Satao Elerai Camp, Amboselli, Kenya

With fantastic views of Kilimanjaro, Satao Elerai is a comfortable camp a stone’s throw away from world-famous Amboseli National Park

Review by Jonathan and Sophie Ellaby

We didn’t see it at first – Africa’s highest peak is usually tantalizingly shrouded in cloud – but our tent faced due south and as the sun set, casting its amber rays over the bush, its snow-capped peak peeped over the clouds, impossibly high. From the comfort of the deck of our luxury tent, we watched it until the light died completely. There can be fewer more moving sights in the African landscape than this.

And Satao Elerai is a great place in which to experience it. It’s twenty minutes down a bumpy road to the camp, which is unfenced and within a Conservancy adjacent to Amboseli, so you really feel you’re in the wild. The tents are well-spaced and feel private, while the main lodge area is refreshingly unpretentious, cool and shady, with views over the plains (and of course, of that little mountain).

Pool at Elerai

Pool at Elerai

A highlight for us is the rim-flow pool, deliciously cool, again with wonderful views out over the bush.

We arrive in time for lunch before enjoying a relaxing afternoon at the lodge. There’s not a huge amount of game around the lodge itself (though anything is possible, and there’s a waterhole in sight of the main deck), but over dinner (served at private tables) we were serenaded by the most vocal frogs we’ve heard yet, some just metres away. You have to hear this sound to believe it.

Next morning we’re treated to a clear view of Kili and head into Amboseli for a game drive. It’s only a few minutes before we’re surrounded by a herd of more than two hundred elephant, with iconic Kilimanjaro framed in the background. It’s the stuff of wildlife documentaries, a truly memorable sight.

Views of Kili from the lodge iteself

Amboseli is not without its problems. Frequent droughts and conflict between wildlife and the Masai have had a serious effect on the Park over the last few years. Few trees remain and in the dry season it can be unbearably dusty. All the rhino and most of the lion have now vanished, while park fees continue to increase. Yet Amboseli continues to draw the crowds, and to see the hoards of other game framed by Kilimanjaro (if it’s not in cloud)…well…it’s one of those things you have to see.

Most people come to Satao Elerai  with a car and driver from Nairobi, which is 5 or 6 hours drive away, but it’s possible to fly in and/or arrange game drives in Amboseli with guides from the lodge.

Our verdict: Solid choice with great views of Kili, close to iconic Amboselli National Park

Good for: Groups of all sizes, good value

Not so good for: Less intimate atmosphere than some smaller lodges

Wild Frontiers – Ishasha Wilderness Camp and Buhoma Lodge, Uganda

Wild Frontiers is one of the few companies to offer world-class safari accommodation in Uganda. Jonathan and Sophie visit Ishasha and Buhoma to see for themselves.

Review by Jonathan and Sophie Ellaby

Uganda is still an emerging safari tourist destination, but in our minds it’s currently in a sweet spot – developed enough to offer enough top class accommodation to put together a luxury safari itinerary, but without the mass market issues of Tanzania and Kenya. If you’re looking for something a bit different, Uganda is it.

A river runs past it

And Wild Frontiers makes this possible. Ishasha Wilderness Camp is the gem of Queen Elizabeth National Park’s southern Ishasha sector, a remote area renowned for its tree-climbing lions.

We arrive on a hot day before the season’s rain has started, and immediately feel the cool of the shady trees along the river where the lodge is set. This river location is what sets the camp apart – it’s big enough for elephant to bathe in (we watched a big herd doing just that right across from the lodge) but not big enough to invoke that restless feeling of the sound of gushing water. It’s the sort of sound you can fall asleep to peacefully.

Main lodge, Ishasha

Main lodge, Ishasha

We’re greeted by the manager Abu and his staff and are impressed by their professionalism, which can be a rarity in Uganda. The luxury tents are spread out along the river; being mostly made of mesh, you really feel like you’re part of the bush and at night the sounds of hyena, hippos chomping just outside and (if you’re lucky), lion, feel all the closer. Ishasha feels wild, and it is.

Being a wilderness camp, there are certain compromises on luxury – no hair dryers for example, and electronics charging at a point in the main lodge only, but it’s a small price to pay. The lodge has excellent eco-credentials too; it’s run on solar, has hot bucket showers and flushing eco-toilets.

