SOUTH AFRICA: BACK TO EARTH AT SABI SABI

Vacations & Travel - - Contents - BY HE­LEN HAYES

For all crea­tures great and small, head to Sabi Sabi in South Africa.

Our sa­fari ve­hi­cle sput­ters to a halt in the mid­dle of a dry river bed and our guide, Ryan de Beer, in­structs us to shut our eyes. Think­ing we had bro­ken down and there was a ram­pant lion on the loose, I was happy to oblige.

Peek­ing through fin­gers – my sense of cu­rios­ity al­ways gets the bet­ter of me – I can’t see or hear any hun­gry big cats. In fact, I can hear a big, fat, noth­ing.

“You can open them now”, says Ryan, and we obey, gasp­ing as we look up to a sky all aglit­ter with a zil­lion stars. It is quite a sight and just adds to that feel­ing that we are in a land that time for­got, shelved some­where for an­other day.

The dry land­scape with its cover of scrappy bush, marula and lead­wood trees, is wait­ing for the spring rains to come to life, but while it might look brown and unin­spir­ing, it makes it eas­ier to spot the wildlife that lurks, slinks or flies be­yond.

And in this cor­ner of Kruger Na­tional Park, in the Sabi Sabi Pri­vate Game Re­serve, there is plenty of it. We bump off be­fore the sun is truly up in the morn­ings and again be­fore the sun sets over the sa­van­nah, when the an­i­mals are likely to be up and about to es­cape the heat of the day.

We linger un­der trees watch­ing leop­ards snack­ing on kills they had dragged up into branches, and caught our breath at one sight­ing, as the leop­ard climbed down the trunk, de­fy­ing grav­ity, be­fore ly­ing down mere me­tres away, lick­ing his paws and clean­ing him­self like our Burmese cat at home. They are mag­nif­i­cent an­i­mals up close.

We stop on sev­eral oc­ca­sions to watch the South­ern Pride of lions go­ing about their busi­ness. The first time, they are sleep­ing un­der a scrag­gly clus­ter of bushes try­ing to stay in the shade, one of the adult males show­ing a large – very large – tooth stick­ing out at an un­seemly 90-de­gree an­gle. Ryan reads our minds and tells us that he had been kicked in the mouth by a gi­raffe.

The sec­ond time, there is much more ac­tion, with the Pride en­joy­ing the fruits of a suc­cess­ful hunt. We watch as first the males, then the fe­males and lastly the cubs take their turn at a buf­fet of a ‘duo of buf­falo’ lunch, and find a third one, set aside for dessert, be­ing guarded by an­other male a short dis­tance away.

An­other day we are so close to a pack of wild dogs, com­plete with hy­per­ac­tive pups, play­ing bois­ter­ously with what looks sus­pi­ciously like a warthog tail. These en­dan­gered dogs are the marathon run­ners of the an­i­mal world, lop­ing eas­ily along, chas­ing their prey un­til the an­i­mal runs out of puff, mak­ing it an easy meal.

For all crea­tures great and small, head to Sabi Sabi Pri­vate Game Re­serve in South Africa.

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