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Just over a year ago my wife gave me the best birthday presents ever: a 4 night safari at Ulusaba in Sabi Sands Game Reserve. We were there in March 2018, so high time for a trip report.


Ulusaba has two lodges, we stayed at them both: First 2 nights at Ulusaba Rock Lodge (Heaven in Heaven), followed by 2 nights at Ulusaba Safari Lodge (Heaven on Earth). More about these lodges and the gamedrives/wildlife later. First I'd like to explain why I was so thrilled to go to Sabi Sands, apart from the magnificent wildlife viewing opportunities.


Why Sabi Sands?

Sabi Sands was one of the places I really wanted to go after watching the documentary Brothers in Blood: The Lions of Sabi Sand a few years ago. For those who haven't seen it: it's about the most powerful lion coalition (the Mapogo's) there's ever been in the Sabi Sand area, dominating a huge territory by violence and terror. Interesting documentary, but not for the faint hearted.


Therefore it was really interesting to spot this old male lion on the picture below. I talked to our guide Ryan about the documentary and he talked about it very enthusiastic as he was a guide during the reign of the Mapogo's and contributed to the documentary as well, having witnessed some of the events of the coalition. Ryan told me the lion the lion in the picture is the one who broke the back of Mr. T, one of the Mapogo's, which led to Mr. T's death. (correct me if I got the names wrong, it's been a few years since I watched it)



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The safari at Ulusaba is the most luxurious safari I've ever been on (and probably ever will). To set the stage of how spoiled I was, I take you back to few other experiences I've had (these are no complaints, all safaris were amazing and surely less expensive):

- in Kenya the minivan broke down several times even before we arrived at Samburu

- we were dropped of by public transport in a wildlife area bordering Kafue NP, waiting in the sun to be picked up

- in South Luangwa we had group dinners where you hardly had food if you sat on the wrong end at the table; due to the quality of the food that was actually a good thing

- we almost fell out of a mokoro in the okavango because of a reckless guide

- we've been rushed through the park several times by guides that just wanted to be back asap


Ulusaba was nothing like anything of the above. The whole experience was truly amazing and started with flying in to Skukuza from Jo'burg. We always had road transfers before. Now it took just about an hour to arrive in the bush. We were picked up by a driver who took us to the airstrip of Ulusaba (no availability flying straight there btw). Here we sat down, we we're welcomed with a bottle of champaign and some snacks. We met our guide Ryan and tracker Orange who would be our guides for our entire stay. We shared the car with 2 other couples, young American couple and a middle-aged SA couple. 6 people is a nice number of guests in the car, so I was quite happy with that. Later it appeared the SA couple didn't go on all drives, so we had the car with the four of us.


I was already over the moon after the welcome champaign and we hadn't reached the lodge yet. From arrival till departure, everything was so well taken care of. The people of Ulusaba were so warm and welcoming, they knew our names the entire stay and always had a nice little chat that made you feel a special guest.


I think this contributed to the overall atmosphere, as we had a great time with all other guests as well. Somehow it felt like everybody was there together as a one group. Especially dinner time was very lively and everybody interacted. May be the wine had a little to do with that as well. Speaking of it, the wines weren't great, they were amazing. Just like the food. Oh boy, I've had good food on safari, but it was always about the wildlife. But the food and wine alone make me wanna go back to Ulusaba, it was that good.


I can ramble about it even more, but I think I already should have stopped a bit earlier. Forgive me my enthusiasm :)


Some pictures about the lodge:


The road to Rock Lodge, or Heaven in Heaven as they call it, was very steep as it's straight up to the top of a rocky hill.




The communal area of the lodge where we had a high tea before afternoon gamedrives and drinks at the bar before dinner.




Outside there's a deck for breakfast and lunch:




With magnificent views of the game reserve. We spotted buffaloes and even rhino from up there.




The room was so comfortable and spacious.






And they come with a private balcony with again great views. If you look closely, you see a waterhole were we spotted ellies.




And even when you were having a shower or bath, you could enjoy the views.






The last night the staff had a nice surprise for us as they filled the bath and decorated the bathroom with roses. How special can you be treated?







There's also a pool at the lodge and even a tennis court, but we were so impressed by everything, we didn't take pictures of everything of the lodge.


