Sabi Sand

Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve

Sabi Sand offers exceptional game viewing and  a variety of luxurious lodges in the Greater Kruger National Park.

Introduction

The Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve is South Africa’s premier private game reserve. It is named after the two principal rivers that flow through it, namely the Sabie and Sand, and has the distinction of being South Africa's oldest private game reserve. When visiting this reserve, you are assured of some of the finest game viewing available on the African continent.

Size 65 000 Hectares
Access Gates Shaw's, Newington, Gowrie
Gate Opening Times 05:00
Gate Closing Times 23:00
Gate Fees R250 Per Vehicle, R110 Per Person
Closest Town Hazyview
Closest Airport Skukuza

Vacation Options

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Useful Info

Getting There
Plane

By Air

The southern Sabi Sand (Shaw’s Gate and Newington Gate) is easily accessible from both Nelspruit as well as Skukuza airports. The drive from Nelspruit is about an hour and fifteen minutes. From Skukuza, it is about 25 minutes. Hoedspruit Airport is the gateway to the northern Sabi Sand. It is a drive of just over an hour from Hoedspruit Airport to Gowrie Gate.

Car

By Road

The best route to take from Johannesburg would be via Nelspruit and then on to first White River, then Hazyview. From Hazyview, take the Paul Kruger Gate Road until reaching the turnoff to the Sabi Sand on the left. Only Shaw's and Newington gates can be reached via this route.

Reasons to Visit
1

Wildlife

Sabi Sand is internationally renowned to be one of the world's finest game viewing areas. The reserve has been a pioneer in sustainable eco-tourism since the 1960’s, and is arguably the best place in the world to view the elusive leopard.

2

Accommodation

The lodges located in the reserve range from affordable four star lodges to some of the world’s most luxurious accommodations. The largest of these can accommodate forty guests, the smallest only eight. In all cases. the safari experience is intimate, the quality of meals very good and the entire experience one that almost always leaves a lasting impression.

3

Daily Game Drives

Open 4x4 game drives are conducted daily from all lodges. These include early morning and late afternoon game drives accompanied by resident rangers and trackers. On these drives, visitors will come into close proximity to the great diversity of mammal species that inhabit the area, not least being Africa’s legendary Big Five.

4

Other Activities

Interpretive bush walks offer an exciting way of getting up close and personal with Africa’s wildlife. Most of the lodges offer a daily bush walk shortly after the late breakfast which follows the morning game drive. These walks are accompanied by armed rangers.

Weather & Best Time To Visit

Sabi Sand is now virtually fully booked throughout the year, and with good reason. It is, however, best to visit the reserve during the spring to autumn months from the middle of April to the end of September.

During this period, the temperatures are moderate and the game viewing is even more exceptional, since water sources are limited and animals tend to congregate around available water sources during the early morning and late afternoon.

Medical Considerations

As with the Kruger National Park, the Sabi Sand is located in a malaria area and it would be prudent to discuss anti-malarial prophylactics with your physician. It is also advisable to have your allergy medication handy, for dust and pollen may necessitate taking these medications.

Health & Safety

Once you are in the care of the staff of one of the lodges in Sabi Sand, it is very safe. Precautions are taken to ensure client safety in the wilderness by always having an escort to and from your room before dawn and after dusk. Rangers that accompany game drives are well trained and are able to utilize their knowledge of animal behavior to avoid risky or potentially risky encounters, ensuring that you can relax and enjoy the safari experience.

Experiences to be Savored

A private dinner experience set up on the banks of a river in the Sabi Sand.

Morning Coffee

Your morning game drive will stop at a spot in the wild where morning coffee and rusks are served. Take some time to listen to the multitude of sounds made by passing mammals and the plethora of birds - you are sure to find it a most calming and serene experience.

Sundowner Drinks

Shortly before sunset on your afternoon game drive, a scenic spot will be chosen from where to appreciate the sunset over the wilderness of Africa. Savoring this experience with your favorite drink in hand is sure to be a highlight of the day's safari.

Bush Walks

At most of the lodges in Sabi Sand, guests have the opportunity to join a daily bush walk accompanied by resident rangers and trackers. This provides a totally different perspective as the only sounds to be heard will be those of the wild, your own breathing and heartbeat.

Transportation

A game viewing vehicle pauses alongside a leopard in the Sabi Sand.

