Nelspruit - There is a great deal of substance to the claim that the Sabi Sands Game Reserve is the best cat country in the world.
In fact, when you go for a game drive you expect to see lion and leopard. You may even catch a glimpse the elusive wild dog among many other creatures.
There is such an abundance of wildlife that it almost seems as though there is no canned hunting but canned viewing instead.
There are no fences between the Idube (Zebra) Game Reserve, part of Sabi Sands Reserve, one of the largest privately owned reserves in South Africa, and the Kruger National Park, which means wild animals are free to roam at will. And they do, to the delight of visitors, many of whom are overseas tourists.
Andrew Gaylord, who runs the four-star Idube with his partner, Lauren Griffiths, boasts that their reserve has the highest density of predators in the world.
“If you come here for two nights, you will see lions or leopards,” said Gaylord. “There are no guarantees, but the chances are very high.”
We were delighted to be able to reinforce Gaylord’s claim with positive visual evidence.
On successive game drives we witnessed leopards perched high in trees as they bravely defended their kills of impala and nyala against hungry hyena and wild dogs.
It was an awesome spectacle as nine wild dogs leapt high in their attempt to drag the nyala to the ground. You cannot get better than that.
We also encountered a big pride of lions with eight cubs and three lionesses. Three large males, looking suitably bored while wondering where the next meal was coming from, watched proceedings.
Together with other Big Five sightings, it all added up to some of the most exciting moments we have witnessed in 38 years of watching game.
Idube was bought by Louis and Marilyn Marais in 1983 when there were no buildings and few animals.
Since then, they have developed a successful commercial lodge. There are nine standard safari suites and two luxury Makubela suites, built three years ago.
Visitors are never far from the excitement that permeates the camp.
A hyena visited the kitchen while dinner was being prepared by Rosey the chef. She screamed and drove the animal away with a roll of tin foil.
A female leopard called Hlaba n Kunzi, who lives up a tree outside room No 4, has also visited the kitchen and often leaves her cub in the camp while she goes hunting.
Three years ago another female leopard lived close by, before she died in a fight with a dominant male.
The amazing staff take it all in their stride. They are, according to Lauren, the key to the lodge’s success. “The staff are unreal,” she said. “There is an abundance of home-grown talent who have huge respect for the lodge.”
Further to the south in the Kruger National Park, midway between the Malelane and Crocodile Bridge gates, Idube’s five-star sister, Lukimbi Safari Lodge, offers as much beauty in its 15 000-hectare wilderness concession.
Raised walkways lead to 16 luxury suites that have excellent views of the Lwakahle River and open plains beyond.
These abound with game, including elephant and buffalo. Cheetah are popular visitors to the area.
Mammoth en suite bathrooms offer panoramic views and one wonders who is watching whom as one peers out at an inquisitive passing vervet monkey.
The excellent cuisine and the African boma make this lodge a big hit with tourists from as far afield as Argentina, France, the US and Great Britain.
Guests who find time or the energy after game drives and bush walks can work out in a gymnasium with a prime view of the bush. Conference facilities are available
For a romantic authentic bush wedding, there is a chapel on site.
A great family feel is experienced at Lukimbi and with a brand-new baby in the lodge, the special children’s programme will also come in handy for parents.
Saying our farewells, we get the easy offer of “pop in whenever you are in the area”. One is sorely tempted to return in the not-too-distant future.
l Penny Kearns’s staywas hosted by Idube Lodge
l Call 011 431 1120, fax 011 431 3597
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