Michael Edwards steps back through safari time to a golden age at Sabi Sabi Selati Camp
This was my Out of Africa moment. I could have been Robert Redford to Meryl Streep’s Karen Blixen. I was at a lamp-lit old school safari lodge. Mosquito netting draped around the vast four-poster bed in our rambling suite.
Named Komatipoort, after one of the long-gone stations of the Selati Railway Line built at the tail end of the 19th century, the suite is a memory of a bygone frontier age. Six of the suites are named after stations. The seventh is the Ivory Presidential Suite which is as utterly palatial as it sounds.
Back to our mere luxury suite in a detached rondavel-style thatched house. Decor recalls the history of a railway line that once transported gold from South Africa’s vast interior to the coast. Stokers’ shovels, pith helmets and fragments of signals had been salvaged from Selati station and reborn as artistic artefacts.
One memorable scene is missing from a collection of black-and-white nostalgia photos. Ladders were strategically placed for passengers, waiting at Selati station, so that they could climb into the trees to escape roaming lions.
Ernest Hemingway, that macho safari aficionado, would have loved Sabi Sabi Selati Camp. Particularly an all-inclusive lengthy drinks cabinet, topped with a sherry decanter, that only deals in full-size bottles of wines and spirits. No miniatures at Selati. Moreover, there are sparkling glasses for beer, cocktails, sherry, shorts and wine.
The bedroom merges into a lounge, then a dressing area with his-and-her basins. Finally, concluding with a circular shower and a large deep bath for hippo wallowing. A bath-side table is home to bath salts and toiletries.
Today, Sabi Sabi game reserve, adjoining the Kruger National Park, is 230 square miles of land cross-crossed by boulder-strewn dry rivers, water holes where hippo soak, warm winds whipping-up miniature tornadoes and buffalo skulls bleaching in the sun.
Our spotter Donald and our rifle-armed ranger Conraad take us deep into the bush. Donald sniffs the breeze and knows that the burnt popcorn aroma is yesterday’s leopard’s pee. Leopard tracks, lightly sand-dusted, are yesterday’s news too. As Donald says patiently and philosophically, “You find the big things by looking for the small things.”
Then he hears a leopard’s territorial grunt less than half a mile away. Soon he finds Nweti, an eight-year-old muscular hunting machine. Poetically, her name translates as “Moon”. As a supreme apex predator, Nweti is as large as a lioness.
Later, Donald who had recently scored 135 out of 135 on a tracking examination, finds a new young female. She has probably crossed the unfenced border from the neighbouring Kruger national park. Sabi Sabi’s reputation for leopards continues to grow.
Holding onto the last warmth from our earthly morning game drive hot-water bottles, we arrive back at Sabi Sabi Selati Camp. just as the sun is rising above the jackalberry trees. Ironically, Nweti is padding away from the waterhole as we dig down for breakfast.
As my cooked-to-order omelette arrives, so does a white rhino. This prehistoric-looking armour-plated creature, who is unbelievably vegan, arrives to drink at the waterhole. A few days previously. an entire herd of 27 elephants had called in for a drink.
Although there are never more than 14 guests dining at Seleti, the dinner menu is impressive: meat – perhaps wildebeest with Cumberland sauce -, poultry, fish and always a vegetarian option.
Nor is impeccable service limited to the bar and restaurant. Donald creates an upmarket Starbucks, with tablecloth, in the depths of the bush, hand-grinding Rwandan beans for our morning coffee. Of course, there are two tins of freshly baked biscuits as well. On the late afternoon game drive, as a blood orange sun sets, there is a similar service for the very civilised ritual of the ice-clinking sundowner. It is all so very, Out of Africa.
Tell Me More About Sabi Sabi Selati Camp
Sabi Sabi Selati Camp, Sabie Game Reserve, Sabi Sand Wiltuin, 1350, South Africa
T: +27 13 735-5771 E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rates for Sabi Sabi Selati Camp. from £975 per person based on two sharing a room. This is inclusive of all meals, two 3-hour game drives per day, the mini-bar and most drinks from the bar and with meals.