After a catch up with an old friend, I was given the opportunity to return to a place that I called home for a long time. I was over the moon with this news as I’d worked in the Western Sector of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve for many years and so it would be like visiting an old home, full of old friends and animals I watched for almost a decade but this time as a guest.
Our first stop was Dulini Moya Lodge and we arrived just in time for lunch. We were met with a warm welcome and had a quick chat and induction of the lodge before heading down to the lunch deck, overlooking the Mabrak drainage system. A herd of nyala browsing in the riverine thickets kept us entertained as we enjoyed a delicious lunch platter, perfect for two.
Once we were done with lunch, we were checked into our room. There are 6 suites stretched out along the banks of the Mabrak. What a beautiful and comfortable room it is. With a large lounge area, spacious bedroom, open planned bathroom, massive outside deck with a plunge pool and outside shower, there is a lot of space and great views again of the Mabrak. I recognized the deck, as it was one I’d seen a female leopard and cub on in the past.
We met our ranger and tracker in the main area for high tea. It is a beautiful area, extremely comfortable and making you feel relaxed and right at home. We enjoyed a piece of carrot cake, filled up our water bottles and headed out for our afternoon drive. We pretty much drove straight into a large herd of elephants and we sat with them for sometime as they were feeding in a large open area and the viewing was fantastic. Jem, our guide, then got a call that there were tracks for a young male leopard in an area we weren’t too far from. We headed into the area to help, but didn’t need to do too much as Jem had his timing spot on and the leopard walked out into the road in front of us. Anika’s first leopard in the Sands and she was incredibly excited. I was also very happy, as it was a young male that I had found when he was only a few weeks old. His mother, Tlangisa, was a favorite of leopard of mine and so it was good seeing him going strong and well on the road in independence.
Our evening drinks break also happened to be at a special place, Constitution Rock, where I had spent many hours, before and during lockdown, enjoying the Sand River and clearing the mind.
On arrival back at the camp, we were greeted with a hot towel to clear the dust and sunscreen, along with a welcome drink. We quickly headed to our room to drop off our belongings before heading through to our dining area. Dinner was amazing and we had a five course tasting menu. Everything was done to perfection and we headed to bed feeling like lions that had fed on a buffalo kill.
Speak of lions, the two Ximungwe lionesses and the Nkuhuma male lion, killed a wildebeest right outside the camp during the night. If the bed hasn’t been so comfortable and brought about such a dead sleep, I may have heard it! Luckily they were still there when we headed out for morning safari and we watched as the two lionesses groomed one another in the morning light, while the male stay guarding the carcass he had dragged into the thicket. Not long after making space for some of the vehicles, we managed to find some more lions, the Nkuhuma lioness and her two youngsters, who are about 10 months old. The youngsters were full of beans and we watched as they tried to entice their mother to play.
She was having none of it though as she was more interested in avoiding a large elephant herd that was approaching them. She eventually led the youngsters towards the river and so we left them there to enjoy the peace and quiet. Just around the corner and another leopard! Miss a, another leopard I have known since a cub, crossed the road in front of us. Jem was doing us proud and Anika was starting to understand the magic a little bit more! We spent sometime with him before we were spoilt with Amarula Hot Chocolates down at the river.
Breakfast was delicious as expected and after we had a quick swim and a pack up, we said goodbye to the awesome Moya team and headed across to have a quick look at Dulini Leadwood before they had a large exclusive use group checking in. Leadwood is a 8 bed lodge and perfect for a family or group traveling together.
Leadwood itself is situated on the confluence of the Sand River and the Mabrak drainage line. Large amounts of game and great birds are attracted to the area as there is great food for the herbivores and with the herbivores comes the carnivores! A beautiful deck where breakfasts and lunches are served has a phenomenal view of the Sand River and I could imagine just sitting there for hours, enjoying the sound of the flowing river and watching what would come by.
The rooms are beautiful and set along the Sand River, each one with a great view and all nestled under large Ebony and Weeping Boer-bean trees. I even mentioned that if I stayed there, I may have all my meals on the rooms deck, as the views of the river from there are that unique and special.
Dulini River Lodge
For our final stop headed across to Dulini River lodge and again were greeted with smiling faces and hugs as there are some good friends based at River Lodge. We were checked into our room and left to enjoy as it was an hour until lunch. The room itself is very spacious and the views from the bathroom and outside deck are all of the Sand River. We enjoyed the plunge pool on the deck while watching a white rhino pool enjoy a cool drink before he was chased away by some young, boisterous elephant bulls who were trying to show everyone that they were in charge.
Lunch was amazing again as another platter for two was happily devoured. Just siting having lunch on the main deck, the game viewing and birding was phenomenal and we sat with binoculars glued to our eyes for most of lunch. But before we knew it, it was time for afternoon safari. We spent the first bit of the drive enjoying the company of a large elephant bulls as he fed underneath a marula tree, delicately plopping the golf-ball sized fruits into his mouth methodically. We then watched another big white rhino bull enjoying a good roll in the mud as he cooled down in the afternoon heat and stopped the biting flies. While watching him, a herd of impala started alarm calling and we headed in there direction, certain a predator was about. We were right and we found the Nkhuma lioness emerging out of the thickets with her two youngsters.
We stayed with them as they were on the move and were eventually treated to the three of them quenching their thirst, side by side. Drinks on the river was special again and we enjoyed a gorgeous sunset with gin and tonic in hand.
On our arrival back at the lodge, we were welcomed by the Dulini Choir, made up of local staff members, keen to share some of their culture with the guests. It wasn’t long before most of the guests were part of the dancing and everyone had a great time trying to sing along.
After dropping off our things, we headed to the boma area where we were welcomed by the smells of fire and braaing (barbecuing) meat. We were all joined by our guides and sat around enjoyed old stories about the area. As always the fire catches people and by the end, everyone was enjoying a good show on the ‘’Bush television”.
The next morning drive was planned around trying to track and find another leopard as the Australian guests who had joined us the evening before, were desperate to see one of these magnificent big cats. We spent sometime tracking and enjoyed views of elephants, giraffe, zebra and a group of buffalo bulls before the good news came through. Working as a team, the guides and trackers had managed to find a young female leopard. She was about a year old and a female that I had never seen, another one to the list! I knew both her mother and father very well though and they had produced a beautiful daughter.
She is coming of age now and spend less and less time with her mother. Mom will occasionally still fetch her to join at a kill site, but this was happening less and less and the young female was having to hunt more for herself. That’s exactly what she did for us. Soon after joining the sighting, a herd of impala joined us on the clearing. Fortunately for the young leopard, she had not been seen and she managed to get herself into a great position. The wind was perfect and her cover great, but just as the time to pounce approached, a large zebra stallion got between her and the impala. A zebra is a too big for a large male leopard to handle and so was out of the question for this small female. She recognized she was out weighed and slunk away into the thicket as the morning was heating up.
We enjoyed a hearty last breakfast enjoying the views of the Sand River before we greeted all our old and now new friends. Everyone was fantastic and all showed Anika the magic I’d so wanted her to experience!
Dulini, we will definitely be back for more!
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