The Sabi Sands Game Reserve is one of the most famous safari destinations in Africa. Renowned for the highest standard of game viewing and its exceptional leopard sightings, you would think that a trip here would be all you need when going on safari in South Africa. I decided to challenge that notion. After recently journeying out to experience the Sands in all its glory, I also decided to combine it with a stay in the Kalahari at Tswalu. Owned by the Oppenheimer family, Tswalu Kalahari Reserve is an endless bounty of red sand dunes that are dotted with acacias which provides a safe haven for many of the rare and endangered species that call Africa home. With an extremely strong conservation ethos and an assortment of unique activities, Tswalu was the perfect addition to a Kruger safari.
Exclusivity and privacy
The Sabi Sands offers great exclusivity and privacy to guests that isn’t available inside the National Park on which it borders. Sightings are strictly controlled and typically only two vehicles are allowed in at any time. This gives you and the animal a stress free sighting that can be enjoyed by everyone. The majority of lodges are small and intimate providing the perfect opportunity to rest and relax without being disturbed by anyone else. Numerous lodges also have a strict age limit on its guests allowing those who want to escape noisy children to do so.
Tswalu however, goes one better. Each group that books is given their own private guide, tracker and vehicle for the duration of their stay. Sightings are more often than not are also private. This means you can spend as long as you want with your selected animal, allowing you to gain a private insight into their behaviour with little disturbance. Whilst Tswalu doesn’t have an adult only policy, their Junior Ranger programme provides excellent entertainment for children and introduces them to conservation practices and principles. This is an invaluable aspect of a family safari and the guides at Tswalu really know how to keep the children engaged and excited about every aspect of the bush.
Rare and endangered animals
Whilst every first time safari enthusiast will have heard of the Big 5, there is more to a safari than just these five creatures. Sabi Sands is probably the best area in South Africa for the Big 5. With its huge concentration of general game that is attracted to the waters of the Sabi River the Sands is abundant with an array of fauna and flora. Whilst the Sands boast a brilliant concentration of Big 5 animals, it is famous for the elusive spotted cat. Leopards have become so used to safari vehicles in the Sands that sightings are daily!
Tswalu on the other hand, isn’t your typical Big 5 game reserve. It does boast a healthy population of four of the ‘Big 5’ including the huge black maned Kalahari lions, stunning leopards and both black and white rhino. Their population of cheetah is also doing remarkably well and sightings are very frequent.
But what makes Tswalu such as beautiful addition to accompany a Kruger safari is that your game drives are focused solely on one type of animal. Travelling vast distances over the rolling red sand dunes, your goal will be to find lions, the enigmatic wild dogs or any other creature you may desire to see. Your drives aren’t just for ticking boxes; they are for spending time and appreciating the animals in this vast and endless landscape.
There are two animals here that are very special and people fly in from all over the world just to catch a glimpse of either of them. The pangolin and the aardvark are the pinnacle sighting on a safari. Often only seen at night, the cooler temperatures in the winter months at Tswalu provide the perfect opportunity to observe these animals during the afternoon daylight on foot! Your tracker will find the tracks of these elusive creatures and track them. Once the creature has been found you will follow before finding a position to observe that doesn’t affect the animal’s natural behaviour. Sightings of these rare and endangered species are unprecedented and to see them in the wild is truly breath-taking.
Another highlight of the Kalahari is seeing meerkats. These little creatures have become famous because of Disney’s The Lion King and it is wonderful to see them in the flesh. Tswalu has a couple of families who have become used to the presence of humans so up close photo and video opportunities are there for the taking.
Aside from these well-known creatures, other rare finds include brown hyena, aardwolf and bat-eared foxes can all be seen if you’re lucky enough!
Both the Sands and Tswalu have fantastic guides and trackers. Trained to the highest level in South Africa, the guides are well equipped for to take you on walking and driving safaris. From every bird, bee and tree, you can be sure your questions will be answered. Your game drives have no restrictions and your guides are as flexible as you, so no matter what your desire, it can probably be fulfilled!
A number of the lodges also have photographic suites and Tswalu is no different. With the fantastic sightings that can happen at any time out on safari, many of the guides are extremely competent photographers and love to help you capture that perfect shot.
Beautiful food and luxurious facilities
A sundowner in South Africa is probably one of the most enjoyable parts of a safari. Nothing beats sipping a gin and tonic whilst the setting sun paints the sky in hues of orange and purple. In the Kalahari nothing can compare with feeling the red sand between your toes and seeing the stars start to shimmer in the early evening.
A pool, spa and gym can all be found Tswalu, yet what sets this lodge aside are the small things. There is a sculpture exhibition where bronze statues of the famous birds and mammals found at Tswalu stand proudly. The food is prepared exquisitely and has the influence of Michelin star chef Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen which will make your taste buds burst with flavour.
Activities for everyone
Tswalu has no limits or boundaries when it comes to activities. Horse riding, sleep outs and helicopter safaris are the most popular extra activities that people take part in. All offer completely unique experiences of the Kalahari desert and are best accompanied by a bush breakfast. Here your guide, your tracker and you will enjoy a mid-morning feast out in the wilderness, surrounded only by the blood red sand of the desert.
Whilst going on safari is great for most, I believe that if you are visiting these wild places then we should be contributing towards the preservation of the land and animals. Tswalu does this brilliantly; with a research centre and numerous collaring and tracking programmes, your stay can also be supplemented with a visit to the research facility to meet some of the people there. Tswalu’ s conservation is one of extreme success and is of utmost importance. Recently a number of their wild dogs were relocated to start a new pack in another reserve in South Africa giving a critically endangered carnivore another lifeline.
The Kalahari really is a place like no other. The landscape and its wildlife accompanied by the attention paid to what the guest wants and the flexibility allowed really does make it the perfect addition to a Kruger safari.
Marc Harris is Managing Director of Africa Odyssey. Africa Oydssey is run by a team of award-winning experts offering tailor-made African safari holidays.