There are very few destinations that nearly guarantees you a face to face encounter with Africa's iconic Big 5 on one single safari. For this single reason it worth paying attention to Wild Eye's Sabi Sands Big 5 Safari kicking off in October of 2021.
Lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo are all well sought after on any safari experience and this exciting tour will bring you right to their doorstep. We've chosen two safari camps steeped not only in history, but also in their consistent big game viewing experiences - Sabi Sabi's Selati Lodge and Mala Mala.
The late dry season is the ultimate game viewing period within the region. Very little water exists outside of larger water bodies and we use this to our advantage as animals are drawn to the water that remains. One such water source - the Sand River - is a magnet for both predator and prey and will feature heavily on our daily safaris during the latter half on the tour. If you enjoy the big 5 as well as other high-key animals such as cheetah, wild dog & hyena, this safari is tailor made to give you a photographic & viewing experience that you'll never forget!
About the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve
In 1898, the Sabie Reserve was proclaimed and incorporated into both the Sabi Sand and the Kruger National Park. After the revision of the Kruger Park boundaries in 1926, private landowners collectively formed the Sabi Private Game Reserves in 1934 – a forerunner to the Sabi Sand Wildtuin, which was ultimately established in 1948.
The story goes that early one winter’s morning in July 1948, 14 private landowners met at Mala Mala. Together they decided to form the first ever private nature reserve in South Africa which they called Sabi Sand Wildtuin. The reserve was named after the two main rivers that flowed through the area, providing an important water source for the indigenous wildlife. Wildtuin is the Afrikaans name for Game Reserve & the name of the two rivers - the Sand and the Sabie Rivers.
In 1961, the Sabi Sand Wildtuin erected a 72km long fence along its western boundary – the only way to keep the wildlife within the boundaries of the reserve & seperate to the Kruger National Park. The first management strategy that was put into place focused on the safety of the wildlife. It was only in 1988 that an electrified fence was put in place with regular patrollers monitoring it.
With the success of Mala Mala as a tourist resort in the 1960s, tourism started taking shape within the Wildtuin. New tourist camps, like Londolozi and Sabi Sabi, were established in the 1970s. Tourism within the Sabi Sand ensured that the day-to-day running of the reserve could be maintained.
In 1993, the fences between the Kruger National Park and Sabi Sand Wildtuin were removed allowing free migration of game between the two reserves.
Today this reserve is known the world over for its incredible game viewing encounters and in particular, big game. There's ample lodges to choose from within the reserve varying in degree by property size, luxury type and more. You'll be happy to know that the 2 reserves chosen for this particular Sabi Sands Big 5 Safari are steeped in incredible history as their origins date back to the early days of the reserve.
What wildlife can be seen on the Sabi Sands Big 5 Safari
The Sabi Sands offers a big game safari experience second to none. If you would love to encounter the big 5 and more, there's simply no reason to look elsewhere. This epic safari has it all. Below you'll find an account of the wildlife you can expect o see on this experience.
- Lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena and African wild dog
- Elephant, rhino & buffalo
- Zebra, giraffe, kudu, wildebeest, impala, bushbuck, nyala, steenbok, duiker and more
- Eagles, owls, waterbirds and much more
The region is diverse and the game experiences focused and intense. There's something in this reserve for everyone to enjoy.
Sabi Sabi Selati Camp
In the waning light of the late 19th century, the first railway lines snaked through the Mpumalanga lowveld, built to carry gold from Phalaborwa to Mocambique. Further south, on the Selati Line, passenger trains slowly chugged into Newington Station, with conductors peering up into the trees against which were long ladders - provided by the railway company to enable travellers to climb to safety, away from the marauding lions which prowled the area.
Born of history, inspired by the legends of hidden bullion and fearless hunters, the exquisite seven suite Selati Camp is a tangible reminder of this grand steam train era. Railway museums and storerooms yielded authentic memorabilia which have been artfully incorporated into the décor of this 5-star jewel of the bushveld.
Nights at Selati are illuminated by the gentle glow of authentic shunters lamps and lanterns. The cozy lounge is filled with reminders of times gone by, while dinners in the outdoor boma under the star-studded African sky or in the intimate “Farmhouse Kitchen” are delicious meals to remember. Armchairs around the sparkling pool or on the covered wooden viewing decks are a perfect perch from which to watch game drinking at the nearby waterhole. Situated on a bend of the Msuthlu River in the shade of gigantic riverine trees, Selati Camp is a safari lover’s dream.