When being transferred to your lodge from Nelspruit or Hoedspruit, it will be in an air-conditioned vehicle. Transfers from Skukuza are normally in game drive vehicles. Without exception, all game drives conducted while staying at a lodge in the Sabi Sand are in open 4X4 vehicles.

Specially adapted Land Rover Defender or Toyota Land Cruiser vehicles are utilized by the lodges. These vehicles offer a comfortable journey whilst affording maximum photographic opportunities and ensuring no or little obstruction between guests and the wildlife to which game drives are devoted.

Mealtimes in the Sabi Sand

The boma area at a Lion Sands lodge lit up at night.

Morning

Coffee, tea, juice, rusks and cereal are served shortly before departing on the morning game drive between 05:30 and 07:30. Guests are then treated to coffee or tea in the bush before returning to camp for breakfast, which is normally served between 09:00 am and 10:00.

Afternoon

Lunch is normally served from about 13:00 to 14:00, and high tea with snacks before departing on the afternoon game drive is served between 15:30 and 16:00. Guests enjoy sundowner drinks just before sunset on the afternoon/evening game drive.

Evening

Dinner is a lavish affair which is normally enjoyed in the lodge's dining room or on the lodge's deck one evening and in the lodge's “boma” on alternative nights. On occasion, dinner will be enjoyed in the bush at a spot where camp staff have created a fairy tale setting.

Room Service

In addition to a well-stocked mini bar, guests will at most times be able to order from the bar or to indulge in light snacks prepared by the kitchen. This would rarely be necessary, taking into account the frequency of meals.

Resources

Recommended Reading

  • Smither’s Mammals of Southern Africa: A Field Guide - Peter Apps
  • Sasol’s Larger Illustrated Guide to Birds of Southern Africa - Peter Ryan

FAQ

Which is the finest lodge in the Sabi Sand?
In the author's opinion, Lion Sands Ivory Lodge is a cut above the rest.
Are there any lodge choices for those on a budget?
Those with a limited budget should consider a stay Arathusa, Idube or Notten's Bush Camp.
Are there any other private game reserves as good as the Sabi Sand?
The Timbavati, though not as well known, offers the same exceptional game viewing in the Greater Kruger National Park.
Do I need to take Malaria Medication?
In short, yes, after consulting your doctor as to the type that would be best suited for you.
Can I view animals at night?
Yes, all  game drives conducted during the late afternoon extend into the first hour or two of darkness.
Are my valuables safe at the lodges and Camps?
Most lodges provide personal safes in the rooms that will ensure the safety of your valuable belongings.
What are the chances of seeing all of the Big Five?
If your stay is three days or more, you are virtually guaranteed of seeing all of the Big Five.
Are there fences between the Sabi Sand and the Kruger National Park?
No, animals move freely between these conservation areas.
What is the rarest animal that can potentially be spotted?
Black rhino and wild dog are the most critically endangered species that could potentially be spotted on a safari in the Sabi Sand.
Will I have mobile reception and access to the Internet?
Yes, and most of the lodges offer free WiFi.
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Wildlife Gallery

The big five, antelope & other mammals

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Client Reviews

Reviews from clients who have been on safaris and tours with African Sky

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Articles

Travel topics and articles about Southern Africa, written by African Sky staff

Sabi Sand

The Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve is the oldest privately-owned reserve in South Africa. The same families who originally came together to take down their internal fences in order to provide a bigger range for the wild animals, for the most part still own and operate the reserve today. Some are now in the third and fourth generation. The vision that their forefathers had of a sustainable reserve with sustainable eco-tourism is still being driven and maintained by their descendants.

A leopard unwinds atop a collapsed termite mound.

Conservation efforts started in the 1920's and culminated with the establishment of the private Sabie Reserve in 1934. A formal association was established in 1948 and the reserve was renamed the Sabie Sand Wildtuin. Today, the Sabi Sand forms part of the Greater Kruger National Park and as such also shares a portion of the largest conservation area in Southern Africa, namely the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park. This vast tract of wilderness has only ever been a wilderness area, and is thus being preserved and maintained with as little interference by human hands as possible.

