Jump to content

First Time on Safari - Notten's and Idube


Recommended Posts


My wife and I took our first safari this summer to the country of South Africa.


We visited the Sabi Sands reserve, located just outside the Kruger National Park. In preparing for our trip, I have enjoyed reading the trip reports here on SafariTalk, and I hope that my report can be useful to fellow travelers.


While in the Sabi Sands, we visited two camps--Notten's Bush Camp and Idube Game Lodge--spending 3 nights at each lodge.


Many words have been spent arguing about what constitutes a "real safari" and whether or not such a safari can be found in the Sabi Sands. Ultimately, that must be a personal decision. For a first-timer to Africa, we found the Sabi Sands to be exciting and wild, while also comfortable. For us, the comfort of our lodging did not diminish the wilderness that surrounded us. In the future, I'd like to explore other safari destinations, not because I disliked Sabi Sands but because there is simply so much more to see. I hope to visit Kenya/Tanzania on my next trip and perhaps Zimbabwe even further in the future.



Notten's Bush Camp is a family run camp in the southern part of the Sabi Sands reserve. It is unique in that it keeps electricity use to a minimum, lighting the camp with candles and paraffin lanterns in the evening. Outlets are available for charging camera and phone batteries, but this is not a camp where people spend a lot of time staring at their electronics.



We had a wonderful game drive on our first night. In fact, in one waterhole scene we saw two hyenas (guarding a leftover bit of carcass), three rhino, and a leopard.








The leopard was the coolest...












Before walking away...




As I mentioned before, nighttime at camp was lit only by fire. This was a very cool environment. Also, the food at Notten's was amazing. Cocktails are included, which helps make the place feel more like a home than a hotel. Simply put, I loved the environment and hospitality here at Notten's.








Dinner table...



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Great timing, TeacherAU. We'll be at Nottens in a few weeks, so I'm patiently looking for your next posts. The pics are great, what camera did you use? Will my 300mm be enough?

Link to comment
Share on other sites


@@xyz99 I loved Notten's for its amazing atmosphere and service. I used a Canon SL1 with an 18-200mm lens. I attempted to rent a 400mm, but had a mix-up with some of the paperwork.


I think your 300 mm will be sufficient. It will certainly be sufficient for framing nice shots. I just wanted more length so that I could get better depth-of-field in portraits.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


Our first full day at Notten's was wonderful. We woke up early for homemade hot chocolate and rusks before piling into the vehicle. The hot water bottles provided for the game drive kept us nice and warm under our blankets in the bitterly cold morning.


We started the day with a buffalo...






As the sun continued rising, our tracker sighted a leopard! This was our second leopard in less than 12 hours, and we were ecstatic. This female was much smaller than the powerful male we saw the previous night.








She got a little too close for me to focus...





Before heading home for breakfast, we saw our first elephants!





Edited by TravelinTeacherAU
Link to comment
Share on other sites


Around 3:30 p.m., we headed out on our evening game drive.


We were on the hunt for lions this afternoon, but we saw lots of plains game on the drive, including a herd of impala running at full blast.





We spotted zebra...







and kudu...



Finally, we arrived at the lions...which were mating!










Seeing lions in the wild for the first time was an amazing experience. Unfortunately, because of how the borders of Notten's are set up, this would be our only lion encounter in our 3 days at the bush camp. The lions were mating and on the move, and they simply didn't stay on the Notten's property for very long. Again, this is not a zoo. We had fabulous lion encounters at our next lodge (Idube), but I must say that I might have been a bit disappointed if I only glimpsed lions once in my 6 nights. This is, in my opinion, a good reason to try to stay in more than one lodge/camp if time permits.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree with you that Sabi Sands is a great first-timers' safari. You've never been to Africa, you're not sure what to expect, but with so much invested in the trip, you want to see as much as possible.


Sabi Sands has a well-earned reputation for being able to produce reliable sightings of many of Africa's most notable mammals within the comfort of a well-established Safari infrastructure. And so, on your very first game drive, you had rhino, leopard and spotted hyena with leftovers, all followed by great food and drink in front of a roaring fire. I've certainly had worse days than that!


Thanks for posting, and I look forward to following you through the end of your trip.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


Our next morning at Notten's, we got a treat: wild dogs!