I repeat, a tennis court. There was a tennis court in the middle of the bush. Quite a funny story: apparantly Sir Richard Branson is friends with Agassi and Graf. He repeatedly invited them to Ulusaba, but they always declined as it was during their active careers and they had to train. Therefore Branson decided to get two tennis courts, so they had to come over there.


Being the tennis court being situated in a wildlife area, a leopard made it his/her own and slept regurlaly in the building between the courts. I think they named the leopard Raven Court, something with court at least.


Edited by LarsS
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Let's continu with the first gamedrive in the afternoon. Our guide Ryan was a very pleasant guide, a relaxed guy who feels really at home in the bush. Also joining on the gamedrive was Orange, our tracker. I've had gamedrives with an extra tracker/spotter before, but they were always sitting in the car and usually there for operating the light for the night drive. From the start of the gamedrive I learned Orange really added value. Also the understanding between Orange en Ryan was remarkable. Just a few gestures while driving were enough for Ryan to understand what tracks Orange found and which way he had to drive.


Here are Orange en Ryan in action:





The both of them had a plan in mind and failure wasn't an option. They drove around a little bit until they found some tracks of rhino. A few minutes of total silence followed in which I didn't here a thing, but it was enough for Orange to hear rhino walking in the bush and also to tell us it wasn't one but two. After a little offroading we found them.


At first only one came out of the bush.





He was very relaxed around us and just continued grazing.




Two pretty oxpeckers were hitchhiking on his back.




Eventually a female came out of the bush as well and then they continued their walk through the bush.




A very promosing start of our gamedrive and we still had a few hours to go.


While finding our way back to the road, there was a short sighting of an hyena.




When we saw these vultures closeby, we looked around for a possible kill or remainders of it, but the hyena disappeared quickly and nothing else was seen or heard.




So we continued our drive and found this beautiful, although very well hidden, owl.




In search of elephants we drove around a lot, but except tracks and dung they weren't to be found. After a few drinks we shifted from ellies to nocturnal animals. The big cats quickly showed up walking on the road in front of us, so we followed them for a while.




The lions were taking their time and were taking short breaks. It might have been because the male on the first picture below wasn't in a very good condition. This is also the male I mentioned in the intro of this TR, who is responsible for killing one of the Mapogo brothers. Now this lion was nearing the end of his life.




The second one is a bit younger and in a better condition.




The lions weren't thinking about hunting (yet), for now water was what they were looking for. This lion walked straight into the headlights and started drinking.




No worries, the headlights were turned off quickly.





When they finished their thirst, they walked into the bush and for us it was time to slowly get back to the lodge. Our luck wasn't over yet, because we had one more sighting. This beautiful leopard was relaxing in a tree next to her kill.







All of a sudden something caught her attention, but it didn't last for long and she went back into relax mode.







How's this for a start of a safari? This was only the first afternoon gamedrive and we were looking forward to the rest of our stay.

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Wow those Male lions look very battle weary - what a awesome evening drive you had @LarsSBeautifil leopard pics.

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The next morning we got up very early. A little bit too early for this buffalo herd as they were still asleep and woke them up. Resulting in a grumpy looking buffalo who got up to see who disturbed him in his sleep.




Apparantly wildebeest are more morning animals. They wer already on the move and didn't mind to pose quickly for a picture during breakfast.







A little later we found another breakfast, up in a tree.




And ofcourse all of you know what that means: leopard! My memory leaves me alone, so I'm not sure if it's the same from the night before. Based on the picutres I'm not convinced the prey is in the same tree though.


This leopard was relaxing in the grass.








Looking so relaxed when lying down with her (his?) eyes closed. But when she got up and looked around, she had this vicious look on her face. You don't want to mess with a leopard.







One thing that caught my attention, was the amount of ticks on her head. I wonder if this bothers the leopard (and also other cats as I've seen it on lions as well).







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Tsunami alert for a flood of photos about a very playful elephant heard.



As is the case for many people, elephants are my most favourite animal. Not finding them on the first drive was soon to be forgotten, as we came across a herd that was in a really good mood. The ellies were very relaxed and joyful, playing with each other and with some branches. It could be that we stood still for almost an hour. Taking pictures ofcourse, but also at one point just sat in the car and watched them.


The ellies almost forced us to watch them by setting up a roadblock. We didn't mind ofcourse.








