Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve covers 6000 hectares and sits within the Sabi Sand Wildtuin private reserve, bordering Kruger National Park. The area, known as the Greater Kruger National Park Transfrontier Conservation Area, is home to one of the highest concentrations of privately owned wildlife reserves in the world. Sabi Sabi is also adjacent to Skukuza Airport, which means you can be out on safari spotting impala and zebra 10 minutes after landing.
Selati Camp is one of four accommodations at Sabi Sabi, and the most recently renovated. Interior design at Sabi Sabi is based on the past, present and future, with Selati representing yesterday; taking cues from the area's goldmining past. The camp is built alongside the now disused Selati Railway line that carried gold between Barberton and the Mozambique coast from the 1870s.
The turn of the century railway theme is immediately evident upon stepping into the main lounge and bar area. The room is festooned with railway memorabilia including locomotive nameplates and railways tools. Shunter's lamps light the way to suites that are named after stops along the railway line. Guests are told tales of how passengers waiting at the nearby former Newington Siding station had to climb trees to avoid ravenous lions. Instead of a platform, the railway company provided ladders next to the tallest trees for nervous commuters.
Selati Camp looks over the Msuthlu River, where herds of elephants can often be spied hydrating for the day, sometimes they will wander into the camp and stop for a drink in the pool. Next to the pool, a thatched roof sundeck furnished with lounges and plumped pillows overlooks the river. It's the preferred position to sit with your field guide, post safari, and tick off what you've seen. Sabi Sabi's philosophy and practice of creating a "luxury home in the bush" has earned it a place as one of National Geographic's Unique Lodges of the World.
The seven suites are standalone cottages. My suite, The Newington (named after the station, though thankfully no need for ladders) has vaulted ceilings, Persian carpets, an antique wardrobe, a giant chandelier and a feature wall full of memorabilia including framed photos of lions, illustrations of giraffe and cheetahs and a pith helmet. The bathroom has a claw-foot bath tub as its centrepiece. The Ivory Presidential Suite has a four-poster bed (all beds have mosquito nets), a Chesterfield lounge with floral covered cushions, and an outdoor bath so you can sit back, soak and spy wandering wildlife. It all works wonderfully well in evoking an historic Out of Africa experience.
Sabi Sabi's warm and welcoming executive chef, Gift Khoza, specialises in preparing fresh and hearty home-cooked cuisine, and personally introduces each meal. Post-safari breakfast is served on the deck under fig and jackalberry trees overlooking the riverbed where purple-crested turaco flutter above and cheeky vervet monkeys eye off any leftovers. Lunch includes such specialties as the karoo ostrich wrap marinated in apricots, onion and mustard, and the Selati beef burger with delicious homemade pineapple relish. The afternoon pre-safari cakes and biscuits are moreish. Dinner is served under candlelight in an open-air boma or farmhouse kitchen with a good range of South African and international wines available.
Days at Sabi Sabi start and end by jumping in the open Land Cruiser for close encounters with local wildlife. We're led by ranger Terry and tracker Sidney across the vast bushveld where The big five, the little five and the ugly five roam freely between Kruger and the Sabi Sand Wildtuin. A cheetah on a termite mound surveys the scene, a tower of giraffe munch on leaves, a dazzle of zebras cross the path, it seems at every turn we spot a new beast.
On the morning safari, birds chorus, and the beautiful lilac-breasted roller swoops past. On the evening safari we hear the call of wild from monkeys warning of danger as the sun dips down behind the Drakensberg mountains. We stop for a sundowner of Inverroche Amber gin and tonic set up in front of the vehicle, and as darkness falls the nocturnal animals begin to stir. It's easy to see why people rate these safari experiences so highly, they can be life changing.
Service is excellent, and the design successfully evokes a time period while offering high luxury. Consider splitting time in this camp with the more capricious Earth Lodge at SabiSabi for an experience encompassing the past and future.
Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve lies 500 kilometres east of Johannesburg. South African Airways fly daily from Perth to Johannesburg with connecting flights to and from major cities with code share partners Virgin Australia. There are direct flights between Johannesburg and Cape Town to Skukuza Airport, Kruger National Park via the regional feeder airline, SA Airlink flyairlink.com flysaa.com Suites at Selati Camp Sabi Sabi start from $ZAR12,000 a night. See sabisabi.com
You can tell that everyone who works here truly loves their job and the surroundings. The passionate staff, including the chef, the rangers and the trackers, are generous i with their wisdom.
You won't get the standard of coffee we have come to enjoy in Australia, but Selati Camp's iced coffee makes a good substitute.
Andrea Black was a guest of Sabi Sabi and South African Airways.