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TThe Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve is renowned as a haven for the Big Five and for luxury game lodges of international standing. The reserve’s lush vegetation adjoins the Kruger National Park, and fences have been dropped. The wild animals cross back and forth, following ancient migration paths parallel to the Sabie River.
A 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 Sands 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.
AA 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.
TThis is the allure of the south-western boundary of the Kruger National Park, and is therefore also part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. The 50km fence that once divided the Sabi Sand from the Kruger is long gone, and wild animals, including the Big Five, move back and forth along their old migration routes.
The origins of the reserve (now about 65 000ha) date 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.
TThe fact that two perennial rivers (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 – some of the best known include 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 decor is often breathtaking. Some of the lodges offer spas with masseurs, aromatherapy and reflexology. In addition, the guides at the lodges know every inch 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.