Review by Jonathan and Sophie Ellaby
When most people think of Sabi Sand Reserve, they think big, 5-star safari lodges with a price tag to match. Think again. Tucked away in a little corner is this family-run gem, where rustic charm replaces extravagant luxury.
At Nottens, things are done the way they’ve been done for years – yet nothing about this lodge feels dated, including the wonderful staff, some of whom have been at Nottens for decades. Dale, the assistant general manager and a member of the Notten family, has been coming here all his life and from talking to him you sense the pride that he and his family takes in the place.
Despite being the most affordable lodges in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve Nottens provides a top-notch safari experience with the most low-key, heart-warming and incredibly hospitable atmosphere we’ve experienced for a long time. On our first day at the delectable buffet lunch, all our fellow guests swing by our table to introduce themselves – informality is the order of the day at Nottens. And that’s wonderfully refreshing!
Although Nottens is on a small concession within Sabi Sand, traversing rights are shared with neighbouring Sabi Sabi so guests have access to a large game viewing area, and guides all share information on sightings. On our first game-drive with our excellent guide, Thomas, we are lucky to see a large pride of 11 lions all sharpening their claws on the same tree, perhaps in preparation for their next meal…
Back home (and at Nottens, it quickly feels like it), we freshen up for dinner in our tastefully decorated, candlelit room. All suites do have electricity, but no lights are fitted, which means lighting sources are from paraffin lamps and candles. This is as it’s always been – no fuss, no frills, just you and the African bush. The suites are nicely spaced and overlook the waterhole in front of the lodge; and for those visiting in the heat of summer there is a beautiful lap and plunge pool to cool off in.
For dinner we’re treated to a feast beyond expectation – Dale takes on the role of braai master while the rest of the kitchen cooks up a storm of a 4-course meal. The intimate feel of Nottens becomes particularly evident in the evenings, where guests dine together by candlelight at one long table in a cosy dining room with a roaring fire in the background. The African bush tends to draw together like-minded people and we quickly find ourselves indulged in fascinating conversations. One of our fellow guests is a 93-year old ex-WW2 glider pilot, bolt upright and sharp as nails, it all made for a lively evening.
The following morning a flask of hot water is delivered to our room along with that (very early) wake-up call. The essential pre-game-drive coffee or tea is also available in the lounge should you not wish to make your own. We set off in the cold on our last game drive and are rewarded with very close-up sightings of white rhino along with antelope and giraffe – and as we drive back into camp, a large herd of zebras come gallivanting down to have a drink at the lodge’s waterhole.
After a scrumptious breakfast we go for a very entertaining and rewarding bush walk with Joseph, the oldest (and wisest!) guide at Nottens. Walking in the wild African bush is always a highlight for us, learning about the smaller things. And we were deeply impressed not only by the level of Joseph’s knowledge but also by his legendary incredible animal sound impersonations!
All in all, it became evident to us (after only one night’s stay!) that the bush heart beats loud and clear at Nottens. The lodge, and many of its staff, have been around for decades and guests come back year after year. Before long you’ll also feel part of the Nottens family. And when that magical experience comes at a very affordable price, you have a winner on your hands. We were deeply impressed by the low-key atmosphere and intimacy of the lodge – and its sense of timelessness and familiarity will stay with us for long time.
Good for: Families, bush lovers, value-for-money
Not so good for: Luxury extravaganza
Our verdict: Quaint, old-school feel and great value in South Africa’s top safari area.