Lodge of the Earth, as organic as it sounds, is Sabi Sabi’s vision for the future of the safari lodge. Forget all notions that an eco-conscious sustainability manifesto excludes high end. Earth Lodge sits at the pinnacle of luxury safari living in terms of architecture, facilities and impeccable service.
From afar, Earth Lodge’s 13 thatched-roof suites resemble the dwellings of the local Tsonga people. Low-rise and open to the elements, the central bar, lounge, reception and restaurant facilities blend seamlessly into the lowveld straw-themed palace.
Staffed largely by employees of the Shangaan people, some of whom are third-generation Sabi Sabi employees wearing traditional colors of burnt orange and yellow, there is a heartwarming connection between Earth Lodge and the local villages.
Most customers land in the thatched-roof terminal at Skukuza Airport’s bush airstrip. A Sabi Sabi driver collects the luggage and loads it into the Land Cruiser. Essentially, the hour-long transfer is a game drive of buffalo, elephant and lion, ticking off three of the Big Five before we’ve even checked in.
Innocent welcomes us with a frozen flannel, a frozen rock shandy and a sincere welcome. He accompanies us to our suite. An ice bucket, containing a bottle of sparkling wine, awaits us.
A lobby, larger than many safari lodge rooms, hosts an all-inclusive bar that’s far from mini.
No miniatures here, just full-size bottles, a fully stacked fridge and an array of glasses that could have come straight from Harrods. Sliding glass doors provide the first exit to the open-plan outdoor living area overlooking a private plunge pool.
From time to time, elephants come to drink at the pool.
The villas are so private and secluded that each has an outdoor shower overlooking the veldt. Inside, the bathroom, with its polished stone basins, is huge.
A strategically positioned shower offers a view of the veldt. On our last night, turndown service performed a deep bath, scattering aromatic rose petals, and romantically lit the candles.
On the eastern flank of the lodge, a glass-encased, air-conditioned, self-contained gym offers standard veld views. While to the west, a serene Amani Spa also offers open-air treatments when weather conditions permit.
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Tall bleached tree trunks, salvaged from the Sabi River flood by artist Geoffrey Armstrong, appear to support the roof of the bar, lounge and restaurant, which blend avant-garde aged copper with the traditional African art.
Early in the morning, with a Lion King sunrise as a backdrop, a buffet breakfast is offered before the first game drive of the day. After the ride there is a menu for a fully served breakfast. Likewise at lunchtime, the waitress Goodness, who takes care of us throughout our stay, offers us an extensive menu that includes the marvelous ostrich with apricot wraps. Soon after, afternoon tea is also available.
Dinner can be served on the lawn overlooking a waterhole where elephants and hippos have high-decibel territorial disputes. The other evenings, dinner is organized in the middle of the flaming braziers of the sheltered boma. Regardless of location, Chef Wiljan visits each table to discuss the evening’s options.
It is a refined cuisine in the heart of the bush. Meals begin with warm freshly baked bread, there is always a delicate cup of cappuccino-style soup and a palate-cleansing sorbet served before the main course.
If it weren’t for the stars of the Milky Way above and game options such as a elk loin in coffee and cilantro sauce, you could be in a Michelin starred restaurant in the town.
The 230 square miles of Sabi Sabi Game Drive adjoins the southwest corner of Kruger National Park. There are no fences and wildlife roam freely.
Earth Lodge, representing the safari of tomorrow, is one of four Sabi Sabi properties. The lit Selati nostalgic lamp gives a vision of yesterday’s safari. Bigger and more family-friendly, Bush Camp is the safari of today. While Little Bush Camp, with just six very self-contained suites, is a very tranquil retreat popular with couples for honeymoons, anniversaries and special anniversaries.
Other little touches
Morning and evening game drives have a Outside of Africa style.
Our spotter provides us with blankets and hot water bottles for the morning journeys. After a while we stop for a freshly brewed Rwandan coffee served with fruit skewers and a choice of cookies. In the evening there is a clinking of ice as our ranger and spotted find a high point for a sunset. Later, our ranger takes us on another game drive. Far from the light pollution, it recalls the stars of the Southern Cross and shows us the Milky Way, much more visible in the sky of the southern hemisphere. Back in our suite there is an art set to draw or paint our safari memories.
Prices start from £1,400 per person per night based on two people sharing a suite.
Two game drives per day, three meals per day, laundry and most beverages are included in the price.
The best piece
In the late morning, a walking safari allows you to admire the veldt at low altitude. We pass termite mounds so large that elephants use them as pillows. Our ranger stops to show us some tracks; in fact, we follow for a moment the trail of two rhinos. Then we stop to listen to some of the 350 birds singing in the reserve.
The final verdict
With a reputation for leopards, visitors have an excellent chance of ticking off all of the Big Five during their stay at Earth Lodge. Spotters and rangers are at the top of their game, working together to hunt down elusive wildlife.
Guests are sad to leave, always wanting an extra day or two to relax on their patio, open the art set, and enjoy another spa treatment.
Disclosure: Our visit was sponsored by Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge.