Michael Edwards explores the future of the safari lodge in the Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge private game reserve
Most Tuesday mornings, identifying tracks of impala, hyena and maybe a leopard, along a sandy path to breakfast is not part of our routine.
After just a couple of game drives, with a Sabi Sabi spotter and ranger, plus a few minutes on a wildlife tracking app, we were eager to work out what wildlife had passed our suite overnight. Though as novice trackers we were not entirely convinced that we had correctly identified the leopard paw prints. Only the week before, hippo tracks had been identified outside our suite. Worryingly, hippos are permanently grumpy and not to be messed with. A ranger had officially confirmed that safari’s bad boys had been in the neighbourhood.
We were on our way to what was billed as “tea, coffee and a rusk” before leaving on an early morning game drive. It was the ultimate breakfast understatement. A photoshoot buffet of a breakfast greeted us. And was merely a warm-up for the full Monty when we returned around 9.30 am.
Across the planet, there can be few more spectacular settings for a breakfast as the orange wash of a Lion King sunrise faded. Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge’s bold futuristic architecture also has retro echoes of cavernous, open to the elements living. Restaurant and lounges subtly slide from indoor to outdoor.
Bleached trees, salvaged from a flooded Sabi river by South African artist Geoffrey Armstrong, somehow look both ancient and avant-garde as they appear to support the roof.
Living up to its name, Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge, eco-conscious and sustainable, was literally constructed from earth. Ton after ton of the stuff. According to Plan A, plasterboards were intended to front the soil. Until one slipped.
After the mishap, owners Hilton and Jacqui Loon were enchanted by the speckled organic look of the soil. Immediately, they changed their building plans. Now distressed copper, tribal art and metallic sculptures combine to create a new African aesthetic.
On either side of the public areas, those hyena-pawed paths head towards six detached and spacious suites. Additionally, the eastern side hosts the even more luxurious Amber suite too, making for a total of 13 suites in all. On the eastern flank, there is a glass-walled gym. To complete the symmetry an indulgent Amani spa sits to the west.
Every suite is so detached and secluded that they feature an al fresco shower alongside the plunge pool. “Don’t worry if an elephant calls by. He only wants a drink,” Innocent tells us as he shows us around our suite. Talking of drinks, he introduces us to an all-inclusive mini-bar that isn’t mini at all.
Featuring full bottles of wine and spirits it is well on its way to becoming a pub.
Innocent also points out an art set. Guests have the opportunity to capture their memories of the sun rising over the veldt or wildlife passing by en route to the watering hole. It has been known for guests to miss a game drive so that they can contemplatively sit in their open-air lounge, looking out over the pool, so that they can paint.
Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge’s architecture may be revolutionary but the service is impeccably traditional.
Though we can never anticipate where dinner will be served. One evening it is on the lawn above the grumblings of the elephants and hippos down at the waterhole. The next evening we are sheltered within a boma dramatically lit and warmed by flaming braziers. Fortunately, chef Wiljan knows his way around to explain the menu to every table, particularly focusing on an eland loin served in a coffee and coriander sauce.
Warm bread arrives, an amuse bouche of a mini-cup of soup and palate cleansing sorbets are served. Somehow, in the middle of the bush, culinary standards are pushing Michelin star markers.
Although as the safari lodge of tomorrow, Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge’s design was initially perceived as experimental, it has established itself as one of the world’s great safari lodges, an unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime experience. Except that few guests can resist the temptation to return …
Tell Me More About Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge
Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge, Sabi Game Reserve, Sabi Sand Wiltuin, 1350, South Africa
T: +27 13 735 5261 E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rates from £1,400 per person, per night based on two people sharing. This is inclusive of all meals, two game drives per day, the mini-bar and most drinks from the bar.