Sabi Sand is relatively flat with changes in elevation ranging from 329m to 504m. A few hills are scattered from the western section and the Ulusaba reserve to the central section where Leopard Hills Lodge is built upon one of these elevations. Two major rivers are notable, the first being the Sabie River, which forms the southern boundary of the reserve, and the Sand River, which runs through the area from northwest to southeast. Most of the lodges found in this wildlife refuge are built on the banks of the Sand River.

A pair of lionesses encountered on safari in Sabi Sand.

Varying degrees of wooded savanna typify the vegetation in the area, with most trees, apart from a few species that line the water courses, being deciduous, an advantage during the winter months when this enhances the ability to spot animals at a greater distance from game drive vehicles.

The Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve is situated in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa and borders the fabled Kruger National Park. The area is a summer rainfall region and a malaria zone. The spring season is from September to November and, during these times, temperatures range from 20°C - 31°C. (68°F - 87°F). Summer is from December to February and temperatures range between 22°C - 35°C (71°F - 95°F). Autumn is from March to May, with average temperatures of between 19°C - 28°C (66°F - 82°F ) Winter stretches from June to August and temperatures drop to an average of 12°C - 25°C (53°F - 77°F).

A breathtaking sunset in the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve.

During spring and summer, the bush is dense and lush due to the rain. A lot of young game may be observed, as this is also the birthing season. Some visitors find it difficult to spot game under these conditions, but the rangers and guides of Sabi Sand have a lot of experience in scoping out game in any circumstances. In the winter time, the bush dries out and the animals converge around dams and rivers which, of course, makes for excellent viewing opportunities from the many vantage points and hides in the reserve.

The rhino poaching problem has become one of South Africa’s most serious conservation issues. Sabi Sand, as a custodian of a part of the rhino’s habitat in the Greater Kruger National Park, plays an important role in the protection of one of Africa’s iconic large mammal species.

A crash of white rhinos photographed on safari in Sabi Sand.

The anti-poaching team in the Sabi Sand is headed up by Ntomeni Ranger services, an experienced anti-poaching organization that has advised various African national parks on the security of their rhino populations. Since assuming the reins of anti-rhino poaching efforts in December of 2013, the incidents of rhino poaching have declined somewhat. During 2014, rhino losses declined by 74% and again by 85% during 2015.

Various individual lodges located in the Sabi Sand contribute to this cause with community outreach and education projects that ensure generations to follow understand the importance of conserving our natural heritage and that these conservation efforts have real economic benefits to surrounding communities.

Southern Sabi Sand (Shaw’s Gate)

Kirkmans Camp guests enjoy a sundowner while overlooking the river.

Kirkmans

The most southern reserve in Kruger used to be part of Mala Mala, until it was sold to a third party some years ago. This beautiful tract of land is home to only one camp, namely andBeyond Kirkman’s Camp. It is the beautifully restored homestead of Harry Kirkman, one of the original game rangers in the area.

Lion Sands River Lodge is one of a few lodges that overlook the Sabie River.

Lion Sands

Owned by the More family since 1933, the Lion Sands Reserve today boasts four luxurious lodges (two in Sabi Sand, two across the river in a private Kruger concession). It is the only one of the private game reserves that has lodges built on the banks of the Sabie River - the largest of the two primary rivers that flow through the area.

A unique open-air bath at Londolozi.

Londolozi

One of the original pioneers of the Sabi Sand, Londolozi Private Game Reserve is home to a number of world-renowned lodges which have been offering fine safari experiences for many decades. The reserve is owned by the Varty Family and, after Mala Mala, is the largest tract of privately owned Big Five land in the greater Kruger Park.

Enjoy a sundowner with a view at Mala Mala Game Reserve.

Mala Mala

The pioneer of eco-tourism in South Africa, Mala Mala still occupies the largest tract of privately owned Big Five land in the Greater Kruger National Park. Mr Michael Rattray, a legend in conservation circles, built up the reserve over his long lifetime. It was sold in 2013 to a local tribe after a land restitution claim.

Boma evenings are wildly festive occasions.

Sabi Sabi

The Sabi Sabi Reserve has been synonymous with luxury safaris in South Africa for over thirty years. From its flagship Earth Lodge to its more moderately priced Selati and Bush lodges, many guests have enjoyed unforgettable safaris at Sabi Sabi over a period that exceeds three decades.

Enjoy views of the wilderness from the deck of your suite at Notten's.

