You Can Never Go Wrong with a Classic Big 5 Safari.

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By Katharina Riebesel on September 20, 2021

Lion, rhino, leopard, buffalo and elephant – Africa’s Big 5 never seem to disappoint. Seasoned safari-goers know that the Sabi Sand Nature Reserve in South Africa is one of the best places to observe these animals in their natural habitat. Together with three of my colleagues, I had the opportunity to travel to Sabi Sand and spent two nights at Inyati Game Lodge.

Not only did we spot all five of the Big 5, but we also witnessed a leopard hunt of a different kind and managed to snap images of rather shy bush inhabitants.

Safari : Keen to see Africa’s big cats up-close? Photo credit: Katharina Riebese
Keen to see Africa’s big cats up-close? Photo credit: Katharina Riebesel

Upon arrival, with a homemade lemonade in hand (cheers!), I soak in the captivating views from the lodge’s main area. Manicured lawns lead down to the almost entirely parched Sand River, with giant, ancient trees fringing this beautiful scene.

Other guests can’t hide their excitement as they show us a video of a large elephant bull that was nibbling on a tree right next to the terrace only a few minutes ago. That’s the fascinating thing about an unfenced safari lodge like Inyati; you never know what animals wait behind the next corner – or rather bush or tree.

After our refreshing welcome drink, I can’t wait to see my home for the next two nights. My suite is one of the family units and comes with inquisitive neighbours – a group of vervet monkeys on the thatched roof! Not only does my room overlook the lawn and riverbed, but it’s also conveniently located, right next to the swimming pool. The large king-size bed and two single beds offer enough space for a family of four – and plenty of room for me!

Face-to-Face with Inyati’s Big Cats

After a quick inspection of my room, it’s time for our first game drive. I head to the safari vehicle with a warm jacket in hand and a camera around my neck. Here, we meet our guide George and our tracker Solly.

George and Solly tracking in a dry riverbed, Photo credit: Katharina Riebesel
George and Solly tracking in a dry riverbed, Photo credit: Katharina Riebesel

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a good and a great safari? Without a doubt, it comes down to your tracker and guide duo! And we were indeed lucky with our bush experts! 

George has been tracking wild animals for more than 30 years, mostly alongside Solly. “I know Solly better than my wife,” George jokes. We believe him. It’s undeniable that the two are a well-rehearsed team. While driving past watering holes and trees, they share stories about a lioness and her cubs.

The bush smells pleasantly sweet and is much drier than on my Kruger safari in December. Impala, wildebeest and giraffe have taken over the area around the lodge’s airstrip, a stunning sight. Such open areas are always good for observing plain game.

Not long into our drive, we spot our first big cat. A male leopard with obvious Lion King ambitions poses on a round boulder in the middle of the dry riverbed. We watch him for a moment while George gives us a quick lecture about the area’s leopard dynasty. We saw no other leopards other than this dominant male.

A Delightful Surprise in the Bush

My favourite part of our afternoon adventure is a short drive across a flooded bridge in a wet area of the Sand River. About half a dozen hippos have made themselves comfortable in this natural rock pool. And, if you listen very carefully, you can even hear their deep rumbling from the lodge.

Say hello to Inyati’s pod of hippos. Photo credit: Katharina Riebesel
Say hello to Inyati’s pod of hippos. Photo credit: Katharina Riebesel

To our surprise, we don’t immediately return to the lodge. Instead, George drives us to a small clearing in the middle of the bush. A flickering bonfire flanked by safari vehicles, set tables and a braai station awaits us. The kitchen team is preparing salads, sauces, and hearty side dishes. A romantic dinner in the bush – the Inyati Game Lodge team has truly pulled off this surprise! Wrapped in blankets, we enjoy our starters under the sparkling night sky.

Of course, all Covid-19 guidelines are adhered to – not just during dinner but throughout our stay. Starters and desserts are served directly at the tables, and then each group goes to the buffet separately for their main course. My favourite dish of the evening is the braised oxtail with vegetables, a South African classic.

A Different Kind of Leopard Hunt

The next day, we follow a young female leopard through the dense bush – an excellent opportunity to train our gymnastic skills while avoiding branches and leaves. Then, suddenly, the leopard starts to stalk. Well, that’s what it looks like to us! So, we try to keep up with her.

We find her excitedly sitting in front of a dense bush that makes unfamiliar, outraging sounds. “That sounds a lot like a honey badger uninterested in playing catch,” George says. After a few minutes, the female leopard loses interest in her playmate, and we drive on.

Hi there, dwarf mongooses. Photo credit: Katharina Riebesel
Hi there, dwarf mongooses. Photo credit: Katharina Riebesel

From Small to Mighty Creatures

To our left and right, tiny dark grey figures keep appearing in the long, dry grass. George stops the car so we can have a closer look at the grey mongooses. It’s usually rather tricky to get these elusive animals in front of the lens, but I’m lucky this time.

The fascinating thing about the African bush is that it’s home to small and mighty creatures alike. Only moments later, a large herd of buffalo surround us. George estimates the size of the herd to comprise at least 200 animals. This could not be a better end to our safari, as “Inyati” is Zulu for buffalo.

Inyati Game Lodge Highlights

  • Classic safari design and ideal for spotting the Big 5
  • “Safari cinema”: Game viewing from the lodge possible
  • Delicious, hearty meals with African influences
  • Surprises like dinner in the middle of the bush
  • Experienced guides and trackers like George and Solly

Inyati Game Lodge is ideal for…

  • Families: There are three spacious family rooms not far from the common area and the open lawns. The lodge also offers a fun-filled ranger programme for children.
  • Photographers: Whether you are a professional or amateur wildlife photographer, you can look forward to first-class photo opportunities. As the Inyati guides are allowed to drive off-road, you will get very close to lions, leopards, elephants, but also smaller animals like mongooses and birds.

Would you like to experience a classic Big 5 safari on your next African holiday?

You want to learn everything there’s to know about Inyati Game Lodge? Please don’t hesitate to visit Inyati’s website.

About the author – Katharina Riebesel

Katharina is a Journalist/Content Writer from Hamburg, Germany. She’s been living in Cape Town and Germany for more than four years. The jet-setter life was fun, but now she’s looking forward to unpacking her suitcases for good and settling down. Katharina is a team player and she’s very excited to be part of the Rhino Crash. She first came to the rainbow nation in 2010, when she completed a semester at Stellenbosch University. She immediately fell in love with South Africa, and a very handsome surfer, in particular. Hiking, sailing, cooking, and eating are her favourite activities when she’s not wielding a pen.

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