Even better is to come, with the most scrumptious 4 course dinner we’ve ever had in Uganda, served with style. If you like your food, you won’t be disappointed at Ishasha where all meals are fresh and prepared mostly with local produce.

The river at Ishasha Wilderness Camp

The river at Ishasha Wilderness Camp

Most people will head out on a game drive to spot the (sometimes elusive) tree-climbing lions but even without these, the Ishasha section of QENP is spectacular, with huge herds of elephant and buffalo, as well as antelope to admire.

Alternatively you can opt to stay where you are and soak up the extremely relaxing camp atmosphere where you’ve got a fair chance of seeing all of the above from your tent’s verandah, or the sundowner deck virtually hanging over the river.

Mountain Gorillas

From Ishasha, it’s a scenic 3 hour drive out of the plains and into the forested hills of Bwindi, to what, for many people is the highlight of their Ugandan safari – the mountain gorillas.

Buhoma Lodge is situated two minutes walk from the starting point of the most popular gorilla treks in East Africa. Several habituated groups are within easy striking distance and we had a spectacular encounter with the Mubare Group, including a 5 day-old baby. Be sure to have your gorilla permit organised weeks or months in advance at popular times year.

View from Buhoma Lodge

View from Buhoma Lodge

Buhoma lodge is the ideal place to relax after the physical strains of tracking these beasts through thick, steeply forested slopes. You’ll enjoy a complimentary massage, and the staff will even clean your boots!

We loved the location, each suite set on a steep slope with views out across the forest. There’s fantastic birding around the lodge itself, and even better on the track that runs through the forest right past the lodge.

Most people who stay at Ishasha and Buhoma will be with a hired vehicle and driver, as part of a larger Ugandan trip. QENP and gorilla tracking are virtually compulsory parts of any serious visit to Uganda, and Wild Frontiers’ offerings here are hard to beat.

Ndali Lodge, Uganda

Mention Ndali to anyone in the safari-know or living in Uganda, and the accolades will follow immediately. Jonathan and Sophie visit what is often described as Uganda’s top lodge to see what all the fuss is about. What did they find? A gorgeous, tranquil, home-away-from-home!

Review by Jonathan and Sophie Ellaby

Perched on the rim of an extinct volcano, Ndali Lodge overlooks the magnificent crater lake of Nyinambuga. With 8 luxury suites all facing west (for that killer sunset over the magnificent Rwenzori Mountains), this lodge delivers on high standards – from comfort to decor to food – to atmosphere.  Owner Aubrey, who manages the lodge with his wife Clare, is charismatic and warm and its this effusiveness that gives the lodge it’s homely feel.

Ndali Lodge

Ndali Lodge

Joining the guests for all meals (which are all communal), he does an outstanding job in making sure all guests are happy at all times. And most importantly his enthusiasm for the estate, the area and the community projects that Ndali is involved in shines through in every conversation. Communal meals are always a favorite of ours and at Ndali they highlight just how well that concept works for a small, intimate lodge – already at our first meal (a delicious lunch of quiche, salads and vanilla cake) the atmosphere is spot-on and we immediately make a few new friends from around the world, some of whom we’ll be staying in touch with. It’s not just about the beautiful surroundings, or the top-rate chimp trekking nearby – safaris are also about people.

Dining with a view, Ndali Lodge

Dining with a view, Ndali Lodge

That night we enter the lounge and dining room and find both bathed in candlelight – the perfect venue for a cosy, homely and delicious dinner prepared from locally sourced, fresh ingredients.

At Ndali you’re under no pressure to embark on activities all day long. Soak up the views, have a cocktail, go to the spa, the sauna or simply snooze. Most guests visiting the Crater Lakes will spend one day doing chimpanzee trekking in Kibale Forest (which, by the way, also boasts other primates such as L’Hoest’s Monkey, Black&White Colobus and Grey-cheeked Mangabey); otherwise there are endless hiking opportunities in and around the many crater lakes. Also, birding is phenomenal – on a short walk around the lodge we spotted 20 species in no time – including the stunning Green-headed Sunbird!