Notten's

Notten's Bush Camp shares traversing rights with Sabi Sabi. This family-owned camp is one of the few family-friendly camps within the Sabi Sand, as children over 6 years old are welcome. A unique feature of the camp is that, while still sumptuously luxurious, it is entirely electricity-free, which makes it wondrously quiet and tranquil.

Central & North West (Newington Gate)

An elephant drinks from the river in front of Dulini Lodge.

Dulini

Originally a corporate getaway, the Dulini Private Game Reserve is set on some of the finest game viewing land in the western part of the Sabi Sand. The reserve is home to one of the smallest and most romantic of all the Sabi Sand’s lodges. It offers an authentic and personal luxury safari experience. In 2016, it extended to include Leadwood and Exeter.

The extensive viewing deck at Inyati Lodge in Sabi Sand.

Inyati

Inyati Private Game Reserve is the most northwesterly of all the properties in the Sabi Sand. The area borders the Sand River and offers fine game viewing. The only lodge built on the property offers some of the best value for money of all the lodges in this prestigious wilderness area.

A safari vehicle stopped a short distance from Leopard Hills Lodge.

Leopard Hills

One of the reserves that makes up the central Sabi Sand, Leopard Hills shares traversing rights with the northwestern section of Sabi Sand. The reserve features one award winning lodge perched on a granite outcrop. It offers visitors splendid views of the seemingly endless wooded savanna that surrounds the lodge.

An elephant encountered during a safari at Idube Game Lodge.

Idube

Idube Private Reserve is located adjacent to Leopard Hills. The lodge built here offers some of the best value for money in Sabi Sand. It is, in the author's opinion, the finest of all the four star lodges in the area and should definitely be considered by those seeking an authentic safari at a reasonable price.

The luxurious deck of a Singita lodge in Sabi Sand.

Singita

The largest of the private reserves in the central Sabi Sand, Singita is internationally renowned as an exceptional safari destination that offers the most luxurious accommodation and the best in service that money can buy. The reserve is home to three of the five Singita Lodges in the greater Kruger National Park.

An afternoon game drive taken from Savanna Lodge in the Sabi Sand.

Savanna

Savanna Private Game Reserve is one of the reserves that form the western boundary of the Sabi Sand, Ulusaba being the other. The lodge is a fine five star property that offers good service and a luxurious stay. It must be mentioned that it is probably better to choose a reserve that is not on the western boundary of Sabi Sand.

Ulusaba is perched on a mountaintop with beautiful views across the Sabi Sand.

Ulusaba

The property of legendary British entrepreneur, Sir Richard Branson, Ulusaba forms the largest part of Sabi Sand’s western boundary. Two fine five star lodges provide accommodation to those visiting this family-friendly reserve, which plays a very active role in supporting local communities.

Northeastern Sabi Sand(Gowrie Gate)

A ranger sets up refreshments during a game drive at Arathusa Safari Lodge.

Arathusa

Arathusa reserve shares borders with Simbambili, Chitwa Chitwa and Elephant Plains in the northeastern corner of the Sabi Sand. The reserve features only one lodge with the same name built on the banks of a permanent waterhole called Lake Arathusa.

Giraffes spotted on safari at Chitwa Chitwa in the Sabi Sand.

Chitwa Chitwa

The Chitwa Chitwa reserve has the distinction of being home to the largest body of water in the Sabi Sand. The area attracts great animal concentrations in the dry season when water sources become scarce. The reserve is home to the most luxurious lodge in the northeastern Sabi Sand.

A boma evening at Cheetah Plains.

Cheetah Plains

When visiting Cheetah Plains, you are assured of great wildlife encounters in pristine bushveld on the border of the Kruger National Park. The property is home to a thatched-style lodge that offers some of the best value for money in Sabi Sand.

Guests enjoy a mid-safari sundowner at Djuma in the Sabi Sand.

Djuma

Djuma reserve has hosted international clients on quality safaris for a period that now exceeds twenty years. It is the most northerly of the Sabi Sand's properties. Djuma is bordered to the east by the Kruger Park and to the north by the Manyeleti Reserve.

An elephant sighting during a safari at Elephant Plains Lodge.

Elephant Plains

The land that Elephant Plains reserve occupies lies in the central part of the northeastern Sabi Sand. The lodge constructed here only opened its doors to the public in 1998, making it one of the newest lodges to be found in Sabi Sand.

A lion spotted on safari at Nkorho lodge in the Sabi Sand.