The dogs had been denning on a nearby property (Mala Mala, I think), but they were hunting on Notten's or Sabi land. Apparently, the dogs had finished a hunt just as we jumped in the vehicles for the morning drive. Our drivers expertly whisked us off to the boundary road and told us to keep our eyes peeled. Sure enough, the wild dogs soon came running home from the hunt, their muzzles covered in red.








This thrilling experience lasted less than a minute. The dogs were on the way back to the den. I was so thankful that our guide and tracker were able to get us in position to see these awesome animals. This was our only dog sighting of the trip.


I want to take a moment here to highlight some of the gorgeous birds and nests we saw on safari. I'm not a birder, but the avian creatures of Africa are stunning!















Unidentified and Nests












Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wow! Great sightings, I hope we'll be as lucky as you were. And thanks for the bird pictures, too :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites


In the afternoon, we had a thrilling time sighting and tracking a leopard.


Our tracker somehow saw the leopard hidden above a wooded gorge.




We waited patiently, as a hyena passed through the gorge and the leopard went into hiding. Finally, about 15 minutes later, we saw movement in the gorge.




The scrappy leopard emerged.





And walked towards us.





It was a thrilling experience, made even more so by the waiting and looking for movement. We felt privileged when the leopard finally felt comfortable enough to come out in front of us.


The rest of the day was languid in comparison, but there's no such thing as a bad day on safari!


We saw more beautiful elephants...








Zebras from the front...




And from the back...




This was our last night at Notten's, and our sundowners were a bit bittersweet that evening.




Dale, the manager at Notten's, cooked delicious steak over the open fire that evening and we all stayed up late talking about how much fun the trip had been.


Little did we know, Notten's still had one surprise in store for us the next morning!



Link to comment
Share on other sites


Our final morning at Notten's gave us a great surprise.


We saw our first wildebeest, which was cool. I think that there are more of these in the park, but this was the only one we saw in the reserve.






We also saw a "Circle of Life" regarding buffalo. We came upon a dead buffalo, which had been killed by a lion a couple of nights ago.





I was the only nerd who wanted to get out and look at the carcass! This was the closest we came to seeing a kill at Notten's.


Later, though, we saw a cute baby buffalo calf with its mother.






It was almost time to head back towards the lodge when our tracker started acting strange. He clearly saw something, but he almost couldn't believe it. As he directed our driver into thick bramble, our tracker became more and more excited. Before we knew it, we were close enough to see it. He'd lead us to a black rhino!






He charged us for a second, but then turned and trotted quickly away.






This was a really cool experience. Our tracker said that he had not seen a black rhino in 5 years! We truly felt lucky.


Notten's had certainly treated us well. They provide some of the best hospitality I've ever experienced. While the game viewing was ultimately better at Idube (as I'll show in future posts), the camp experience is better at Notten's. It's truly a great place.


Here's a photo of our guide Joe on the left (he has been at Notten's since "the beginning") and our tracker Ryden on the right.





Link to comment
Share on other sites

@@TravelinTeacherAU It is always a delight to me to hear about a first ever safari so thanks for sharing this on ST. The enjoyment and wonder shine through and those are feelings you will never forget.


You had some incredible sightings; leopards, black rhino and wilddog amongst them.


I noted that your first zebra seems to have been attacked, probably by a lion. It is amazing how they manage to survive these encounters.


Thoroughly enjoying this TR and looking forward to hearing, and seeing, more. You got some great shots!


BTW like you I love checking out the carcasses; you can learn so much. :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I remember your pre-trip excitement and am very glad you had such a great start into safari life. Leopards, Wild Dogs, mating Lions, Black Rhinos - wonderful! The camp looks very comfortable. Really like the flying Impala shot and the last one of the mating lions. Looking forward to more!

Link to comment
Share on other sites


After an incredible final morning at Notten's, we hopped in our transfer to Idube. An agent from Mfafa Safaris picked us up and drove us the hour and fifteen minutes it took to reach Idube.


Let me take a second to discuss the differences between our two camps:


- Even though Idube and Notten's are pretty close geographically, the landscape was quite different. Notten's was full of thick, scrubby bush while Idube had more hills and open spaces. To me, this is a great argument for visiting at least two camps on safari.