Relax with a view...Ndali Lodge

Relax with a view…Ndali Lodge

In the Crater Lakes / Kibale region of Western Uganda, Ndali Lodge is without a doubt our choice – and a great stopover as part of a larger Uganda tour, between Murchisson Falls and Queen Elizabeth National Park. Here you arrive as strangers and leave as family. And so, let the accolades continue!

The Zanzibar Collection

On the East Coast of Zanzibar, on one of the island’s award-winning beaches lies a trio of beach resorts, each with its own unique character, each exquisite in its own way. Sophie and Jonathan visited The Zanzibar Collection’s Breezes Beach Club, Baraza and The Palms and discovered peace, tranquility and proper beach-TLC!

Review by Jonathan and Sophie Ellaby

Breezes

We’re impressed the moment we arrive at Breezes. Ayman has only been head of operations for one week and yet we get the impression that he’s been here for years – as he gives us a grand tour, his enthusiasm for this beautiful resort is obvious and makes us feel right at home.

Pool at Breezes

Pool at Breezes

It’s low-season and still Breezes is running at almost full capacity, and we quickly discover why this resort is a favorite among Zanzibar regulars. With everything a beach-lover’s heart could possible desire right on the doorstep, such as a PADI-certified dive centre, endless water sports opportunities (kayaks, wind and kite surfing and more), a beautiful pool, spa, gym and several dining venues – this place delivers.

Breezes villas

Breezes villas

After settling in to our tastefully appointed and well-equipped room we head straight to the pool for a swim (well-deserved after biking 60 km here from Stone Town!), followed by lunch in the pool bar. As a nice touch, Breezes offers all new arrivals a pre-dinner welcome drink and canapés on the first night – this creates a nice informal atmosphere and encourages guests to mingle. The Gala Dinner in the Sultan’s Restaurant is an à la carte 3-course gourmet experience with a good selection of seafood – a natural highlight of Zanzibar’s culinary delights. Accompanied by a live jazz band with excellent singers, we tuck into avocado hummus, coconut prawns, white snapper with rock lobster and finally passion fruit pavlova for dessert. Breezes may be a 4-star hotel but it certainly doesn’t ‘settle’ for that – the aspirations are sky high and that shows – we would happily award 5 stars!

Beachfront at Breezes

Beachfront at Breezes

Best for: Families and couples alike

Not so good for: Struggling with this one…

Our verdict: Excellent value for money – prime property on a prime beach with top-notch facilities.

Baraza

It’s a short bike ride for us the following day as we move 250 metres down the beach to Baraza, the 5-star sister hotel to Breezes. With its distinctive Omani design in not only the symmetrical architecture and layout but also in the interior décor, Baraza has 40 private villas, some with garden views, others ocean views and some with an exclusive ocean front location.

Pool at Baraza

Pool at Baraza

The 2-bedroom villas are perfect for two couples travelling together, or a family. Interiors are simple, yet lavish – brass lanterns, ornamental trays, private plunge pool, a king-sized bed, TV, mini-bar, bathrobes, slippers and the essential air-con. We are thoroughly impressed as manager Valeria shows us around the giant property – the feeling of space is overwhelming and even with a fully-packed Baraza it would never seem crowded. The pool is big enough to do laps (although there is also a separate lap pool in the spa), and the area is beautifully designed with lots of areas for relaxation.

Buffet at Baraza

Buffet at Baraza

Lunch is a culinary buffet – we are spoilt for choice as we struggle to decide between lobster sandwiches, chicken satay, pizzas, salads, not to mention the desserts (chocolate éclairs, coconut mousse, apple cake, and more)… the decadent lunch leaves us in need of some exercise. Luckily, Baraza has a fully equipped gym and even its own yoga instructor! We spend the afternoon lazing by the pool, enjoying the sea breeze and watching the tide come in. Just as we start to feel thirsty, one of the many waiters arrives with a bottle of water in an ice bucket… timed to perfection, what more could you ask for? A cocktail perhaps, so we order one of those.

Our suite at Baraza

Our suite at Baraza

The staff at Baraza deserve a special mention – gracious and welcoming, with incredible attention to detail, we were in good hands from start to finish. It is often the level of service that truly characterizes a place, and at Baraza they’ve got that down to a fine art. There’s even an impressive Kids Centre with its own pool and babysitters available. Before dinner we enjoy a cocktail in the Dhahabu Bar, where a group of musicians perform traditional live taarab music.

