Sabi Sands Game Reserve, South Africa

On Tuesday, November 16, we crossed the border from Zimbabwe to Zambia and then flew from Zambia International Airport to Nelspruit Airport in South Africa. After a 1.5 hour drive from the airport, we arrived at Tengile River Lodge in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve.


On arrival to the lodge, we were blown away. The lounge, our room, and all of the amenities far exceeded our expectations!


Similar to the safari we went on the previous week in Zimbabwe, this safari also had a daily schedule. We woke up early each morning at ~4:30am, had coffee in the room, and then headed out on a morning game drive.

After spending a few hours driving around and spotting game, we then would have breakfast. One morning, our guides treated us to a seated breakfast in the wild, inclusive of mimosas, omelets, baked goods, and smoothie bowls!

In between our morning and evening game drives, we had time to relax at the lodge. We went to the gym, had lunch and relaxed in our room, and swam in our plunge pool!

At ~3:30pm, we would grab a cocktail to-go from the bar and head out on our evening game drive. The bartender at the lodge taught us about Amarula, which is basically the South African equivalent of Baileys. While it was delicious, it was also heavy so we didn’t have tooooo much of it (remember, Mel is lactose-intolerant)!

On the evening game drives, we would stop to watch the sunset and have some more drinks and snacks.

After the evening game drives, we had bonfires, more drinks, and delicious dinners!

We were so grateful to meet another couple from the United States, Max and Amanda. They were also on their honeymoon and we enjoyed having them in our safari truck with our driver, Vusi, and our guide, Martin.

Animals! (in no particular order)

We accomplished our goal of seeing the big five and the super seven on this safari!! The big five are (1) lions, (2) leopards, (3) elephants, (4) rhinos, and (5) buffalos. The super seven are the big five plus (6) wilds dogs and (7) cheetahs.

Giraffes: We got very close to many giraffes on this safari. They are very skittish, but not hard to find because of their long necks.

Zebras: We saw a bunch of zebras grazing, but they truly are not super exciting to observe. Cody likes to call them “cat food.”

Leopards: We were very excited to spot leopards on this safari since we were unable to find any on our previous safari in Zimbabwe. The first leopard we found was on a morning game drive. It was still cool out and the leopard was hiding in a thicket of grass, which meant he was most likely attempting to hunt. We watched the leopard for about an hour and boy were we amazed!

After hiding in the thicket for some time, the leopard bolted at a crowd of impala and caught a baby.

While it was extremely difficult to watch, we saw the leopard slowly kill the baby impala. Our guide, Vusi, explained that the leopard slowly kills the baby impala so that the mother impala hears her child in pain and comes back to check on her child. In that moment, the leopard then tries to attack and kill the mother impala as well. The mother of this baby impala seemed to be quite smart, because she did not return after at least 15-20 minutes of her baby suffering.

It was beyond devastating to watch this and half of the time we couldn’t look at what was happening before us. But, surprisingly enough, later that same day we saw an impala give birth (and eat the placenta) and we left the safari being truly in awe of mother nature.

Elephants: We saw some elephants on this safari, but frankly we saw far less than when we were on our safari in Zimbabwe. In Zimbabwe, we encountered a fair share of lone, male elephants and on this safari the only elephants we encountered were those in herds. We definitely cannot get enough of these huge, yet peaceful, creatures.

Lions: On our first morning game drive, we found a male lion lounging in the heat of the late morning sun.

Then, later that same day when we went out on our evening game drive, we found the same male lion and he had captured and killed (already, thank goodness) an African buffalo. We spent at least an hour watching the male lion eat the African buffalo. Our guides, Vusi and Martin, were very shocked at how much the male lion was struggling to break through the skin and eat the African buffalo. They also told us to listen closely to sound of the male lion’s tongue as he licked the African buffalo. Given that their tongues are similar to sandpaper and very coarse, male lions actually use their teeth way less than we would suspect. Instead, they lick and savor their dinner for many, many hours (and sometimes days).

After observing the male lion for a sufficient amount of time, we left him to eat his dinner in peace.

On our game drive the following morning, we found the male lion under a tree with his half-devoured African buffalo. He had made progress on eating the African buffalo throughout the night, although there was still a significant amount left. Vusi and Martin explained that the male lion dragged the African buffalo under this tree so that they could be covered and somewhat hidden from other animals in the daylight. For example, hawks can smell the decomposing African buffalo and circle around it, which would prompt other animals to come by and compete with the male lion for the African buffalo remains.

In addition to seeing a male lion, we also saw female lions (lionesses) with many cubs. Our first encounter of the lionesses and their cubs was along the beach. It was very hot out and it seemed like they were enjoying basking in the sun.

Later that day, during our evening game drive, we found the lionesses ad their cubs again. The lionesses were looking to hunt zebra and impala and their cubs observed. We are still so amazed by how close we were able to get to all of these lions!

White Rhinoceroses: It was a very incredible moment when we spotted the white rhinos because this sighting marked us officially seeing the big five!

We even got to experience the white rhino marking his territory…yuck!

African Wild Dogs: We spent some time during our safari looking for African Wild Dogs, but both Vusi and Martin were not too optimistic since they had not spotted African Wild Dogs for many months. African Wild Dogs are endangered and so there are very few that remain on earth and, most certainly, very few that remain in Sabi Sands Game Reserve. So, when we found African Wild Dogs towards the end of our last evening game drive, we were PUMPED! We definitely would not describe these dogs as cute, that’s for sure. They are pretty ugly looking and their run/walk is very unique and interesting to watch.

Waterbuck: We spotted many waterbucks on this safari.

African Buffalo: We spotted a bunch of African Buffalo, one of the big five, on this safari.

Blue Wildebeest: We definitely saw our fair share of wildebeests.

Hippopotamus: We saw many hippos prior to this safari, so we told Vusi and Martin that we didn’t need to really look for a ton of them during our game drives. That being said, on our last evening game drive, we took a quick stop to look at a few.

Painted Reed Frog: On one evening game drive, Martin spotted a painted reed frog basically in the complete darkness. These frogs are tiny and typically blend in with the reeds around them. The fact that Martin was able to spot this just goes to show how incredibly good he is at his job!

Black Mambas: While we were aware that we would be traveling to South Africa during the start of rainy season, we were unaware that rainy season is when the snakes are most commonly found! Black mambas are known to be the most dangerous snakes to humans in Africa. Even Martin, who has been guiding for 20+ years, says that the only animals he is truly afraid of in the bush are black mambas. Luckily, we personally did not spot any black mambas. Another safari vehicle from our camp did see one that was startled by their car, but the car slowly backed away to allow for the black mamba to get where it was going, and then they started to drive again. All in all, we are so, so grateful that we DID NOT see any black mambas!!!

Dung Beetles: We saw lots and lots of dung beetles.

Warthogs: We saw a good amount of warthogs. They look a bit vicious because they have big husks, but they are herbivores and relatively harmless.

Black-backed Jackals: We saw some of these and they reminded us of foxes.

Dwarf Mongooses: These are cute, but also kind of creepy looking. We were unable to get a photo of these.

Impala: There were lots and lots and lots of impala everywhere!

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