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Savanna Private Game Reserve, Part 1

Savanna Lodge, Sabi Sands

Savanna Lodge, Sabi Sands (transfer)My first stop was to Savanna Lodge. I flew with Federal Air from Jo’burg which depending on the arrival of other passengers seems to adjust its departure time accordingly. This lengthened my transit time from 5 hours to over 7 hours by the time I actually boarded the plane. After this experience and the fact that I arrived around 4am with Etihad from Abu Dhabi I would definitely book myself into the Intercontinental at Jo’burg airport to catch up on some sleep and to freshen up especially since the Federal Air doesn’t pick you up until 6.30am or later depending on your departure.

The Federal Air Terminal offers a pleasant private departure area that provides tea/coffee facilities, cold drinks and snacks for guests. It has a lovely outdoor garden with plenty of tables/chairs and indoor lounges and tables. It is advisable to bring a warm jacket whilst waiting for your plane because the lounge and outdoor areas don’t warm up until after 9.30am. The small shop providing last minute safari attire did a bit of a trade with passengers not adequately dressed plus the lack of heating also probably assisted sales. The staff did turn on the heating after seeing how cold I and a few other passengers were. After about 10am the temperature was really comfortable and no jumpers/jackets etc were needed.

The one-hour trip to Sabi Sands (I was told it was Richard Branson’s airstrip) was an uneventful flight apart from the smell of petrol. The strong smell of fuel from the moment we boarded was not a comforting sign and meant that many of the passengers were breathing through scarfs for the first 20 minutes of the flight. The pilots were notified of the smell and told us that this was not an issue. The plane was quite cold during the flight until a Federal Air staff member flying with us asked for the heating to be turned on. Another reason to make sure you have adequate clothing during the flight.

Upon arrival in Sabi Sands a lovely man from Savanna welcomed me. Seeing I was the only guest arriving by plane that day I was whisked off along with my luggage for the 45-minute transfer/game drive to the lodge. Along the way I saw elephants and impala and sat transfixed at the beautiful countryside. My driver provided me with plenty of information about the area and the animals I was expected to see during my stay.

Once arriving at Savanna I was greeted by the management and we went through the daily program. I was offered a snack and a drink to tide me over until lunch at 2.30pm. I was then taken to my room, which was a luxury tent.

My room was a lovely space to recharge my batteries before setting out on safari. The king size bed was extremely comfortable with side tables/lamps offering a lovely ambience to the room in the evening. The super large bathroom/wardrobe area offered all amenities required to freshen up after a game drive. This included a stunning bathtub, outdoor shower, indoor shower and separate toilet. The double sink offered lots of bench space especially since I was travelling solo. My only issue was that there were not enough plugs to recharge all of my batteries until I discovered the power board next to the wall on the other side of the room. The closet space was fine for the limited time I was there. The offer of free laundry certainly meant that the need for excess luggage was not necessary. The toiletries provided also meant that the need for sunscreen, insect repellent and body lotion were also not needed. I wish I had known before I packed for a 3 week trip! The little front porch with two lounge chairs provided a great space to unwind between safari drives and was in front of a watering hole that on occasion had animals visiting it. There was an awesome mini-bar that had a wonderful array of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and treats in case I needed a snack. This was lovely and meant that I didn’t need to go to the main bar all the time if I wanted a drink or snack.

Lunch was served around 2.30pm where I was introduced to my guide Patrick and the tracker he was training whilst his normal tracker was having his break. The food on offer at Savanna was completely unexpected and really delicious. It was always accompanied by South African wines, which were really nice. There were also more fine wines on offer at an additional charge. Other spirits and aperitifs were also included in the room charge as well as morning and afternoon teas.

In regards to the food and drinks I never once felt hungry or thirsty and most days had to limit myself to only my main meals because of the amount of wonderful food on offer. The serving staff and my butler always remembered what kind of drink I liked and was always happy to offer other suggestions depending on the food on offer. They were also always there to welcome me back after a game drive with a hot towel to wipe the grime off my face for a quick clean up after my drives.

The dining experience at Savanna was normally with people who were on safari with you. Your guide also joined us for meals, which meant lots of stories from their experiences at Savanna and from my fellow travellers. Guests were also given the option to have private dinners on the deck of their tent. We also had one evening where we dined outside under the stars and were serenaded by an African choir from the local community and another evening we had drinks under the stars and then dined in the railway carriage Savanna has restored to cater for special dinners. Both evenings were just wonderful and only added to the magic of the lodge.