Mala Mala Camp
MalaMala Game Reserve consistently produces the most exciting wildlife experience this side of the equator! The Safari Industry's blueprint to the luxury photographic safari, MalaMala has been custodian of this massive thriving tract of land since 1927. MalaMala Game Reserve is one of the largest private Big Five game reserves in South Africa. Comprising 13 300 ha (33 000 acres). MalaMala shares a 19 km (12 mile) unfenced border with the world-renowned Kruger National Park, and lies strategically sandwiched between the National Park and the Sabi Sand Reserve.
The camp is unfenced - an oasis in the middle of the bushveld. Every aspect of MalaMala Camp is designed to appreciate and enjoy the view of the surrounding wilds. Pathways wind their way along the perimeter of the camp to reveal individual ochre colored units tucked into the greenery which flanks the Sand River. Massive trees and rolling green lawns are filled with birdsong, with the occasional antelope or elephant which seeks the succulence of greenery.
Depart Johannesburg on a scheduled SA Airlink flight that lands in Skukuza, Kruger National Park. Here you'll be met by a Sabi Sabi transfer and taken to the camp. This road transfer to camp is approximately 1 hour in total. Your Wild Eye guide will meet you upon your arrival in camp & the Sabi Sands Big 5 Safari will kick into full swing.
After checking in to Sabi Sabi Selati Lodge & a short briefing, you can enjoy lunch and a short siesta before afternoon game drive. The game drive will start in the late afternoon and will continue in to the evening.
Day 2 - 4
The days will start early with a wake-up call 30 minutes prior to meeting for coffee & tea. We'll aim to leave at first light which will be around 05:15. The first 2 hours in the morning is best for predator activity & we'll focus on exactly that. As the morning progresses the focus will shift to elephants, buffalo, rhino and more. Every day is a little different and we may find active predators later in to the morning, so the above-mentioned is merely guideline for what's to be expected. There will be coffee and some light snacks on board so we'll enjoy that halfway through morning safari.
Arrive back at camp and enjoy a full breakfast in camp. After breakfast you can choose to siesta, enjoy a spa treatment or catch up with your guide re some photography & editing tips & tricks.
After lunch is a good time to catch up on some rest.
We'll enjoy an afternoon safari activity, traditionally departing camp around 15:30 after enjoying some delicious afternoon tea & treats in camp. We'll be on the lookout for some great photo opportunities in the late afternoon light and the plan would be to spend the last light with a predator such as a lion or leopard. On this safari we can spend the evening after dark with the big cats and follow them on the move & on the hunt. We'll enjoy photography by means of spotlight, a fantastic and unique experience not available in regions such as East Africa.
We'll return to camp between 7 and 8 pm and enjoy dinner together.
After a full morning safari we'll return to camp for breakfast. There might be a quick opportunity to pack after breakfast but packing is best done the night before.
After breakfast we'll depart by road for Mala Mala, only 30 minutes away. Settle in to camp after induction & join for lunch should you feel the need.
Day 6 - 9
The days will start early with a wake-up call 30 minutes prior to meeting for coffee & tea. We'll aim to leave at first light which will be around 05:15. The first 2 hours in the morning is best for predator activity & we'll focus on exactly that. As the morning progresses the focus will shift to elephants, buffalo, rhino and more. Every day is a little different and we may find active predators later in to the morning, so the above-mentioned is merely a guideline for what's to be expected.
There will be coffee and some light snacks on board so we'll enjoy that halfway through morning safari. Arrive back at camp and enjoy a full breakfast in camP. After breakfast you can choose to siesta, enjoy a spa treatment or catch up with your guide re some photography & editing tips & tricks.
After lunch is a good time to catch up on some rest.We'll enjoy an afternoon safari activity, traditionally departing camp around 15:30 after enjoying some delicious afternoon tea & treats in camp. We'll be on the lookout for some great photo opportunities in the late afternoon light and the plan would be to spend the last light with a predator such as a lion or leopard. On this safari we can spend the evening with the big cats and follow them on the move & on the hunt. We'll enjoy photography by means of spotlight, a fantastic and unique experience not available in regions such as East Africa. We'll return to camp between 7 and 8 pm and enjoy dinner together.
