When I first stepped foot on African soil in 2016, I felt I was home. I cannot explain why, I just did. That very feeling has drawn me back multiple times.
What is it that draws us and fuels the desire to return over and over again? – MBN
While I can’t speak for others, I can certainly speak for myself. It’s the smells of the dusty dirt roads, the wild sage, the beauty of the sunrises and sunsets that are like no others I’ve ever seen. The people you meet along the way, who become friends. It’s the sounds of the night as hyenas whoop, scops owl call and the roars of lions in the distance. Most of all, it is the excitement of not knowing what lies ahead in your day on safari and the opportunity to see wildlife as it should be, wild and free.
We experienced all these things and more on our most recent privately guided safari to the Sabi Sand. This trip was initially scheduled for 2021, but like so many others, we reluctantly rescheduled for 2022. Ale was so accommodating in rescheduling us and even helping us extend our trip to include Cape Town. The entire trip was incredible. However, the highlight for me were the 5 days at Jaci’s Sabi House with WanderingThru’s own Tristan Dicks as our private guide.
We were WanderingThru’s first group reserved to stay at Jaci’s Sabi House so we all were not sure what to expect, but let me tell you, this lodge is amazing!! Arriving we were greeted by Tristan and the entire staff. Most lodges you visit accommodate anywhere between 10-24 people with 2 or more vehicles going out daily on safaris. You are served breakfast, lunch and dinner in a common area with all other guests. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that and I have enjoyed many of these lodges but at Jaci’s we experienced a different type of Safari Lodge not as commonly found in the Sabi Sand. Jaci’s Sabi House is a charming, exclusive-use lodge. Accommodating only 6 guests, you have the entire lodge just to yourself. That in itself, gives you that cozy home feeling. The gardens surrounding the lodge are filled with beautiful aloes and many other plants, all of which are native to South Africa. At the time of our visit, although it was winter, the aloes were in full bloom, providing additional color to the garden and the sunbirds that were feasting on the blooms.
There is a large watering hole just behind Jaci’s that attracts a variety of species. Hippos, crocs, nyala and elephants were all commonly seen from the lodge. You can choose to sit on the deck, lounge in the pool, or enjoy the tree swings as you watch the wildlife coming daily to drink.
On a typical day at Jaci’s we would gather around the bar in the morning where Herbie, the lodge guide, served coffee and discussed with us what we hoped to see for the day. We would head out before daylight, return for a late breakfast and hang around watching the wildlife. It was hard not to follow your nose and take a peek into the kitchen to see what was smelling so good. The staff would always smile and tell us what was cooking and I have no doubt they would have shared a recipe or two had we asked.
After enjoying a light lunch, we would head out for the afternoon/evening safari and return to the lodge to enjoy our evening dinner which was served outside on the grounds and around the fire. Each night we chose to sleep with our doors and windows open (screen protected). During the night we heard hyenas, elephants, lions and even a leopard. The Guinea fowl and crested francolin provided an earlier than expected wakeup call on a couple of mornings.
Having both Tristan and Herbie as our guides on each safari gave us the advantage of covering more ground and provided the best wildlife viewing I’ve ever experienced. Herbie and our tracker Chris often hopped off the vehicle and tracked both leopard and lion on foot. Tristan would take the wheel, driving the roads following tracks and stopping to view whatever wildlife we could see. Sometimes we wouldn’t even make the block before Herbie was calling to tell us he had found the animal we were looking for.
The Sabi Sand is well known for its leopard viewing and on our very first morning at Jaci’s, we left at 6am, and were viewing our first leopard by 7am. We had just watched a wild dog and hyena encounter and thought there was no way we could top that sighting, oh, but how wrong we were!! That very afternoon we witnessed a young female leopard steal a kill from a lone African wild dog, only to find the following morning that the same leopard had lost her steal to yet another male leopard. A female leopard and her cub gave us some great photo opportunities both in a tree, and on the ground.
One particular morning, we had been following the tracks of a young nomadic male leopard for some time. Just before heading back to camp for breakfast, the leopard popped out right in the road ahead of us as if to say “Hey guys, here I am”.
In the 5 days at Jaci’s House we saw 6 different leopards and two on several occasions. It was not all about the leopards though. We also saw elephants, giraffe, Cape buffalo, hyenas, zebra, African wild dogs, and numerous species of antelope. The biggest unexpected sighting we had was the rarely seen pangolin!! With that kind of luck, was it too much to ask to fulfill my #1 bucket list request?
Private guides provide the extra advantage that they will often go that extra mile to help guests find what they most want to see. We had been fortunate to see not just the mammals previously mentioned, but over 80 different species of birds. Our friend had an interest in birding and Tristan went out of his way pointing out various birds and traveling off the beaten path down a drainage to look for birds. Before our stay was over, I think we were all much more interested in bird sightings.
In the times I’ve been fortunate to travel to the Sabi Sands, I have been very lucky. I’ve seen the Big 5, the Magnificent 7, an Aardvark and now a pangolin. There was just one thing I really wanted to check off on my bucket list. That one thing was to “feel” a lion roar. While I have heard numerous lions roaring in the distance, I have yet to experience the “feeling’. They say sitting near a lion as they roar, you can feel the vibration from the bottom of your feet to the top of your head. Having traveled with WanderingThru previously, Ale knew that item on my bucket list still remained. We have jokingly said that the lions know when I arrive and go silent!! We found lions and sat with them on a few occasions. Our very last evening while sitting with a pride of lions, a male roared nearby. We drove in that direction and quickly found him. He sat there for a few minutes, then flopped over on his side. We didn’t give up, as lions are known to sometimes roar while laying down. We sat there in total darkness just waiting and listening for any sign to indicate an oncoming roar. Sadly, all we heard was snoring!! It was a bit comical to hear him snoring but with that we knew there would be no roar any time soon. Already late for dinner, we headed back to Jaci’s where a wonderful African Braai (barbeque) awaited us.
Our last morning, the entire pride and two males were roaring before we left camp. While it was exhilarating to hear, they never made a sound once we arrived and sat with them. It was not for the lack of effort, Tristan and Herbie tried their best to help me check off that lion roar from my bucket list. The only good thing not having done so, I have a good excuse to return.
Thanks so much Ale, Tristan, and WanderingThru for providing once again, an incredible safari experience. We will again return to the continent that has a big piece of my heart and now a Safari Lodge that does as well. We are too invested now, we have to get that Lion to Roar!!
Looking to visit Jaci’s Sabi House with Tristan in 2023? Have a look at our schedule here