The culinary ambitions are not to be underestimated and for dinner we enjoy an outstanding Asian-themed buffet with (again!) an overwhelming amount of choice (including sushi, our favorite). Baraza delivers, on every level.

Good for: couples, honeymooners, families…basically everyone.

Not so good for: Still contemplating this one…!

Our verdict: An exquisite and quintessential 5-star resort with an outstanding level of service and amazing food. Our personal favorite of the three Zanzibar Collection resorts.

The Palms

It’s no coincidence that we visit The Palms on our last night. Located on the middle stretch of beach between Breezes and Baraza, The Palms is an exclusive collection of 6 colonial villas nestled amongst palm trees. The atmosphere here is laid back, quiet, relaxing – the guests are truly the centre of attention. Service is discrete and very respectful of those wanting an intimate, private holiday. Best of all? No kids allowed! In other words: this is honeymoon heaven. And with the added benefit of being able to use all the facilities at Baraza and Breezes, you really get the best of all worlds at The Palms.

Pool at The Palms

Pool at The Palms

As we walk into our villa, we are greeted by a bottle of complimentary champagne and there are traditional ‘kangas’ as gifts to wear on the beach. Each villa has its own plunge pool and its own private thatched beach “banda” with sun loungers and a sheltered day bed for that essential afternoon snooze. All meals are à la carte and the culinary levels are as high here as at Baraza – for dinner we have a trio of avocado, prawns with aubergine, fish stew with lobster and chocolate fondant for dessert. It’s the perfect wrap-up for our beach break.

The Palms

The Palms

Good for: Honeymoon couples and those wanting a very private holiday.

Not so good for: Those not wanting all meals à la carte – but then again, with the option of going next door to Baraza to indulge in their buffets, you really get the best of both.

Our verdict: An intimate resort with a compelling sense of peace and tranquility.

The Zanzibar Collection has something for everyone at different budgets and it’s our recommendation for beach resorts in Zanzibar. Whether you’re looking for a stand-alone beach break, or looking to unwind after an East Africa safari, you won’t be disappointed here.

For our top safari recommendations, see the safari section of our blog.

Singita Grumeti Reserves

Situated on 350,000 acres of private, prime Serengeti real estate, the Singita Grumeti lodges promise some of the most spectacular game viewing in Africa. Jonathan and Sophie do a tour of the lodges

Review by Jonathan and Sophie Ellaby 

Sasakwa – a Palace on a Hill

The Serengeti is not all flat. Small rocky hills, or koppies, rise out of it and it’s atop one of these koppies that Sasakwa lodge perches, looking south. As well as picking up a nice, cool breeze, it also results in probably the most jaw-dropping view from any safari lodge, anywhere in Africa.

You see it framed as you walk in, on oriental carpets, next to the antique furniture – like a vast open-air window, the view out across the plains suddenly catches your eye and wrenches you. We wanted to just stop and stare.

View from Sasakwa

View from Sasakwa

This is the view of Africa that people dream of – even those that live in Africa – of a vast savanna plain dotted with acacia trees, against the backdrop of distant mountains and a dark, stormy sky. And just visible far below, tiny dots – wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, hartebeest, gazelle – in their thousands. And it’s not even the migration season.

We could quite happily sit out on the main lawn all day and just gawp at the view (and try to spot the odd lion) and this is what we did over a two hour, boozy lunch, table set out on the edge of the hill while our waiter Fabian brought us seared salmon and chocolate fondant. We defy you to name a more spectacular lunch spot anywhere in Africa.

Sasakwa welcome

Sasakwa welcome

But our suite beckoned, before afternoon tea and a game drive. The main lodge and suites at Sasakwa are built ‘in the grand style of an English manor home’ – and as with all Singita properties, tremendous emphasis is placed on the quality and precision of the interior design. Paneled writing desks and old leather armchairs provide the opulence and as always there’s a twist – elements of contemporary African design merge (somehow) seamlessly. The effect is of overwhelming luxury – another Singita trademark.

Our suite comprises a lavish sitting room / study, bedroom, dresser and bathroom, all leading onto a wide, shaded verandah with private pool. And oh, did we mention the view?

