Expert Reviews – Sabi Sabi GR

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Impeccable responsible tourism credentials, breathtaking design
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Sabi Sabi, in the far southwest of the Sabi Sand Reserve, is classic Big Five safari territory – with excellent trackers and guides and acres of gorgeous, well-watered woodland and bush to explore, memorable sightings are guaranteed.

But no matter how diverting the wildlife action, you may still find yourself itching to get back to base, especially if you’re staying at Earth Lodge. The accommodation at Sabi Sabi – especially the Earth Lodge – is quite simply a work of art. Traditionalists mistrust its hard-edged, uncompromisingly modern architecture and subterranean feel, but it’s breathtakingly original, and I love it. Knowing, presumably, that many guests are creative types, artists’ materials are provided in each room – one of many thoughtful touches. Those who prefer colonial trappings such as vintage trunks and framed prints will feel more at home at Sabi Sabi’s other lodges, Bush Lodge, Little Bush Camp and Selati Camp, which are equally modern but slightly softer on the senses.

Sabi Sand: Kruger’s Leopard Heartland
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Sabi Sand is one of the best places to watch wildlife in Africa. It’s also one of the most exclusive. Coming here can be an expensive undertaking, with per-person, per-night costs rarely below US$1000. But if you can afford it, it is so worth it. The lodges here begin at luxurious and climb towards the lavish, the extravagant. Sabi Sand is renowned, too, for the quality of its guides – getting a job here is the pinnacle in the industry, thanks to the exacting standards and well-earned reputation for bush knowledge and wildlife nous. And, of course, it helps that the wildlife here is outstanding. Sabi Sand is known for its leopards and rightly so. It’s not that other species are not regularly seen – all of the key species are present and in abundance. It’s just that leopards can be so difficult to see elsewhere, whereas here they’re the daily currency of life on safari.

SabiSabi – natural luxury
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In the 1980s and 90s, several old farms were bought and added to South Africa’s oldest private game reserve, the 65 000 hectare/153 000 acre patchwork of properties known collectively as Sabi Sand. Those farms became Sabi Sabi, now a world-class collection of luxury safari lodges – Selati Camp, Bush Lodge, Little Bush Camp and Earth Lodge.

Tacked onto the southwestern corner of South Africa’s incomparable Kruger Park, there are no fences between the different reserves within the Sabi Sand – or between the reserve and the national park. The range and density of possible animal sightings is without peer with over 145 species of mammal and around 500 species of bird to be found in the area. And with many of the world’s finest rangers out spotting and sharing information, there is little chance of an exciting viewing being missed. The big decision comes down to where to stay when faced with such a smorgasbord of choice.
Sabi Sabi has four lodges on the property, all very luxurious but representing starkly contrasting styles. Selati Camp harks back to the colonial past and the heyday of the railway which once ran through the property. Bush Lodge is probably the most classic safari camp with separate thatched chalets. Little Bush Camp is designed primarily for exclusive hire by groups or families.

I stayed at Earth Lodge, something utterly different to the safari norm. Sculpted into the slope of the hill it is almost invisible from the outside but inside feels more sleek and chic than most safari lodges – a real touch of city glamour, complete with one of South Africa’s best safari spas. It’s both stunning and disconcerting, with its hard-edged lines and rough, concrete-like walls at odds both with the magnificent wooden statues inside and the way the complex blends into the reedbeds. I still can’t decide whether I love it or loathe it but the fact that I am still asking the questions years later probably means it is very successful architecture! I also had a very comfortable stay, brilliant gameviewing, great food and have remembered every detail of my time there over the years.

Stark sophistication in the bush
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Sabi Sabi has several lodges on their property within Sabi Sands. Selati, Bush Camp and Little Bush Camp all fall within the category of luxury classic safari camp. A style mostly used by this kind of exclusive bush lodges. Earth Lodge is a different affair. As the name suggests, the whole lodge seems to be sculpted out of earth. Stark sophistication is the theme throughout and although the lodge is in total harmony with the surrounding bush, it somehow feels like you could be on a ‘bush-set’ in Paris or Milan. I love the design, but talking to other guests, this isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. The food is innovative and possibly complicated. One of the things I don’t like about these kinds of lodges is the late dinners. When I’m on safari for a couple of weeks with pre-sunrise wake-up calls every day, an uncomplicated light dinner straight after the evening game drive would be more my thing.

Stark sophistication in the bush
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The largest property within Sabi Sands, this runs as little mini-reserve in its own right, boasting half a dozen camps, each with its own character. Its upmarket showpiece Earth Lodge gets mixed reviews, and tends to appeal more to the chic European market than to people seeking the classic safari experience offered by other lodges on the property. Game viewing is reliably superb, guiding is not quite up to the standard of some other lodges, and although it denies traversing rights to any of its neighbors, the bed density for property size is gar higher than in MalaMala or Singita, so it feels less exclusive. Very good, but in a market dominated by exceptional properties, it wouldn’t be my first choice.

Average Expert Rating

  • 4.0/5
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  • Bush Vibe
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