Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve; Mpumalanga; unfenced; Kruger National Park; Great Limpopo Transfrontier; Mala Mala; Londolozi (GL)

AA lioness has just finished weaning her cubs, and because she is alone for once, she is clearly relishing her own company. The sun is setting over the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve as she washes her face like a giant tabby cat, yawns, stretches and goes to look for her cubs and the rest of her pride. 

A group of tourists sits enthralled in an open game-viewing vehicle, breathing in the lioness’ rank scent, mingled with that of wild sage crushed beneath the wheels, listening to the ranger explaining lion behaviour in a quiet undertone. Meanwhile, the tracker scans the ground for other big-game spoor. 

Perhaps they’ll be lucky enough to find a leopard stashing her kill in a tree tonight, or see jackals bounce through the high grass as they pursue invisible rodents, oblivious to the ranger’s spotlight. 

What is certain is that later they’ll find themselves around a sheltered campfire being served a delectable dinner, with some of South Africa’s best wines to hand. At night they’ll lie down on the finest linen, hearing the eerie whoop of hyena in the distance, perhaps the child-like cry of a bushbaby, and almost certainly, the roaring of lions. 

This is the allure of the south-western boundary of the Kruger National Park – also part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. The 50km fence that once divided Sabi Sand from Kruger is long gone, and wild animals including the Big 5 move back and forth along their old migration routes. 

The reserve (now covering about 65 000 hectares) dates back to the 1920s, when a number of people held hunting concessions there in the dry winter months. Later on, this became an association of freehold landowners. 

The fact that 2 perennial rivers, the Sabie and the Sand (after which the reserve is named), flow through it means that the area offers excellent wildlife viewing all year round. Some of South Africa’s finest luxury game lodges are found here – among the best known are Sabi Sabi, Mala Mala, Singita, Londolozi, Ulusaba, Chitwa Chitwa, Idube, Lion Sands, Exeter and Djuma. 

They all offer individual attention, privacy, outstanding cuisine and luxurious accommodation, while the décor is often breath-taking. Some of the lodges offer spas with masseurs, aromatherapy and reflexology. 

In addition, the guides at the lodges know every square centimetre of their areas. They can often take you right to rare leopard sightings, or to where wild dogs have hidden their pups in dens. 

Incidentally, the only hunting these days is done with a camera… 

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