Jennie Bond visits Sanbona Wildlife Reserve with Tropical Sky
Lying by the pool, after an
early morning game drive, I was distracted by a flock of mouse birds, long
tails silhouetted against the blue sky, swooping into a nearby tree and
disturbing a small troop of baboons.
It struck me as a particularly
exotic moment, during a two day adventure on safari in South Africa.
My husband, Jim, and I had
sailed into Cape Town on board Cunard's Queen Elizabeth. At our age, we didn't
fancy the hassle of flying up to the Kruger, so we opted instead to hire a car
and drive to Sanbona Wildlife Reserve in the Little Karoo: a semi-desert region
of the Western Cape.
It was a great decision.
The three hour drive was a sheer
delight; the roads in the Cape are outstanding - farewell for a while to all
those British potholes! The journey took us through breath-taking mountains
that made us gasp; sometimes it felt as if we were in the Highlands of Scotland
and sometimes in the Wild West.
When you reach the main gate of
the Reserve, the tarmac turns to a rough track that can rattle your bones. But
we got a kick out of the illusion of being pioneers in the heat and dust of
Africa as we drove about 15 miles to one of Sanbona's beautiful lodges.
On the way, we spotted zebra,
Kudu, and some wonderful birds, including the Pale Chanting Goshawk. But the
thought that a lion or cheetah might be crouching in the bush, watching us pass
by, was a constant thrill.
With all our stopping and
staring, it took us nearly an hour to reach Tilney Manor, a luxurious oasis,
deep in the bush. It was built over a hundred years ago by a local magistrate
as a farmhouse and weekend retreat.
Cold flannels, chilled apple
juice and a tasty lunch were first on the agenda, before we were shown to our
huge suite in one of several low-lying buildings set in lovely gardens by the
This is a five star safari, with
just six suites looking out over the towering Warmwaterberg Mountains.
"Sorry about the branches
on the path" said Corlia, our welcoming host. "It's the baboons. If
you hear them banging on your roof, just clap your hands and they'll run away".
I loved the idea of baboons
coming to visit us.
I also loved our vast bathroom,
with its free-standing tub, a shower cubicle and glass doors leading to a
private outside ‘his and hers’ shower area.
But, for all the luxury, Sanbona
is, above all, about wildlife. The Reserve covers some 60,000 hectares: about
the size of Singapore. So the Big Five who roam free here have plenty of places
to hide, and the game drives (one in the early morning, one in the late
afternoon) can be a chase lasting up to four hours.
"It's just a precaution"
said our ranger, Chris, as he propped his rifle above the steering wheel of our
ten seater safari vehicle. "I've never had to use it in anger!"
In fact there were only four of
us on board, so plenty of room for all and warm blankets for when the sun went
At Sanbona, you don't feel one
of a crowd. You feel that this is an exclusive experience, a house party
with a difference.
Chris was a hugely personable
chap and his enthusiasm about life in the bush bubbled over. He taught us about
the hardy desert plants, invited us to taste the moisture in some of the
succulents and even showed us how elephant dung smells if you set fire to it:
the smoke is sweet and enticing!
But of course we wanted more
than elephant dung. We wanted elephants.
And, after a cross-country
chase, we came upon a small herd foraging in a thicket. And not just elephants,
there were four rhinos there too.
Each game drive was a different
adventure; some were more fruitful than others. But there was always the
thrill of the chase. And there were many magic moments: a lonesome giraffe
wandering down the track, a young hippo wallowing in a pool, dozens of baboons
settling down for the night high up on the rocks.
And then there were our
sundowners in the bush. Each evening Chris would stop the truck at around 6pm
and produce wine and nibbles even a tablecloth and we'd get out and watch the
Back at Tilney Manor, with
everyone home from their game drives, we would sit around a fire pit with a
glass of wine, exchanging stories about what we'd seen.
On our final night, dinner was a
delicious affair: a proper South African braai: pots of soup, ostrich stew,
barbecued meat, assorted vegetables and much more. It was a veritable
But my abiding memory of our
time at Sanbona will be our last evening game drive. Suddenly we got word that
a cheetah had been spotted on the far side of the Reserve with a Springbok
We raced across the bumpy track.
As Chris said, it was more of a "Ferrari Safari" as we tried to get
there before the light faded.
Eventually, he found her.
Crouched in the bushes, by a dry riverbed, eating her kill.
"Do you want to get out and
take a closer look?" asked Chris.
We looked at him as if he were
He took out his rifle and gave
us a safety briefing: walk in single file, don't talk, don't run, keep calm.
We walked gingerly behind him as
we approached the magnificent cat. We got so close we could almost smell her.
She looked at us with passing curiosity, but was clearly far more interested in
It was one of those moments we
shall remember forever.
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