Nkorho

Nkorho reserve lies on the border of the Kruger National Park to the east, Chitwa Chitwa to the west, Cheetah Plains to the south and Djuma to the north. It occupies prime game viewing land and is home to one of the most affordable lodges in the Sabi Sand.

A private dinner with a view of the wilderness at Simbambili Lodge.

Simbambili

Simbambili rounds out the private reserves that make up Sabi Sand. It is home to a luxurious lodge that offers accommodation in nine stylish rooms, each with its own private plunge pool. The spa experiences on offer here are particularly noteworthy.

Activities in Sabi Sand

A bush dinner set up in the wilderness of the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve.
  • Game Drives
  • The primary activity at all of the lodges in the Sabi Sand is open 4x4 game drives in search of the many different mammal species that grace this wild corner of Africa. Two game drives are conducted daily, one in the early morning and another during the late afternoon, extending into the first hour of darkness. These game drives are accompanied by a local ranger assisted by a tracker. These professionals are there to ensure guest safety and to provide an interpretive nature experience through their knowledge of the fauna and flora of the Sabi Sand.

  • Bush Walks
  • Following the morning game drive and breakfast, most lodges in the Sabi Sand offer guests a two to three hour bush walk accompanied by an armed ranger. These walks offer a different perspective on the bush, as rangers are able to point out things like animal tracks, the droppings of various creatures as well as other small nocturnal animals which are not normally encountered on game drives. Avid nature lovers are encouraged to participate in these daily walks in order to gain a deeper understanding of the ecosystem and the inter-dependence of all life in the area.

  • Bush Dinners
  • On occasion, clients are surprised when their evening game drive ends in a lantern lit part of the bush that seems almost magical, only to be invited to a drink and to realize that tables have been laid out and chefs are busy preparing the evening meal under the star-studded African Sky. The experience brings new meaning to the words 'exclusive dining' and is sure to be remembered long after the fact.

  • Spa Treatments
  • Almost all of the lodges in the Sabi Sand offer spa treatments. Guests have a choice between having these treatments in the spa itself or on the deck of their private room. The spa treatments on offer range from manicures and pedicures to various types of massages and facials.  Treatments are provided by well-trained professionals.

  • Stargazing
  • Stargazing in the company of a guide trained to highlight the galaxies and star systems of the southern skies is an activity available at some of the lodges in the Sabi Sand. If you are a keen amateur astronomer or simply interested in the night skies above the southern hemisphere, African Sky could propose a lodge with the necessary equipment and expertise to add stargazing as an activity to your safari in the Sabi Sand.

Activities near Sabi Sand

Guests meet a local chief while visiting the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve.
  • Hot air balloon flights
  • Hot air balloon flights are offered from a launch site not far from the town of Hazyview. If you are staying at a lodge that has access to Newington or Shaw's gate, it is possible to enjoy hot air ballooning over the lowveld savanna. The flight departs shortly after dawn and has a duration of about one and a half hours, following which guests are served a champagne breakfast. Please bear in mind that this activity is reliant on good weather and that you will have to leave your lodge just after four in the morning in order to reach the launch site just before dawn.

  • Golf 
  • Two nine hole golf courses are available not far from the Sabi Sand. These are the Kruger Park Lodge and Skukuza golf courses. If, however, you wish to play a round of golf on one of South Africa's finest courses, this can be done at the Leopard Creek Golf Course near Malelaan - often referred to as 'the Augusta of Africa'. It has to be pointed out that, depending on the specific lodge at which you are staying at, it will be a journey of about two and a half hours to Leopard Creek, and again when returning.

  • Helicopter flights 
  • Helicopter flights are available from Lion Sands Private Game Reserve. These flights explore the escarpment of the Drakensberg and the Blyde River Canyon, one of South Africa's most scenically impressive areas. The flight then continues over the Berlin and Lisbon waterfalls before landing at secluded  spot with fantastic views to the east. Guests are treated to a picnic before embarking on the return flight that lands at the helicopter pad at Lion Sands.

  • Cultural Village tours
  • The Shangana Cultural Village at Hazyview is accessible from most of the Sabi Sand lodges. Here trained guides immerse guests in the cultures and traditions of this proud South African nation. The experience includes lunch and offers the opportunity to purchase hand-crafted curios created by community-based projects.

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