- Idube also seemed much more "hotel"-like than Notten's. As I've said before, the mix of atmosphere, food, drink, and service at Notten's could not be matched. They truly made you feel like you were a part of the family. At Idube, they made you feel like you were a valued client at their hotel. Both feelings are great, but I preferred the Notten's approach.



- Idube, however, bested Notten's in two important categories: game viewing and guiding. These are pretty important! I can't believe all the amazing things we saw at Idube (which I'll detail in the upcoming posts). I also just loved our guide, Matt. He's a general manager at the camp, and he holds guide certification in South Africa and Zimbabwe. He was amazingly knowledgeable, and he loved to share. His excitement was contagious. Our guide at Notten's (Joe) was more of the strong and silent type. He was always there to answer questions, but he didn't get as excitable as Matt. Again, I see value in both approaches, but I preferred the guiding at Idube. We had such a blast with Matt, and we learned a lot, too. He was also an amazing spotter, which came in handy!


In the next post, I'll share our amazing first drive at Idube!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

~ @@TravelinTeacherAU



I LOVE your trip report !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Your enthusiasm, careful observation, and detailed comments bring it alive for me, post by post.

After reading your comments, I have a heightened respect for Notten's Camp. You've shown what a fine experience they provide.

I'll be arriving in Sabi Sands in less than 7 weeks from now, thus your current sightings are of special interest.

I like the wide variety of sightings. Your photos show what a steady flow of wildlife encounters you experienced during your game drives.

The tone of your writing is delightful — passion and wit!

Many thanks for posting this, as I'd been wondering how your safari went.

Tom K.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Peter Connan

Thank you @@TravelinTeacherAU, a very nice trip report so far.


Your unidentified birds are Black-collared Barbet and Black Stilt.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Not long ago you were asking your first questions. Now you've been a fabulous trip. It certainly was a "real safari" and a real lucky encounter with that black rhino. A first in 5 years for the tracker! That's rare. The photo of your tracker has a "just seen a black rhino" smile on his face.


Those are some high flying impala. Perfectly timed shot.


You were wise to stay at 2 places to increase your odds of sightings. I had the very same experience in Sabi Sands with lions. When a pride is in flux within a territory, sightings suffer. I know someone who saw no lions on her first and likely only safari, and she was clearly disappointed. In contrast, the elusive leopard appeared and looked like it wanted to join you in the vehicle!


Looking forward to Idube.


"Kenya/Tanzania perhaps Zimbabwe" and the list goes on...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That flying impala shot is amazing!! Such great timing on that one.


Am enjoying your style of writing and sharing what & why you liked one thing over the other. Those night shots of Nottens look very inviting.


I have to agree with Alexander33 - Sabi Sands never disappoints when it comes to wildlife, the area really raised the bar for me in terms of sightings. Lions were also somewhat elusive yet leopards seemed

to be around every corner! And that's not such a bad thing at all!


I wasn't much interested in birds until my first safari and now with each one I become more & more excited about seeing/learning new ones and impressed with myself that I actually even remember some of the names.

Edited by KathBC
Link to comment
Share on other sites


Here is a quick walk-through of our room at Notten's Bush Camp. Remember, the camp uses lanterns and candles at night, and there is minimal power. Still, this was a beautiful room.




Link to comment
Share on other sites


Our first drive at Idube was an amazing experience. As I mention earlier, we really "clicked" with our guide, Matt. We also had some fabulous sightings straight out of the gate.


We saw our first hippos of the trip!




And a beautiful trio of waterbuck.



Soon, we got the call for lions! After only one lion encounter in our previous 3 nights, I was really hoping to spend some more time in the presence of these awesome animals. Idube delivered for us immediately and with style.


We drove off-road, through the golden grass, until we were sharing the space with two beautiful male lions.






We sat with the lions for 20 or 30 minutes. I could have stayed there all night, but Matt convinced me that they wouldn't be active until later and he promised that we would return at night!


I'm so glad we moved on because what we experienced next was one of my favorite sightings of the trip and one of my favorite travel moments in life.


We came upon a female leopard looking out over a scrubby plain which was marked by a waterhole.




She was looking down at the waterhole, but we couldn't see what she was scouting.