After high tea we head out with guide Agnes for a tour of the surrounding plains, quickly locating the local pride of 15 lion, before the heavens open and we get a good soaking. The rains, at last, have arrived.

Back at the lodge, the fire is roaring in the lavish drawing room and we pot a few balls in the billiard room before dinner on the veranda. There’s also a TV room with giant LED screen (if you have to) and gym (if you need to), morning room and spa.

Suite at Sasakwa

Suite at Sasakwa

One of Singita’s most impressive offerings is the option of horse riding throughout the reserve, with big game. From a half-day to a multi-day horse safari staying at more than one lodge – as with everything at Singita, anything is possible. Or even probable. 18 beautifully kept and trained horses at the Equestrian Centre at Sasakwa are kept for guests’ use, with a full selection of riding apparel, meaning you need bring nothing with you.

We’re not big riders ourselves, but we have it on good authority that the riding at Grumeti is likely to surpass any riding you’ve done, anywhere in the world. It’s certainly hard to imagine that anything could beat mingling with thousands of wildebeest and zebra and galloping across the Serengeti Plains. Be aware though that you need to weigh under 100kg and be a more-than-competent rider before you’ll be allowed to take the reins in an environment like this, so don’t exaggerate (or be delusional about) your abilities. Your riding will be assessed first.

Sabora – a Paradise on the Plains

Next morning we combine a morning game drive with breakfast at Sabora. Sabora somehow manages to be almost the polar opposite of Sasakwa but without feeling diminished.

While Sasakwa is set up high, Sabora is right on the plain itself, leading to the pleasant dilemma of whether (during the migration) you prefer to look down on your million wildebeest, regal-like, or have them up close, virtually stampeding your veranda and crushing your tent with surround-sound mooing and the chance of watching a close range kill over your morning tea. Decisions, decisions.

Sabora Camp

Sabora Camp

Things are more tranquil over our morning tea at Sabora, but the location again is simply incredible, the hospitality no less impressive. The tented camp is small and intimate, intended to invoke the era of ‘Out of Africa’ – the library tent is decorated with antique furniture, fascinating old books and letters – even an old gramophone. It feels like we’re stepping back in time.

If the grandeur of Sasakwa seems too much, this smaller intimate camp brings you into the heart of nature. We love it.

Singita’s Explore Mobile Tented Camp takes one more step in this direction – trading a bit of luxury for a true middle-of-the-bush feel. Now with a mandate to move throughout the Reserve, the camp moves with the wildebeest herds giving the best chance of up-close action and is especially popular with multi-day horse safaris.

Faru Faru – Harmony by a River

For us though, it was saving the best until last. Of all the Singita lodges, one must be our favourite and Faru Faru is it.

View from Faru Faru

View from Faru Faru

When comparing lodges of this quality, it becomes very personal. We couldn’t fault the hospitality anywhere in Grumeti and our waiter Zed and managers Madelein and Roger were no exception. The lodge overlooks the Grumeti River, with all the wildlife and diversity of birds that brings with it, and the suites look out directly onto the river, or a close-by waterhole where we watched giraffe and buffalos drink.

For dinner that night we had lobster and fresh tuna on the barbeque. We’ve never had lobster in the bush before – the food was simply sensational. And to the accompaniment of lions roaring.

Suites at Faru Faru

Suites at Faru Faru

Faru Faru is smaller than Sasakwa with a slightly more intimate feel, yet it also has a gym and spa, and a different, more modern, feel – like all the Grumeti lodges, it’s about variety. Really, you need two or three nights at each to understand what Grumeti is  all about.

The suites at Faru Faru defy description. Take the best of Singita Lebombo and Singita Boulders, merging bold modern with classic style, and throw in a sliding glass wall that opens up the whole suite to the African bush. Lie back in bed and it’s like having an 8 metre HD cinema screen running a wildlife documentary in front of you. Except it’s real.

Pool at Faru Faru

Pool at Faru Faru

Enough said. Singita Grumeti blew our minds – if you only go to one place in Tanzania, make it here. You won’t forget it.

Good for: The most luxurious, privileged safari you’re likely to find

Not so good for: It’s not cheap of course

Our Verdict: Probably unbeatable

Chitwa Chitwa, Sabi Sand Reserve

Review by Jonathan and Sophie Ellaby.

