Rain lightly tickled my face as our guide, Christopher, accelerated the game vehicle on Sanbona Wildlife Reserve. I clung to my blanket that kept slipping down as I bumped up and down and side to side, the hot water bottle they handed to us at 6 am this morning bumping along. It was summer in South Africa, but it had been storming the night before, so the fresh morning air was chilly and the landscape wet.
We were staying at the Dwyka Tented Lodge, and it was our second game drive, but it looked entirely different as Christopher was heading the opposite way today. And here at Sanbona, you turn a corner, and it seems like a completely different world.
Unexpected Rain in Summer
It had been raining nearly 40ml over the past couple of days, an unusual event not only for October as South Africa headed into summer but also for this area classified as a semi-desert. This has made driving here slightly more adventurous, as we often made our way through water pools and deep mud. But Christopher knew what he was doing and moved through it swiftly and with grace.
Christopher had been trying to find the white lions the reserve is known for. They’ve had to put collars on the lions for research purposes and to keep track of them. And so, we stopped, he raised the antenna up in the air, and we waited, perched at the end of our seats. We strained our ears to try and hear the faint beep, beep that indicates that the lions are in the area.
I realised that I was holding my breath each time. Then, it got louder and louder, and we drove further and further. Finally, we heard Christopher’s walkie talkie buzzing: “We see them!” and so we were off, now following the walkie talkie’s directions.
Quest for a Glimpse of White Lion
Now, I've never had what I like to call 'safari eyes'. I struggle to spot the animals in the bush or anything from a distance.
But everyone on the safari vehicle seemed to buzz with excitement at the apparent white blobs bobbing along the dirt road in the distance. Me, I just couldn't seem to locate them, even as I zoomed in with my camera, desperately trying to catch a glimpse of them.
Luckily, Christopher predicted where they'd go, and we chased to meet them there. We waited, the engine switched off and sat staring at the bushes waiting for their debut.
A couple of minutes passed, and I thought we were heading for disappointment, when suddenly white fur appeared, followed by the most soul-piercing eyes of a white lion.
Shortly after that, a cheeky lioness followed. They swaggered straight past our vehicle. Then, the male lion seemed to make eye contact with me, and I was utterly taken aback by his majesty. And that moment reminded me why I love safaris so much.
Mindfulness in the Middle of Nowhere
Being comfortable with your own thoughts can be an art. It's uncomfortable at times. So, you have to break through that discomfort first before you reach bliss. And perhaps people just don't get past the discomfort.
But when you find yourself in the right setting, being alone can be the most indulgent experience. I find that going on a game drive is one of those moments.
I've actually recently started meditating, and I must say that going to Sanbona Wildlife Reserve was a spiritual and mental meditation for me. I found myself 'tuning out', something I rarely get to do these days, and something that I used to be disciplined for when I was a kid. Distracted, some would say.
To me, it's so delightful to just get lost in my own thoughts. And everything at the Dwyka Tented Lodge seems to be designed to get you to do just that.
Arriving at Sanbona Wildlife Reserve
Upon our arrival, I was taken aback by the unique setting. You really feel off the grid here (although you get some WiFi at the main lodge but no signal anywhere else, really).
We travelled roughly four hours from Cape Town and then another 45 minutes from the halfway lodge where we parked our car and they collected us.
You realise that you can't quickly duck out to get something (although everything you could need is here and more!) and that whatever you "had to do" will have to wait. There's something so relieving about that. You stop, put your phone away (only to take it out for photos!), and get to soak in the experience.
Then, as we walked to our luxury tent, I gazed up at the unique rock formation setting in a horseshoe bend of a dry Karoo ravine. Truly something spectacular. You feel so humbled and vulnerable in the most beautiful way out here.
As we walked, a deep grunt suddenly echoed through the ravine, cutting through the silence. The porter carrying our bags smiled.
"Baboons. We call them the gangsters of Africa," he explained, chuckling.
Our Luxury Tented Suite
The Suites all focus on that unique cliff view, with the outdoor shower and jacuzzi, indoor bath and shower, as well as the bed all facing the view. And because it's a cliff, you have all the privacy in the world.
There are all the bells and whistles you can expect, but what I really loved was the personal touch. We had Sanbona branded tin cups, soft scarves, and a hardcover coffee table book on the bed waiting for us.
Furthermore, we had aluminium water bottles personalised with our names and an info card about our safari guide. Sometimes it's really about the small touches!
A Cheetah Encounter
Imagine if you could walk right up to a cheetah? Well, that's exactly what we got the privilege to do at Sanbona Wildlife Reserve.
Once again, Christopher had his antenna up in the air. But somehow, we just could not locate the cheetah – even though the signal was very strong! It just showed me that, regardless of how we tried to understand or control the wild, it's still wild.
Eventually, after driving back and forth, Christopher suggested that we go out on foot. Now, I've been lucky enough to have been on a walking safari before, and I immediately jumped up, ready. And off we went, Christopher in the front and the rest of us following in a single file.
No one said a word, watching our step while also trying to locate a cheetah's spots in the bush. And then Christopher stopped and signalled to a nearby tree.
There he was...
A lone cheetah feasting on a fresh kill, minding his own business and not at all phased by us. We stood there, vulnerable humans mere metres from the world's fastest land mammal. And it nearly drove me to tears.
Sundowners with Gentle Giants
It's a highlight on every safari, your sundowners. As if by magic, Christopher had our preferred drinks ready, from bubbly to wine and gin and tonic, complete with an array of garnishes to choose from.
As we stood there, sipping and chatting, we realised that two of our fellow safari-goers had booked their trip through Rhino Africa! What a moment that was, literally seeing our guests rave about their booking experience, the expert advice, and the unforgettable experiences they've had so far.
I could feel my heart swelling in my chest as I saw them glow with happiness. And realised once again – THIS is why we do what we do.
With that warm glow of pride washing over me, I turned around to enjoy the view. And then, as if orchestrated, a herd of elephants shuffled past. At times like these, I always try to make mental notes of how I'm feeling in the moment, but it just never really does it justice.
You simply had to be there.
Sanbona Wildlife Reserve's Conservation Core
Sanbona Wildlife Reserve's General Manager Paul Vorster joined us on our final game drive for an Amarula coffee. This classic safari drink is coffee mixed with creamy local liquor instead of milk.
As we chatted to him, his passion for not only Sanbona but South Africa's wildlife and wild spaces was undeniable, and his positive outlook was infectious.
Having been a conservationist all his professional life, he's been assisting Sanbona with their conservation efforts since 2003. They started to defragment the area and slowly reintroduced species to the area. And since then, they have come a long way.
It's important not only to him to protect and uplift Sanbona but also to educate guests on the uniqueness of the Karoo area and the delicate balance of the ecosystem.
When we waved goodbye to him, something that he said echoed through my mind: it's not just about being sustainable anymore. It's about finding equilibrium.
And Sanbona seems to do be doing just that.
- Sanbona has something for everyone, from families in the Gondwana Lodge to couples seeking privacy at Dwyka Tented Lodge.
- The vastness and diversity of landscapes, fauna and flora was something to behold.
- Their wine collection is well-curated, and they have a small onsite wine cellar where you can select your wine.
- Their conservation stories are truly inspiring.
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