Eventually, we could see that she was taking stock of a male leopard who was waiting down by the waterhole (out of photo range). The female seemed to be trying to decide whether or not she wanted to interact with the male. She was behaving very cautiously, and finally decided that she wanted some space, so she walked right past our vehicle...




...and into the nearby forest.




We drove down to the male, and what a gorgeous animal he was.





The female was not interested in him, but he was not interested in her. The male leopard began moving and we followed him into the forest, just as he followed the female leopard.


What took place next was just a magical and mystical moment.




There were no other vehicles around. It was just us, and two leopards, and the quiet of the forest at sunset. The leopards were so wary of one another. They would mark, and then smell, and then walk away. It was almost like watching a dance.




They were quiet, and they always kept distance from one another, but they were clearly checking each other out. It was just a beautiful moment. In the midst of their dance, an interloper appeared. A lone hyena walked through the woods, right between the leopards, pausing their communication for a moment, before lumbering off into the distance and allowing the leopards to resume.



Eventually, the leopards broke contact. I don't know if they fought or mated later that night. I just know that we got to see them dance together, and I know that it was beautiful. In fact, it gives me great pleasure to know that, even now somewhere in South Africa, leopards are dancing warily together in the quiet of the forest.


Matt remained true to his word and took us back to the lions at dark. What an experience! I don't think you ever forget the feeling of hearing a male lion roar right beside you. This was a perfect ending to a magical game drive.






PS...this video doesn't have any good visual, but it's a great capture of the lion's roar on audio





Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is really working out for you. Great sightings. Looks like you made some good choices.


That leopard really is a handsome boy and two together is special. Was it perhaps his sister? Anyway, just great to be ther and wonder about that kind of thing. Magic.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

@@TravelinTeacherAU, fabulous flying Impala shot, Leopard everywhere and a Black Rhino to boot….Id be pretty happy with that! When a guide says he hasn't seen something for five years, you know its a lucky day indeed.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


Our first drive at Idube had been spectacular. Lucky for us, our good luck continued the next morning.


We started our drive by tracking a hyena. We were sure she was heading home to the den, towards the pups that we could hear crying. To our surprise, however, she blew past the den and lead us right into a standoff.




A group of hyena were challenging a few lions for the last scraps of a kill.




Most of the lions had already eaten, and they weren't very interested in a fight. One, however, couldn't resist running up to challenge the hyenas every few minutes.




While there was no fighting, it was still cool to see these "enemy" animals interact. Eventually, the lions decided to leave the hyenas alone with the bones.




We followed the huge lion pride (I think there were 13 of them?) as they settled down for the morning.








Flat cat. Beautiful eyes.





We left the lions to their snoozing and went off in search of what Matt described "a special treat."


Now, look: I did not expect to see a cheetah in the Sabi Sands. I mean, I knew it was possible...but I also knew that it was rare. In fact, at Notten's, we learned that the entire local population of cheetah cubs had died or been killed within the last month. Basically, I had given up on cheetah.


Imagine my surprise and delight when we pulled up to this beauty, surveying an open field.






I've loved cheetahs since I was a kid. I did a research report on them in 5th grade, and I've been fascinated with them ever since. Seeing them in person was such a great privilege. They are so delicate, fragile, and loooong. I loved watching this cat as it became comfortable with us.




The flip!










What a perfect morning! The lion/hyena interaction was amazing, and seeing a cheetah just sent me over the moon. We were all talking and laughing uncontrollably on the drive back to camp! We must have seemed like maniacs!


If you think this is cool, just wait til you see what happened on our afternoon drive!!!!


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Oh yes, I think this is very cool! What a great trip you had :)


Now...don't keep us waiting, what happened in the afternoon?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Haha - hook, line and sinker! You're toast, @@TravelinTeacherAU - better start a serious savings account :D


Seriously though, your photos are excellent and the writing very contagious. So, what did happen in the afternoon?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...

Important Information

Safaritalk uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By using Safaritalk you agree to our use of cookies. If you wish to refuse the setting of cookies you can change settings on your browser to clear and block cookies. However, by doing so, Safaritalk may not work properly and you may not be able to access all areas. If you are happy to accept cookies and haven't adjusted browser settings to refuse cookies, Safaritalk will issue cookies when you log on to our site. Please also take a moment to read the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy: Terms of Use l Privacy Policy