A few weeks ago, I spent my Sunday morning chasing a cheetah in a safari Jeep with four others, our driver and a spotter, who professionally tracks these wild animals. Our driver was willing to run over any tree to get us within 5 feet of the cheetah, which was in the middle of stalking some kind of invisible prey. But this is the norm at Sabi Sabi, a game reserve in Kruger National Park, a park in South Africa about the size of Israel that is home to elephants, giraffes, leopards and, yes, cheetahs.
On my first game drive, I quickly realized that these rangers were no joke. The leisurely drive on the road I had imagined with sightings of elephants in the distance was changed about 15 minutes into the first game drive when our driver, Solomon, took our group off-roading to get within arm’s length of a mother elephant and her two twin calves at her feet.
The rest of my three game drives were no different. In the course of two days, I saw at least one of the Big Five—elephant, rhinoceros, Cape buffalo, leopard and lion—as well as a cheetah, hippopotamus, black mamba snake, alligator and giraffe, not to mention all the birds and other animals that Solomon described as the bush equivalent to McDonald’s.
While the game drive was certainly the highlight of this 4-property game reserve, the 25-room Bush Lodge had all the amenities of a 5-star resort. In fact, I got an African Rungu massage at the onsite Amani Spa in which the masseuse combined traditional hand massage with a wooden baton similar in size and shape to a rolling pin. I also laid by the pool for a bit until the monkeys in the trees got a little too close for comfort, although I was assured they were likely more scared of me than I of them.
“Our clients are usually very high profile, so they’re used to very formal environments,” says Lauren Wyndham, lodge manager at Bush Lodge. “Here, I think a lot of them enjoy being able to kick back and just for once feel like a part of the family. For example, they’re addressed by their first name.”
That “part of the family” experience is very obvious throughout the property. In fact, on our second night there, the lodge hosted a dinner in the bush, and they even had a birthday cake for one of the guests on our trip. Along with that they had delicious food with everything ranging from alligator stew to a lamb roasting on a spit. Every meal, in true South African form, was almost always complemented with fruit and cheese as well.
For meeting planners looking to bring several people to the game reserve, they can spread them out throughout its four properties. In addition to the Bush Lodge, there’s the 13-suite Earth Lodge, 8-suite Selati Camp and 6-suite Little Bush Camp—all of which represent the yesterday, today and tomorrow of the bush. Each one is designed with thatched roofs and dark wood, but each represent their own era.