As a single traveller I am always happy to dine alone and go through photos/videos but I did enjoy the meals at Savanna because it allowed all the guests to enjoy a dining experience that is not normally associated with safari and especially allowed single travellers to feel comfortable without having to sit alone at “single” tables surrounded by couples and groups.

I can say that my jeep was a wonderful group that included a couple from the UK, Cape Town and for the last two days a couple from the US. Everyone got on famously well and the laughs from everyone’s stories and jokes during the drives I believed contributed to the abundance of animals that were always happy to come and say hello to us.

In regards to the safari aspect and seeing the animals I was completely shocked and speechless at how many animals and how close they came to our safari vehicle. From the moment I arrived at Savanna I encountered the big five on so many occasions I lost count. I was truly blessed with amazing proximity to many animals, which allowed me to take so many incredible photos and videos to remember my time at Savanna.

I would recommend that anyone who is not comfortable with such proximity consider how they will react on a safari because it is important to remain quiet and calm when on safari. I never once felt unsafe with my ranger or tracker and at all times felt they were making the right decisions to keep everyone in the car protected yet enjoying what Sabi Sands has to offer.

Normally you would share the car with your travel partner allowing for two people for every row and up to 6 people in the car. This was something that I was very happy with. In general over my time at Savanna I didn’t have anyone to “share” my row, which allowed me to easily take photos and videos without having someone to block my view. There is a hard box situated in the middle of the row to allow you to put your camera equipment and other incidentals to protect them and keep them easily accessible. It also kept a Savanna raincoat and clear glasses if you needed to use them. The box did mean that it was not possible to move across the seat if there were animals on the other side of the car. The car did have a day where we had 7 people and the middle box was removed in my row. I was not happy with this, but fortunately the 7th person took the front seat. I was not prepared to move my seat and certainly didn’t want two people next to me on my row prohibiting even more my view and access to seeing the animals on the other side of the car. I think this is super important to discuss with your travel agent and your lodge if you are a single traveller or photographer.

In regards to the “best” row to sit on whilst on safari is hard to choose. I was able to experience each row during my stay at Savanna. The first row provided me with the best access to video and photographic opportunities with having only the ranger in front of me plus being closer to the ground for any animals that were lying down. It also allowed me to converse with the ranger easily and to ask the 100s of questions that I had and to easily listen to anything the ranger had to say.

The middle row was higher up and was ideal for those that were a little uncomfortable being closer to the animals. It was a comfortable seat and did allow me to still hear what the ranger was talking about without too much straining.

The last row was great for offering a higher view but even better was the 360-degree view especially as we drove away from animals and it allowed me to get some great videos as we departed areas. I could never hear the ranger and what he was saying and he had to repeat things quite loudly if I wanted to hear what he had to say. In the end I didn’t bother listening to what he was saying and concentrated on watching the animals. The ride was always bumpy which meant that videoing or photographing as we were driving was not ideal for those that have any back problems or find climbing into the vehicle difficult.

Savanna also offers guests the opportunity to visit the local village, which provides many of the staff at Savanna. The tour is done between the morning and afternoon game drives. It allows you to see three local choirs that sing local songs, a trip to a local house to see how corn is husked manually and then a type of maize porridge is made. I was also able to try local handmade peanut butter, which was amazing. We then went to a local non-profit childcare centre offering childcare to disadvantaged babies and toddlers. It was a brilliant and very humbling experience.

Savanna also sponsors a local after school care facility, which provides help to local children who have been affected by HIV. Many of these children don’t have the opportunity to even eat one meal a day or have family members to assist them with homework or to provide a stable home environment. The centre allows the children to have at least one meal a day and to have an adult help with homework and study. The work these ladies provide is absolutely brilliant and will help bring a new generation to the village that has been severely effected by HIV/Aids.

I will never forget my experiences at Savanna. I look back at the videos and photos I have from my time there and at no stage did I ever look unhappy. I don’t think I have ever had a holiday where all I did was smile. I even shed a few tears as I left because of the wonderful way I was treated and the brilliant experiences I had during my stay there. I would definitely recommend anyone to visit Savanna and to experience the amazing hospitality they offer to each and every one of their guests. It truly is a special place that everyone should try to experience.

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