Mention the word ‘safari’ and most people picture cosy lodges and game drives on an open 4×4 vehicle. At Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, while you can certainly enjoy your own suite at one of their three incredible lodges and a warm blanket covering your legs as you go wildlife spotting, you can also choose to partake in a safari of an entirely different ilk.
The Sanbona Explorer Camp* offers a two-day walking adventure in the heart of the reserve. Although you can expect lots of walking (distances of each walk vary but can last up to four hours; drinking water is supplied) – the reserve covers a whopping 54 000 hectares in the Klein Karoo! – and a tent, the experience offers so much more than the average safari.
Your adventure into the wild starts from the minute you leave the Welcome Lounge, situated 20 minutes away from the main entrance, when you realise there’s no cell service. That’s right, except for the Welcome Lounge and the free Wifi at Sanbona’s lodges, there’s no cell reception so you may as well leave your phone behind. You have the option of driving into the rest of the reserve on your own or taking a supplied car transfer – our advice: save yourself a bumpy ride and take the transfer, as it’s another 45-minute drive to the main lodge, Dwyka.
Once at Dwyka, revel in the three-course lunch you’ll be having because from here on out, you’re roughin’ it, my friend – sort of, anyway. During lunch, you’ll be introduced to your trained guide who will explain the programme for your safari, as well as delight you in stories from his treks through the bush. Then it’s time to get back in an open Land Cruiser for a 40-minute drive to the location of the Explorer Camp.
With lounge and dining areas, a campfire, a tented kitchen, and a shower and toilet, the camp has it all (including a charging station for cameras and phones, which runs on a car battery) – except everything is outdoors (even the loo and shower)! There are three two-person tents, each kitted with two stretcher beds (no sleeping bags here; only sheets, duvets and pillows – yay!), shelves, biodegradable shower gel and shampoo, sanitary bags, insect repellent, towels, a chemical toilet and canvas basin. The kicker? The communal shower is situated in a tree with just a short wooden fence as coverage, and water is supplied by a giant tank filled up before each camp – don’t worry, it’s heated up by the sun or a fire on colder days so you’re in for a nice warm shower. The communal bathroom is the same, with a men’s urinal and eco-friendly flush system (the waste gets rolled back into a drum and turned into compost).
Once you’re comfortably checked in, prepare yourself for an afternoon walk heading around the campsite. We were lucky enough to spot a few giraffe on our first walk while our second and third brought us close to rhino and lions (Sanbona also has the very rare white lion, who – even after a kill – looked beautiful as he lay resting in the long grass), and a cheetah. But walking safaris aren’t just about the game. Instead, your knowledgeable guide will enlighten you on the plethora of insects, flora and fauna found within the fences of Sanbona – did you know, for example, that there are specific species of plant that look like little stones? The resemblance is so uncanny, you wouldn’t even know the difference unless you were on the hunt for them specifically (or had a trained guide point them out).
Once back at camp, enjoy a drink or two (beer, wine, fruit juice, cold drinks, coffee and tea are available) while paging through wildlife books in the lounge area, or heat yourself up next to a lighted fire in the evenings where you’ll once again be entertained by your guide and can get to know the other campers. Evening meals are prepared on-site: day one saw us feasting on a braai, complete with braai broodjies and corn on the cob; while our second evening saw even more proudly South African fare being served in the form of potjie. The kitchenette, situated in a tent on-site, has a fridge running on gas, but everything else is prepared on open flames. Breakfasts are quick affairs consisting of yoghurt, muesli, muffins and beverages as your wake-up call is at 5.30 am and you’ll be walking before 7 am, but the delicious brunch you receive after your morning walk is well worth it. On day two, enjoy scrambled eggs, home-made bread, bacon, mushrooms and more away from the campsite – each camp is prepared at a different location and the guides also shake up sundowners when you return from your afternoon walk (ours consisted of a high tea on a dry plain – traditional koeksisters included).
The morning of day three ends off with a hot shower and brunch back at Dwyka, although you’ll be itching to get back to camp and sad to say goodbye.
*Unfortunately, no persons under the age of 16 or older than 60 are allowed to participate in the wilderness trail walks.
Photography Zainab SvR