After the 45-minute flight from Johannesburg, I am completely surrounded by the African bush.
The only manmade items are the runway and a little airport terminal which is a thatch roof hut. “Hi, I am
Richard, from Inyati, come with me.” Inyati Private Lodge is located in the Sabi Sand Reserve, one of the world’s largest private conservation areas on the North East tip of South Africa made up of private reserves, whose owners run commercial safaris. With unfenced borders between each other and an unfenced 50km boundary with the famous Kruger National Park, there is almost a guarantee to see the African Big Five – lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino – during your stay.
Inyati means magnificent buffalo in Shangaan, a local African language. The resort caters to 22 guests, with a one-to-one guest to staff ratio, and has seven luxury chalets and four executive chalets.
On arrival, guests are guided to the restaurant area which is a large deck overlooking the Sand River.
‘The resort is unfenced, so animals may wonder through. They are wild so do not approach them.
Make sure your door is always locked, as the monkeys know how to open them’ – with these warnings, I am escorted to my chalet, a thatch roof luxury bungalow with a walk-in-robe and large ensuite.
With two hours before the first game drive, I unpack and head to the pool, checking twice that the door and windows are locked. As I refresh from the heat, I see the cheeky monkeys running through the open gardens in between the chalets and a mother kudu and her calf chewing on grass. By 3:30pm, I’m refreshed, showered and doused in insect repellent – it is peak malaria season.
Back at the restaurant I am greeted by the other guests who are enjoying the afternoon tea spread of local
pastries and cakes. At 4pm, we are guided to the open top Land Rover and introduced to the ranger, Khimbini, and his brother, Richard, who picked me up earlier. While Khimbini explains the ways of the bush, Richard is perched on the seat attached the front grill of the Land Rover to track the animals.
Khimbini explains the rules: ‘The animals are used to the shape of the car, so please don’t stand up or lean out. Also, sometimes we will go off track into the bush, do not grab at the branches as some have dangerous thorns, just get out of their way’. And with that we are off.
After thirty minutes, we are all getting worried. Not one animal in view. Just as I think about putting my camera away, we turn a corner and find ourselves in a herd of 100 buffalo. As Khimbini turns off the car, he points out the days-old calf running after its mother, five metres from the car. It is like we are in the middle of a National Geographic documentary.
We slowly move on, and while the sun is setting, Khimbini veers off the dirt track. One of the unique things about Sabi Sand is rangers are allowed to go off road to get closer to the animals. Everyone remembers the rules and dives as the thorn branches scrape the car. Without warning we stop and sit in complete darkness. Richard turns on the spotlight and we are surrounded by four lionesses and their five cubs. I have no idea how Khimbini and Richard knew they would be here, but they are adorable, with the cubs play fighting and sometimes annoying mum.
Driving back to Inyati, I see what the night sky looks like without large city lights, more stars than sky. As we have drinks and dinner on the balcony overlooking the lit-up river, the conversation is on the lion cubs.
There is a knock on my front door at 4.30 in the morning, my wake-up call. The sun is already starting to light up the river and there are impala on the other side eating the dew-laden grass. After a few biscuits and local Rooibos tea, we head back onto the trucks.
Eight giraffe – one heavily pregnant – meet us first off. They don’t seem to mind us staring at them as they reach the tops of the trees to get the sweetest leaves with their long tongues. After a short stop we drive off, with Khimbini and Richard staring down at the dirt road. The guests take a look too, but no one wants to admit that all they see is dirt. As we turn a corner, three elephants appear.
“That is the mother,” Khimbini points to the largest of the three, “and these are her two daughters with the youngest probably a few months old.” The baby is upset by our presence and tries to charge the car but runs off crying to mum when it doesn’t work.
Richard jumps off his seat and Khimbini gets out, continuing to examine the ground. To the untrained eye the road looks bare, but Khimbini and Richard are figuring out which way the leopard went from the faint
footprints. After thirty minutes driving, with all eyes on our ranger and tracker, Khimbini’s head pops up. On a large rock a leopard is sunning herself in the early morning rays. She doesn’t even mind that we have now driven, off road, within a metre of her and we all start clicking our cameras, while she grooms herself. After a couple poses, she grows tired of us and disappears off into the distance.
We drive off in search for more. I soon start to worry that we won’t see any rhino, after all they are once again nearing extinction due to the illegal poaching of their horns. However, Khimbini doesn’t let me down and we find a group of four white rhinos munching on the long grass. They are an extraordinary animal, prehistoric but gentle. Normally, Khimbini would be on the radio, letting the other rangers in the area know about the finding but not this time. “We don’t call out rhino sightings on the radio, as we are worried that poachers are listening in and we don’t want to let them know where they are,” he explains.
As I take my photos, I wonder whether the next generation will be able to see them in the wild.
Heading back to Inyati for brunch, I realise, that within less than 24 hours, I have seen all of the African Big Five. I shouldn’t expect any less. Inyati doesn’t only provide luxury accommodation, they also provide expert local staff, all with over ten years’ experience, to ensure you see all the wildlife you wish for.