During the construction of Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge, the ground was dug into the sloping savannah, to create a niche for the buildings. This substance was mixed with grass, to build the walls of each of the thirteen suites, plus the common area. The result is an eco-sensitive lodge, shaped like no other, in harmony with the aesthetic of the bushveld.
After an easy flight from Johannesburg with Federal Airlines, to the Sabi Sabi airstrip – which is a five-minute drive from the lodge – the first surprise is the personalized encounter in a simple rectangular terminal, open on the sides. This space is decorated with sculptures representing the four boxes of the Sabi Sabi collection. The perfect place for a quick photoshoot and to watch the Federal Airlines plane take off over thorn trees, the structure and decor hint at the creativity and innovation to come, in the iconic Earth Lodge .
No buildings are visible when I get off the play vehicle on a convenient platform. I am driven along a brick path through a hidden tunnel, to an unexpected lodge reception area, with a spectacular view over a rocky water feature, to the bush beyond. The walls are high, with a skylight in the roof, which casts sunlight on the wood carvings that are actually benches and seats, by South African artist Geoffrey Armstrong. The atmosphere is calm and welcoming. An innovative indoor / outdoor dining area that has a roof, but is open on the sides, faces a waterhole, meditative garden and a grassy plot with circular daybeds, adorned with scatter cushions . The art and curiosity shop makes me want to linger, but I’m curious to explore my suite.
Savoring the fresh air, I am guided along a dusty path flanked by wild grasses and shrubs, to a hidden entrance, which leads down to the door of my suite. The interior is yet another surprise as the bunker-like exterior structure hides ultra-luxurious luxury inside and sublime views of a private lap pool, grassy slope, native shrubs and a dam. beyond. Five cobes graze quietly next to the suite, while a herd of buffaloes lifts dust as they make their way to the dam. A group of blue waxbills, Jameson’s finches, and arrowheaded chatterers munch on grass seeds.
An ice bucket with champagne, daisy-shaped shortbread cookies, candy and fruit, as well as a table book on Sabi Sabi’s private reserve awaits me in the suite’s dining room. A mosquito net awning hangs from the ceiling above the king size bed. White linen with a black bed scarf, plus scattered throw pillows in solid black and simple taupe add to the appeal.
My case and camera bags were placed in the changing area, which leads to a bathroom with a deep egg-shaped tub, two sinks in two different organic shapes, an indoor shower and a range of new white towels. . The equipment is from Charlotte Rhys, in white containers. Drawn to the sunlight, I see midday shadows cast through slatted side doors onto a wide sofa and individually made chairs on my lanai, as well as a sparkling pool beside lounge chairs. Tucked away is an outdoor shower, carved into the slope, at eye level with the grassy edge and the panorama beyond.
Sabi Sabi Private Game Preserve is renowned for being home to the Big 5, so I’m delighted – but not surprised – to see elephants descend to the waterhole below Earth Lodge. What surprises me, however, is to see an elephant on the roof! The unfenced area and the slope of the land allow elephants to graze happily wherever they want, including on top of flat grass-covered roofs.
On our safari, my experienced guide and his tracker Shangaan use their finely honed skills to find a leopard to photograph. Pretty female, she has caught a young kudu, hoisted it on a Jackalberry tree and is eating the prey, to strengthen herself to breastfeed two newborns still hidden. Adding to the drama of the scene, three spotted hyenas, circling the base of the tree in anticipation of picking up remains. When they eventually wander away, the leopard descends to the ground and walks along the bed of a river. As the bush becomes too thick for us to follow, we return to Earth Lodge.
After hearing the evocative roar of the lions in the night, we left early the next morning to try to locate them. Near the camp, we find three sleeping lions. The sun rises giving shades of tissue paper and the lions wake up, alerted by the bellows and growls of a herd of African buffaloes. The cats immediately take a good step in the direction of the vocalizations and we follow them on an exciting all-terrain “bundu bashing” in our land cruiser. Probably alerted by the scent of lions, the buffaloes move away, so the lions lie down to rest after their efforts.
Well away from the lions, in an open area of the bushveld, we get out of the vehicle for coffee and snacks. Our tracker shows me how to identify white rhino, blue wildebeest, and steenbok tracks.
Delicious three-course meals are served for lunch and dinner at Earth Lodge, in a different location for each meal. The tables consist of a cotton tablecloth and a neutral colored fabric table runner. Decorative African figures – changed for each seat – add a touch of humor and bright color. Settings include the bar, with a fire in the winter; the comfortable library; secluded underground wine cellar and other secret places. The talented and innovative chef loves her job and offers à la carte dishes with such passion that I find it difficult to choose between meat, fish and vegetarian main courses. Each dish is creatively plated and presented under a silver bell. Before the afternoon game drive, afternoon tea is served. The neatly organized in-room dining area is a must see.
In addition to going on a guided bush walking safari with an armed gamekeeper, Earth Lodge activities include treatments at an Amani spa – set in a zen-like luscious garden – and cardio exercises in the gym with a view of the wild nature. However, it is easy to stay in the suite, bask in the South African sun, watch the animals visit the dam, bird activity or cool off in the pool. You may even see an elephant gently descending from your roof to drink in your pool.
Federal Airlines operates shuttle flights from its private terminal near Oliver Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to accommodate airstrips in the lowveld. At the Sabi Sabi airstrip, I was in a turboprop in a Cessna Grand Caravan. Back in Johannesburg, I experienced a comfortable flight in a Beechcraft 1900D. Covid protocols are followed in the terminal’s private lounge, as well as on flights. The living room has indoor and outdoor space, where drinks and snacks are served while I wait. It’s a simple and comfortable space, right next to their track.
Self Drive from Johannesburg is a pleasant 5.5 hour drive on the road.
• Sabi Sabi is a malaria area, so please see your doctor for prophylaxis.
Article and images by Gillian McLaren (@Jetset_Gillian)
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