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It’s been a long time coming but the day three diary has arrived!

After a restful night at the luxurious Arabella Hotel, Golf & Spa, we set off on a three-hour drive northeast to Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, eagerly anticipating what lay ahead.

Before visiting Africa, I had pictured that all safari experiences would be the same; dry sandy landscapes and huge savannahs, teeming with wildlife.

My four South African safari experiences to date have featured vastly different landscapes and vegetation from wetlands, to thick scrub to savannah. Every experience is different and that’s one of the reasons that I always want to come back for more.

Sanbona spans an impressive 62,000 hectares, making it one of South Africa’s largest privately-owned nature reserves. It’s divided by a sandstone mountain range, with the northern section characterized by dry, sparse vegetation, including unique succulents. In contrast, the southern part boasts the lush fynbos vegetation typical of the Cape region.

Owned by a non-profit organization dedicated to conservation, Sanbona has undergone a remarkable transformation from former Dutch settler farms to a haven for the Big Five, reintroduced successfully in the early 2000s.

Accommodation options at Sanbona include a family lodge and a tented camp. We opted for Tilney Manor, a 30-minute drive into the park, this old farmhouse retains much of its original settler charm.

The six separate suites, each with private verandas, offer spacious accommodations with king-sized beds, elegant bathrooms, and outdoor showers. Complimentary drinks and snacks await guests in their rooms.

Meals at Tilney Manor are a gourmet affair served on a covered patio, with the traditional boma nearby. The property also features a picturesque swimming pool, a fully equipped gym, and spa facilities.

Though our time at Sanbona was brief, we managed to fit in two exhilarating game drives. Our experienced ranger, Jordan, led us on a thrilling quest to find a cheetah and her cubs, utilizing radio telemetry to track their movements. Unfortunately, although we found them, they were away from the road and we didn’t get to view them.

We stopped for sundowners at a waterhole and were able to view 2 young white rhinos who like us had stopped for a sunset drink. On our way back to the manor we encountered the herd of elephants and enjoyed a close encounter whilst they were sand bathing as well as experiencing our first kill – a wild cat caught a mouse!!

The next morning, we had the luck to see the young male lion who has only recently been moved into the reserve, he was relaxing near the edge of the park and happily remained near the road as we stopped to watch. We also got to spot the male cheetah who again strode along close to the road.

While Sanbona may not have the highest concentration of large mammals, the warm hospitality, sumptuous cuisine, luxurious accommodations, breathtaking scenery, and knowledgeable guides more than make up for it. Our encounter with three of the Big Five leaves me eager to return, hopefully for a longer stay next time.

Stay tuned for the next leg of our journey along the garden route as we visit the legendary Shamwari Game Reserve in the April edition of Traveltalk.

Special thanks to South Africa Tourism and MW Tours for making this unforgettable experience possible.