You might consider the title of this blog post a bold statement. ‘But it’s most people’s dream holiday’, I hear you say. The blunt truth: it deserves to be. In fact, it is so extraordinary that this is why it couldn’t, shouldn’t and won’t be a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ trip for me. I will be going back as soon as I can. Forget once in a lifetime, it’s more like the trip of a lifetime which deserves to be repeated.
I had always dreamed that when I won the lottery, married a millionaire, or stumbled across a large pile of cash (delete as applicable), I would go on safari. Yet it had always seemed so far away, something that I might work towards to maybe and possibly do one day if the right deal came up. That was until I had the incredible fortune to visit the piece of paradise that is Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve in South Africa through work.
Located in the Sabi Sands Wildtuin, just outside the famous Kruger National Park, Sabi Sabi is situated in 65,000 hectares of nothing but open land, wildlife, and the occasional, incredible unfenced safari lodge. I had the privilege of staying at the futuristic Earth Lodge, one of the four distinctly varying lodges. If the next Bond film is searching for a baddy’s lair, then this is it. Strikingly set into the earth, with never-ending views over the surrounding bush, it’s a true retreat – and a spectacularly luxurious one at that. My ‘suite’ was bigger than my entire house. Throw in a private plunge pool and the best bath I’ve ever seen, I honestly did a little squeal when I arrived.
As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, my partner is a big fan of zoos. Not necessarily because of the idea of a zoo itself, but because he is a fan of being able to be see rare and incredible wildlife up close. Nothing had quite prepared me though for the adrenaline, excitement and genuine emotion of seeing wildlife in its natural environment. The gentle grace of a giraffe as it makes its way across the grassland, coming around a corner to find a weathered rhino standing firm in the road, or a baby elephant encouraging its peers to play. I must admit, it was the baby elephant that brought a few tears to my eyes). Being an unfenced lodge, it wasn’t unusual to walk through the camp and see an elephant a short distance away – or even come very close to such a guest at one point!
It was experiences like this that made getting up at 5.30am every morning a pleasant experience. Each day held the offer of something new and even more incredible. It became a running joke that just when I thought what we had seen couldn’t be bettered, along came the next sight to take your breath away. It’s hard to really describe the wonder of it in words. This might be how I managed to take 1,600 pictures in just four days: a picture really does say a thousand of them.
The other noticeable thing about a safari was the true feeling of escapism. I’ve never been to another part of the world where I found the same silence. There is no TV, no radio, no newspapers – no contact with the wider world at all unless you seek it out. One of the most peaceful moments for me was coming back from our evening game drive, with not a building or light in sight, except for the most incredible blanket of stars. This whole trip made me realise how small and inconsequential I am really in this world compared to the wonder of nature.
I have to take a moment to say thank you to the people who really made the trip for me (just in case they read this). First up, our ranger Michell and incredible tracker Candy. Together, they are a formidable team and helped me enjoy and learn from each encounter we had the luck of having. Michell is quite simply my new hero. Our walking safari (now that was an adrenaline rush!) was a highlight of the trip thanks to her knowledge and personable nature. If you go to Sabi Sabi and stay at Earth Lodge, see if you can swing her and Candy, and say a big hello for me. Just watch out for her jokes as you might just believe them! The incredible, friendly staff at the lodge themselves – particularly Nadia and Stefan Schoeman and Shaun – made it even harder to tear myself away at the end of the stay. All in all, from wildlife to the lodge, it was simply one of the best experiences I have ever had in my life.
When speaking to a member of the Sabi Sabi team, he reiterated my opening thoughts, saying that most people wait until they are older to come on safari, promising themselves that they would do this one-off, amazing trip. That’s until they catch the safari bug and find themselves wishing they had come sooner.
Don’t take my word for it. While I admit I was incredibly privileged to stay at one of the most luxurious and environmentally conscious lodges in the world, a safari experience is accessible in many ways. Find the right one for you, don’t ponder any more – just go. You won’t regret it.