Meet the Shangaan community (Photos provided by sabisabi.com)
There are "before and after" moments in life when you are irrevocably changed by an experience. Some are good, some not so good. And some are great. The latter was my experience of Sabi Sabi. Since 1979 this game reserve has hosted visitors from all over the world, drawn to this unique area by the promise of the
safari experience of a lifetime
Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, situated in the world-renowned 65,000-hectare Sabi Sand Game Reserve (in the South-Western section of the Kruger National Park in South Africa) is a wildlife oasis, where you can observe at close quarters the age-old natural relationship between predator and prey.
The Big Five
Big game abounds and roams freely throughout this pristine part of the ancient African continent. The diverse habitat is home to spectacular wildlife, including the Big Five - lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo and elephant - as well as cheetah, wild dog and some 200 other animal species indigenous to the area. And we saw them all as well as experiencing the breath-taking concept of their accommodation philosophy of "yesterday, today and tomorrow" which stems from more than 100 years of safari experience; a history richly woven into the atmosphere of each of its four uniquely individual safari lodges - Selati Camp, Bush Lodge, Little Bush Camp and Earth Lodge. Selati Camp is located under ancient trees and takes you back to a decadent, luxurious colonial era, filled with decorative memorabilia of the great steam train era and gin and tonic sunsets. The entire camp seems drenched in palpable and pervasive serenity. The Presidential Suite has a 360-degree view of the bush outside and if you don't like the sound of your own voice, don't speak while in the en-suite bathroom. The echoes will haunt you...
Nestling in the shade of indigenous riverine trees on the banks of the Msuthlu River was our next destination, Little Bush Camp, offering luxury accommodation for family, friends, or small groups.
The last of the Lodges we visited represents "tomorrow" - Earth Lodge.
On arrival a hidden corridor leads you to an unexpected entrance which opens onto a panorama of uninterrupted bushveld. Home to 13 ultra-luxurious suites including the Amber Presidential Suite, the lodge is a masterpiece of artistry and innovation. Each of the suites at this luxury lodge features individually designed furniture, private plunge pool, en-suite glass fronted bathroom, indoor and outdoor shower.
The king of the jungle has spoken
Interaction with local culture
But there is another, very real side to this magical Reserve. Now guests can discover more than just wildlife on safari here, where community engagement is increasingly a part of the experience. Recognizing a growing desire for guests to truly understand a destination when travelling, there is the chance to visit and learn more about the local communities and culture during a stay.
A significant part of the experience at Sabi Sabi is the warm interaction with the team members, from the ranger and Shangaan tracker pairing which lead each game drive, to the lodge staff on hand to support every need. The majority of the team hail from local communities, with some having been part of the Sabi Sabi story since the beginning more than 35 years ago.
Sabi Sabi has a long history of community interaction and support. The reserve is bordered by the rural Shangaan villages of Huntingdon, Lillydale and Justicia where over the past three decades, Sabi Sabi has formed partnerships with local communities to establish projects which involve and benefit staff, their families and their neighbors. With a focus on sustainability, ownership and accountability, these include child and adult education, healthcare, sport, transport and conservation programs.
Earth Lodge Amber Presidential Suite bedroom
Guests have been long intrigued by the local Shangaan culture and customs, which adds a valuable dimension to their safari. As such, guests can visit a neighboring community for an immersive experience of everyday life. An escorted insight into life in the villages provides background on local architecture, agriculture, religion, craft and food, as well as the opportunity to meet the families and friends of staff at the lodges. Join children learning at the local pre-school, meet the local "sangoma" (herbalist) to understand their work, and see the efforts to support vulnerable youth in the care center. Guests will leave with a deeper appreciation for African culture and everyday life in the surrounding communities, as well as contributing to the on-going success of local projects.
The community experience from Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve is available for a minimum of four guests and costs around $42 (2016 rate) per person. All proceeds revert back to the community.
For more information on Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, please visit www.sabisabi.com.
Earth Lodge cuisine