– Klein Collection safari review by Jonathan and Sophie
Part of the Thornybush Collection and situated on its very own concession in Sabi Sand Reserve bordering Kruger National Park, Simbambili is a five-star lodge with five-star game viewing. We visited as part of our honeymoon and were blown away not just by the hospitality but by the best leopard sighting we’ve ever seen.
“Mamps is just going to walk through this block to see if he can find them”, says Liam, our guide.
Last night, Mamps, our Shangaanw tracker with 14 years experience on the reserve, heard leopards mating in the area and now, armed with just a catapult and a couple of small stones, he disappears into the long grass. Rather him than me. Half an hour later we rendez-vous with him on the Landcruiser and drive up a dry river bed, then we hear it. GRRRRRR!!!!! It sounds like they’re fighting, vicious growls and snarls, then we see them in the grass, just metres away. The female is flirting, enticing the male to mount her and then he does, biting her neck until she rolls over and swipes him with her paw, ears back, snarling. We inch closer until we’re barely two metres away, the cats so lost in their world that they barely acknowledge us.
“Just keep very still”, says Liam. “The male can be unpredictable”. We sit frozen, spell bound, as the leopards go at it again. And again. And again. It’s just us, and two very horny leopards.
We can scarcely believe it. As you’ll know if you’ve been on an African safari, leopard is the most elusive of the Big 5 and you’re lucky to spot one. Here we are, watching two of them, close enough to smell what they had for breakfast (which didn’t smell good), mating 10 times in half an hour.
Yet leopards are exactly what Simbambili Game Lodge is famous for. Part of the Sabi Sands reserve which borders Kruger National Park, this region has the highest density of leopards in the world and although you can never guarantee anything in the bush, you’ve got a high chance of spotting at least one during your stay. The record number of sightings on a single drive is 9 individuals.
Like most of the other lodges in the Thornybush Collection, Simbambili is small, intimate and luxurious. We’d arrived earlier in the day to a warm welcome from Alison, Liam’s delightful wife, greeted with a chilled face-towel and glass of ice tea as our rental car was spirited away, only to reappear when we were ready to leave. The husband-wife managing team is a great formula as it ensures a smooth running of both the hospitality and guiding aspects of the safari experience.
And at Simbambili Game Lodge, both are impeccable. We’re shown to our luxury suite, decorated in lavish colonial style and our eye is immediately drawn to the private plunge pool on the shady deck. It’s a 34C day and we cool off before dozing on the adjoining sala. Inside, we note the small things – the bed intricately decorated with russet bush-willow leaves, the personal kikois elaborately folded at the end of the 4-poster bed.
Our lunch table was ready for us, overlooking the lodge’s waterhole and we tucked into smoked salmon salad with dried mango and cashew nuts as a starter followed by lemon and basil grilled chicken and for dessert poached pears in red wine sauce.
It’s a tough job reviewing Southern Africa’s top safari lodges but someone’s got to do it and for this trip we’re combining it with our honeymoon.
If you’re considering Simbambili for a honeymoon (and it is a fantastic choice), be sure to let them know in advance because the superb staff manage, somehow, to find an over-drive that will leave you stunned. Returning from our leopard-mating game drive, an avenue of coloured petals and candles lead us to the hot tub in our suite (the largest tub we’ve ever seen, honed out of single huge piece of stone), filled to the top with soft, bubbly water at exactly the right temperature, ready to step into with the complimentary bottle of iced South African champagne at arm’s reach on the table nearby.
We had to laugh. It doesn’t get much better than this.
Or so we thought. The candles guide us down to dinner, where every detail you’d expect of a 5-star restaurant is reproduced – in a dry riverbed close to the lodge, next to a roaring fire under the stars. Liam, our guide, joins his guests for a delectable three-course bush dinner of soup followed by a vast buffet with a choice of chicken casserole, lamb roast or sausage served with loads of veggies, and to finish things off: cape brandy pudding! With Liam’s easygoing manner and superb guiding knowledge, you can learn as much (if you like) over a glass of Cab Sav as you can on the back of his Landcruiser. Easy conversation, the feel of the cool sand under-foot, the hyenas calling nearby, it’s hard to imagine a more exquisite dinner location. This sociable, friendly atmosphere sets Simbambili apart from many other lodges and is one reason why it’s one of the most popular in the Sabi Sand.
Back at the suite everything has been prepped for the night, the vast mosquito net (virtually a room in itself) covering the 4-poster bed, a personalised good-night card and ribbon-wrapped scroll relating an ancient African myth, together with tomorrow’s forecast (32C and sunny. Again).
We gaze out at the dazzling stars before turning in, a crescent moon, Venus and Jupiter almost perfectly aligned, something else you hardly ever see. Perhaps it was auspicious. But in any case, despite spending months in the bush, this was one of the best safari experiences of our lives.
It was a hard act to follow for the 6am drive next morning, before we sadly said our farewells. What did we see? Just a side-striped jackal then a couple of wild dog chewing an impala.
Good for: Honeymoon couples (and romantic getaways for all couples) and small groups
Not so good for – Young children (<12 yrs not allowed)
What we liked best – Quality of game viewing, super-friendliness of staff and exquisite accommodation
Our verdict: A world-class operation in a world-class game viewing area. With this combination, you’re not likely to be disappointed at Simbambili.
We would love to help you plan your own African safari. Contact us today.
Email: info[at]kleincollection.com | South Africa Tel. +27 (0) 21 813 6961