After a full morning safari we'll return to camp for breakfast. There might be a quick opportunity to pack after breakfast, pending the time of your departure flight. Packing is best done the night before.
After breakfast we'll depart by road for Skukuza Airport. It's about a 40 minute drive away across the Mala Mala property.
Board your flight to Johannesburg and upon arrival, it'll signal the end of the Sabi Sands Big 5 Safari.
Camera Equipment for the Sabi Sands Big 5 Safari
As a general rule, this safari will bring you closer to the Big 5 than ever before. The animals are for the most part habituated to the vehicles and therefore are not alarmed when the vehicles get you a little closer to the action. You will also be able to follow high profile animals such as lion, leopard and wild dog off road. This allows you to stay close to the animals where in most reserves, you'll remain bound to the main road networks. With this in mind, please consider the below mentioned.
Due to the close proximity to wildlife on the Sabi Sands Big 5 Safari, the ideal prime lens consideration would be a fixed focal 300mm f2.8, or 400mm f2.8. Both these lenses are stunning in quality and sharpness. Much of the activity will also happen at first and last light, periods of day when you'll need a fast lens to extract all the possible light on offer. It's always wise to carry tele-converters to get a little closer. A 1.4 teleconverter will be just fine. There will also be night-time photography of bigs cats on offer as they hunt under cover of darkness. We'll use a spotlight (responsibly) to allow for photography, and your Wild Eye guide will make sure you have the best settings dialed in for the nighttime photography.
Any lens at the focal range of 500mm to 600mm would be too much focal length for the task at hand, in our opinion. You get very close and you might find yourself too tight for most of the shots.
If you do not have a prime as mentioned above, lenses like the 100-400mm and 200-600mm are still fantastic and will leave you with beautiful imagery.
Mid-range Zoom Lens
The 70-200mm lens will be one of your best friends on this tour, so try as best you can to get your hands on one. Since you'll be in close proximity to wildlife, you'll be able capture animals within their environment. This lens is perfect for that purpose.
It's always worth while to bring a wide-angle lens along. The 24-70mm and the 24-105 mm range lenses will always fare well in this reserve.
If you have a 16-35mm, this lens also does well here.
There might be opportunity for some star photography in the evenings too, something to consider when packing.
We at Wild Eye are not overly fond of using flashes after dark. When we are on a vehicle with 4 or 5 photographers, all using their flashes, it tends to negatively affect the predator being photographed. We prefer the responsible use of a spotlight for night-time photography. By all means, bring the flash for early evening work or to for fill-light during daylight conditions. If you have more questions on this please consult with the guide responsible for hosting the tour.
It's recommended that you bring along 2 camera bodies. At least one of the 2 bodies should be equipped for action photography, able to shoot at a high frame rate and capable of shooting in low light conditions with the potential of higher ISO's. Most brands produce a flagship sports and action camera and these are ideal for the Sabi Sands Big 5 Safari. If you don't have access to this kind of camera, then bring what you have. It's all about the experience and making the most of what you have.
It's always a great idea to have a second camera body on hand. This can be mounted to your mid-range zoom lens at all times. It saves you time and avoids you having to change lenses. In addition, should a camera break you'll have a second camera body to fall back on.
Please remember that your Wild Eye guide will always be on hand before the departure date of the tour to discuss your camera equipment at length. Ultimately they'll be able to assist and suggest the best way forward for this exciting adventure.
South Africa is a safari destination
A visit to South Africa for the purpose of safari is always a great idea. The country has a growing economy and fantastic tourist support. Your safari experience can be accompanied by a visit to Cape Town, only a 1.5 hour flight away from the Greater Kruger area. Cape Town is known the world over for the excellent experience on offer and the Wild Eye team will gladly assist with the travel arrangements, from hotel bookings to local flights.
You can also extend your visit to go see wonderful sights such as Victoria Falls in neighbouring Zimbabwe.
This Sabi Sands Big 5 Safari is designed to bring you the very best of Africa's big game and all that in close proximity. You'll be in for experiences that'll blow your mind, of that we have no doubt.
We look forward to having you on this incredible adventure.