If safari lodges are about location, location, location, then Chitwa Chitwa is our favourite yet. After a long dusty drive, we step onto the expansive boardwalks and immediately the peace and tranquility starts to ooze into our bones.

Speaking of bones, around Chitwa Chitwa there are lots of them. Elephant skulls form sculptured statues, a chandelier of bones adorns the lodge area, our suite has what looks like a giraffe tibia decorating the coffee table. The outdoor showers of some of the suites have towel rails comprising skeletal remains of some large mammal. Original, and impressive.

Chitwa 4

The main pool overlooks the magnificent dam with several resident hippos, Chitwa Chitwa

Art meets the bush

And continuing with the décor theme, the lodge and suites are adorned with abstract art that is the work of the owner. Each piece is unique, and ties in with the theme of each room. Every suite is themed in a completely different way, showing off the owners’ interior design talent covering a wide, wide spectrum. This is where art meets the bush.

But back to location, and what the main lodge and the suites do all share in common is their incredible position on the edge of a small dam, an oasis in the surrounding bush. While most lodges may boast a modest waterhole, or partially dry river, this dam beats them all hands down. As we unwind with a cold drink, two pods of hippo honk 50 metres away, while the cries of a fish eagle echo over the still water. It’s a fantastic magnet for birds and game, and you don’t need to stray from the deck of your suite to see it all close-up.

Chitwa 2

Each suite has a private pool overlooking the dam, Chitwa Chitwa

Leopards, leopards, leopards

But located deep in the Sabi Sand reserve, our favourite game viewing area anywhere, there’s no way we’re missing a game drive, and soon we’re cruising the area with our guide, Surprise, and tracker, Ralph. It’s not long before Ralph spots a leopard in a Marula tree, with a recent impala kill draped over a branch. We have the sighting to ourselves and watch spellbound as the leopard tucks in, at one point accidentally dropping the entrails to the ground. In a single fluid movement, it slides down the tree to recover it, before slinking off into the sunset. Not bad for the first drive.

Chitwa 3

Leopard on impala kill, Chitwa Chitwa

The food at Chitwa matches all the other superlatives, with superb plated meals and friendly staff. Our waiter (improbably named Coconut) was genuine and endearing. Meals are refreshingly unpretentious, and you don’t feel as if you’re being plied with food constantly. Sophie tried out the small gym anyway, watching a herd of waterbuck come down to the dam to drink while hammering the treadmill. And hosts Claudia, Leon and Gaby do a brilliant job in making guests feel not just relaxed, but also at home. The owners’ great emphasis on attention to detail comes through in every aspect of the lodge, and leaves a lasting impression.

Surprise

We can’t wait for the morning drive with Surprise. Surprise is an old-hand Shangaan guide, who worked his way up the ranks from bush clearing, tracking and finally guiding. Mostly self-taught, he’s one of the best guides we’ve had in years of safaris. This morning he lives up to his name with a stunning sighting of a male leopard stalking a steenbok, just metres from our open-top vehicle. We watched with our hearts in our mouths as he crept closer and closer…but the steenbok was too quick and darted away in the nick of time.

If resting in your suite after breakfast sounds too lazy, you can take a game walk. I’ll take any opportunity to learn from a good Shangaan guide and as we stroll in the heat of the morning following tracks and identifying trees, Surprise tells me stories of his most radical sightings – lions eating lions, leopards eating leopards. You can see anything in Sabi Sand; you just need time and luck.

Chitwa 1

Main deck area, Chitwa Chitwa

Our incredible luck continues next day with more leopard sightings on every drive – hunting impala at night, and two leopards mating. Oh, and lions on two buffalo kills, elephant, rhino and lots more. We’re stunned. Our only disappointment? When the time came to leave.

In a climate where more and more safari lodges are becoming corporate owned and correspondingly bland and much less personal, Chitwa still retains the air of a private lodge. Touches of magic are everywhere. And did we mention that location?

Good for: Art and bush lovers alike, honeymoon couples, leopards (no guarantees!).

Not so good for: Still trying to work this one out.

Our verdict: Eclectic décor style and astonishing attention to detail, combined with a superb setting in the best game viewing area in South Africa, make Chitwa Chitwa one of our favourite choices.

Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge, Sabi Sand Reserve

Review by Jonathan and Sophie Ellaby.

Earth Lodge is like no other place. If you’re thinking warm colonial touches, kudu leather couches and zebra skin carpets as your idea of a safari lodge, forget it. Earth lodge is an assault on the senses, a monstrous statement, a wild experiment.

And we love it. Cast out of cement, river sand and straw, the lodge has a cave-like quality, while the furnishings are even more outlandish than the architecture. Driftwood from floods has been sculpted and polished and made into furniture and individual pieces of art, with mesmerising results. The bar, for example, comprises a large chunk of a dead tree, so extensive it’s integrated into the actual structure of the building, its contortions so convoluted it would have been impossible to design.

Sabi 1

Exquisite interior of our suite, Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge

We were so busy marveling at this that we almost missed the a la carte lunch so it blended into afternoon tea with an array of delicious cakes, before being introduced to our guide Marcus and tracker Louis for our afternoon game drive.

As the name suggests, Sabi Sabi is situated in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, bordering Kruger National park, the uncontested jewel of safari areas in South Africa. After an assortment of plains game and a sunset G&T it was starting to look like a quiet afternoon, until tracker Louis made a miraculous spot – the ears of a leopard crouched in the long grass some way from the road.

Sabi 4

Leopard, Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge

Driving off-road, we followed him for 15 minutes as the dusk turned to night, stalking into a dry river-bed, while a troop of monkeys in the tree above screeched their fury at the deadly intruder. There are many places you see the Big 5, but if you want more than a fleeting chance of seeing this majestic animal, Sabi Sand is about the only place to come.

Dinner at Earth Lodge is a lavish affair. Each night’s venue can be somewhere different – under the stars in the boma, the intimacy of the library, or even the elaborate wine cellar. Our 5-course extravaganza of Prawns, Pear & Gorgonzola soup, Spring Rolls, Lamb Rack, Pork Belly and Chocolate Fondant was under the stars, attended to by our jovial and excellent waiter George.

Sabi 2

Dining is a lavish, decadent experience at Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge

The staff at Earth Lodge are worthy of extra mention. At many top lodges, even in the very highest price bracket, staff will be competent but wooden, where you’ll feel comfortable but not at home. At Earth lodge, the hospitality comes naturally, and the barmen and waiters don’t need to ask your name: they know it already, and they don’t forget.

From afar, the well-spaced suites resemble termite mounds, little earth domes protruding from sunken caves, and inside too, with the earth-like, straw-textured walls and small skylights sending shafts of sunlight into the dark interior. The suites actually blend in so well that it is not unheard of to spot lions perched on the rooftops. Keep an eye out…

Sabi 3

Solitude, peace and out-there architecture, Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge

The furnishings are minimalist but very comfortable, with the same driftwood theme that characterizes the main lodge. Outside you can perch on a huge sculpted Leadwood bench next to the plunge pool, or relax on comfy loungers set in the bushveld itself. All with absolute privacy.

At 6am next morning sleep is interrupted (I was dreaming of giant termites invading our suite) by our wake-up call for the morning drive, and after a pre-breakfast we’re off into the cold, winter sunrise. Hornbills sit motionless in the trees until the weak sun warms their feathers and starts to warm us too, on our way to find rhino and wild dog.

Sabi Earth lodge, Sabi Sabi’s flagship lodge, is more than a statement, it’s a declaration. In their own philosophy, its futuristic lines represent ‘Tomorrow’. The nearby Bush Lodge and Little Bush Lodge represent ‘Today’ and it’s here that you’ll find your traditional contemporary, quintessential African safari themes. Bush Lodge is big, with outstanding child facilities, while Little Bush Lodge is small and intimate, with just six chalets.

Finally, Selati lodge is themed on the historic Selati railway line that ran close by, full of colonial charm and memorabilia from this golden age, and represents ‘Yesterday’. (It also overlooks a cracker of a waterhole, with great game close to the lodge).

But if it’s your thing, the prize is for Tomorrow.

Good for: Big splash out, something you can’t experience anywhere else.

Not so good for: Intimate, cosy feel (although if this is your thing, Little Bush Lodge offers plenty of it).

Our verdict: Out-of-this age architecture, something genuinely astonishing in South Africa’s premier game viewing reserve.