Location, location - that has to be a bit of what it is all about with regards to good big game viewing. Notten’s has a prime location in the south eastern sector of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, situated between Mala Mala, Sabi Sabi and Londolozi Game Reserves - the game viewing here is excellent. Wonderful too, that Notten’s has reciprocal traversing with Sabi Sabi, expanding their game viewing potential enormously. Notten’s Bush Camp is one of the oldest family run Lodges in the Sabi Sand area and retains much of the personal style of the family bush camps of old.
Overlooking an ephemeral stream and open plain beyond, where a strategically placed water-hole entices a variety of animals - the public areas and deck, shaded by a magnificent Jackal-berry and strategically placed bar with a Barista’s dream coffee machine, entices guests.
Lana and I arrived at Notten’s to a warm welcome, refreshing drinks, with a herd of buffalo on the open plains in front of the Lodge - we started to settle into bush mode.
Our Ranger, Geoff and tracker, Fox, were anxious to show us the splendid game viewing experienced here. We arrived for high tea on the Lodge deck where a sumptuous array of delectable food was laid out. Savory - quiche, salads, then a flavor of Africa, Springbok babotie, delicious, with sweets. cakes and drinks done,
we clambered onto one of the comfortable Land Rover Safari vehicles, with a bit of friendly encouragement from our amiable host Grant Notten, we headed for the bush. Bushwillow, marula, acacia, the lovely open bushveld savanna of the lowveld, magnificent Scotia - the weeping boerbean, on so many of the termite mounds, the golden grasses and look closer, dainty flowers scattered along the way, a botanists dream. The way, dirt tracks winding seemingly aimlessly through the bush, but they took us right up to a herd of elephant.
Spend a bit of time with these matriarchal elephant herds with young, colloquially known as ‘breeding herds’, and one is able to gain a fascinating insight to the elephant social structure. These mammoth pachyderms are my favorite, I can be absorbed by their behavior for hours. Well too many hours we did not have, the sun had long passed its zenith and was already falling out of the sky. It was becoming dusk when Fox found him. Sniffing the evening air, then stealthily approaching the earthly retreat of some warthog. From one subterranean excavation to the next we followed him.
Nobody home, new tactics, what about that herd of impala ? What a magnificent cat ! I marvel at how accustomed these feline predators have become to the intrusion from us gawking tourists, I am sure he was putting on a bit of a show for us, walking right up to Fox rather brazenly and sniffing at his boot, the Fox did not budge, he probably knew this tom well. His attempt to approach the impala was not as polished and they danced off into the gloaming, their ‘follow me’ markings and pheromone scent keeping the herd loosely together, whilst seemingly disgruntled, our leopard turned his back on us and headed off away into the bush.
We took the hint and Geoff found some open ground for our sundowner stop. Out came a gas stove, on went the boerewors and ribbetjies. We watched the last rays of sunlight fade whilst tasting these and the other snacks, sipping all the while on some of the Cape’s finest. Absolutely nothing wrong with this! Spotlight out and we were hoping to find some more of the nocturnal species – how Fox could identify an animal by a reflective pin-prick amazed me. A night-jar, a glimpse of a genet and then, “Ingwe” – a leopard off to the right. Geoff swung off the road and we made for where Fox had seen the glimmer. There she was, stealthily on the hunt, she seemed a bit shy and eventually chose a course through a dense tambotie stand, making it impossible to follow - how lovely, two excellent leopard sightings on the first evening ! “Well this IS the Sabi Sands you know”. Imagine arriving back at the camp to a fairy-lit garden. The pathways were lined with glowing paraffin lanterns, our room festooned with lamps and candles – no electric lights here. This brought back fond memories of days on the farm in my younger days.
There is electricity – that is, for the ceiling fans, the kitchens, bar fridges, Italian coffee machine (of course) and the geysers, which produced profusions of piping hot water in the shower, then to dinner. Warm fire on the patio and in the dining hall, good wine, camaraderie and super food! Casual, warm and a more friendly place would be hard to find. Would that be an espresso before retiring? Hot water bottles and comfortable warm duvets and before I knew it my internal time-piece had me rousing. Lana and I are used to paraffin lanterns but one of the guests had turned the wicks down to extinguish their lamps and could not get them relit for wake-up, so candles only in her room. Bit of a panic. Maybe for such international guests, a bedside electric lamp would not go amis, this would be a good ‘security blanket’ in the wilds of Africa, easy to read by too and should not detract from the flame lit ambience? The Lodge does provide excellent portable spotlights which we used to good avail in the early morning – had to identify that sound in the brush right next to our veranda – a small herd of Buffalo which slowly moved off. “A thermos of hot water for your early morning tea will be placed at your door with a knock to wake you at 06h00”. Too late, we were up and dressed, we were not going to let that speciality coffee machine lie idle. Coffee and rusks done, warm gear, blanket, hot water bottle, camera equipment and we were away on Safari.
The bush was alive, white rhino and calf right next to us, so unconcerned. I whispered her a warning – “look out for the rhino horn poachers”
zebra, grey duiker, steenbuck and then a leopard. Hungry fellow this. He was busy feeding on a steenbuck that he had just caught and was not interested in even giving us the time of day. Head down and food the priority, we let him be. We wended our way through this delightful open vibrant savanna – a crash of three rhino,
a herd of buffalo and another of elephant.
If such wildlife viewing is so special for me, having spent the greater part of my life visiting the wilds of southern Africa, how fantastic must it be for a first time visitor from overseas, to be able to see the five most dangerous animals, hunters deemed as prize, in a stay of 3 or 4 nights, and to see them really well and up close. All these photographs were taken on my iPhone (joking!) but they really could have been. Add this venue to your “Bucket List” ?
Photographs by Jeremy and Lana Williamson