 Museum tells the story of citizens forcibly removed from this neighborhood by the Apartheid government. The Heart of Cape Town Museum celebrates the world’s first heart transplant. And, a tour through the Castle of Good Hope, Cape Town’s star-shaped, oldest surviving colonial building, will give you a perspective on the hardships of the city’s earliest days.

V&A Waterfront, Cape Town

Shop, eat, play, and step back in history at V&A Waterfront

V&A Waterfront: Perched on the Atlantic side of the Cape Peninsula, this historic dockland is a busy commercial harbor set in the midst of a bustling entertainment mecca. The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront boasts 450 shops (both local and international brands), 80 eateries, theatres, movies, and more. Visit The Watershed for an eclectic mix of indigenous crafts and the Market on the Wharf for artisanal food, fresh produce, and baked goods. Get out on the water with a boat charter, or catch a helicopter charter for a bird’s eye view of the city. Spend an afternoon at the Two Oceans Aquarium and dip a hand into marine tanks and touch pools, or stop at the predator tank to watch the sharks feed.

Nobel Square: Adjacent to the V&A Market, this square and its statues pay tribute to South Africa’s four Nobel Peace Prize Laureates: Nikosi Albert Luthuli, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, and former state presidents FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela.

Nobel Square Cape Town

Nobel Square

Cape Town Diamond Museum: Located near the V&A Harbor Clock Tower, this “hidden gem” recounts the 1867 Diamond Rush in South Africa and the path a diamond takes from “in the rough” to ring-worthy final product.

Camps Bay: This trendy yet casual seaside resort at the foot of the Twelve Apostles Mountains (just ten minutes from downtown Cape Town) is known as the city’s Riviera and is fringed by a palm tree lined promenade with a thriving mix of sidewalk cafes and boutiques. The long stretch of beach has a tidal pool at the southern end, surfing at the northern end, and in between, a calm spot for swimming.

Stellenbosch: Surrounded by the Cape Winelands, this university town is known for its distinct Cape Dutch architecture, oak-shaded streets, and charming shops, patisseries, and artisanal bakeries. Spend the day exploring the never ending vineyard choices that rival California’s Napa Valley. Most notable is exclusive lodge Delaire Graff Winery with its gorgeous mountain views from its patio restaurants. Prefer a chocolate and Brandy tasting? Stop at Waterford Estate or Van Ryn. Continue your wine tasting tour in the vineyards near the village of Franschoek, also regarded for its galleries and antique shops.

Delaire Graff Estate, Cape Town

A gorgeous view from Delaire Graff Estate

Stellenbosch, Cape Town

The vivid mountain vistas of Stellenbosch

Delaire Graff Estate

Visit at sunset to catch those burnt sienna hues

Foodies: Restaurants in Cape Town boast exceptional chefs, locally sourced ingredients, and traditional South African game (including kudu, ostrich, and springbok). Enjoy seafood with a view at Harbor House at the V&A Waterfront. Kloof Street House takes its name from the hip street it resides on. Set in a Victorian building, it features a kitschy interior and brasserie-style menu. The Old Biscuit Mill, located in a formerly industrial area known as Woodstock, is actually a little village with an eclectic mix of farm stalls, artists’ workshops , restaurants, and seasonal festivals. Test Kitchen, is well-known for its inventive menu and creative flavors and ingredients. It’s tough to score a reservation at The Pot Luck Club dubbed “the coolest place in Cape Town,” but it’s worth a try to sample its innovative cuisine. Noordhoek’s Food Barn charms with its laid back, rustic atmosphere and truly farm to table menu. Visit the One & Only hotel for dinner at Reuben’s (in nice weather ask for an outside table overlooking the harbor) and make a stop in the lovely lobby lounge before or after your meal. Visiting Camp’s Bay? Take time for sushi at Paranga on the restaurant’s beach-view terrace.

Stay overnite: One & Only Cape Town (in the harbor area), Cape Grace Hotel (waterfront view), Camps Bay Retreat Hotel (set on a four-acre reserve), Twelve Apostles Hotel (borders Table Mountain National Park), and Tinstwalo Atlantic (a chic remote lodge on the shores of the Atlantic).

“Safari Adventures in South Africa”


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