Then the fun really started for the ellies and us. I think this is the most playful I've ever seen elephants.


This one started it all by waking up his sibling.






















While others were playing in the bushes...




... others were redesigning the bushes.




And ofcourse, just like kids do, they always checked if we were still watching them.





With feet this big walking around...




... sometimes it's nice to have your mother shielding you from the others.




But when you're there, why not make that a playground as well and invite others to come over?














But you do really get tired of so much fun, so you'll just crash anywhere for a little rest :)





Seriously, even this amount of pictures is still a selection ?

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Delightful series. @LarsSI am smiling away here. Thanks for posting.

Edited by wilddog
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After everything we've seen so far, I can't believe that we had time to see so much more.


We came across zebras.








Also the pretty kudu made an appearance.







And it wasn't till now that is was time for our morning break. Here I was introduced what Ryan called the 'Ulusaba special'.

"Do you want coffee, tea or the Ulusaba special?"

"Wat's the Ulusaba special?"

"Hot chocolate."

"Then I'll take the Ulusaba special."

*Ryan makes hot chocolate, gets another bottle and adds a good shot of Amarula.*

8am Amarula drinks for breakfast, why not? :)




When we continued our drive we spotted some pretty birds:






My wife's favourite animal: the hippo.








A giraffe hiding in the shades (not the best photo opportunity):




And last but not least, we passed this big bull that was in a certain mood ;)





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On 2/13/2019 at 9:04 AM, Hads said:

Wow those Male lions look very battle weary - what a awesome evening drive you had @LarsSBeautifil leopard pics.


Yes, those lions have had a tough time. I'm far from done with leopard pics. I've already posted a few above from the drive the next morning. But there are more spectacular (if I say so myself) leopard pics to come.


20 minutes ago, wilddog said:

Delightful series. @LarsSI am smiling away here. Thanks for posting.


Thanks @wilddog! I'm smiling myself here as well :D



Btw: Did I say we stayed for 4 nights? That's 8 drives in total, and so far I've only posted the sightings of the first two.

Edited by wilddog
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Wow, I have never seen elephants behaving like that shown in the second last post!


Great sighting and lovely pictures.

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A wonderful sequence of elephant photos. They seemed to be having a lot of fun - and so did you

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OMGosh, OMGosh....those ellie pictures.....and I burst out laughing with your "warning". Ellies are my favorite too and you got some awesome photos/sequences. Loving the TR but also a little sad I've not seen a vid yet. It is a refreshingly different aspect of TRs and have always enjoyed watching yours.  Either way- am anxiously awaiting more. :)





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those eles looked so relaxed and having so much fun!

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@LarsS, the markings on the side of the leopard faces imply (to me) that they are two different leopards. The sequence of photographs of the eles is awesome.

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Thanks for all your kind words and glad you enjoyed the elephant photo series as much as I did.


On 2/17/2019 at 1:45 AM, lmonmm said:

OMGosh, OMGosh....those ellie pictures.....and I burst out laughing with your "warning". Ellies are my favorite too and you got some awesome photos/sequences. Loving the TR but also a little sad I've not seen a vid yet. It is a refreshingly different aspect of TRs and have always enjoyed watching yours.  Either way- am anxiously awaiting more. :)




Happy to hear you enjoy the videos. I do have video footage, but at the time I was not very happy with the story. (Although I'm just a hobbyist, I have way too high standards for myself) I will work on it again, but not sure when. It takes some time and to translate a dutch saying straight to english: I'm walking in 7 locks at the same time. Which means I'm quite busy and time is shattered around for all kind of projects. For now, posting photos is doable. I'll update it with videos as soon as I find the time. You'll see this topic pop-up or get a notification then.


Now back to the safari.

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In the afternoon we got out again and Ryan and Orange had a plan in mind for us.


First we came across a buffalo that was having a nice mud bath.




But you can see Orange is distracted. He's not here for a buffalo right now. Although we, the tourists that enjoy everything, did want to stop to watch him.




A little later there was this beauty of a male kudu. But we literally have just one picture of him, because we continued quickly on our mission.




After the kudu sighting we found ourselves driving in an area wher there wasn't that much wildlife. Ryan and Orange weren't saying what they were looking for. We drove around looking for wildlife, stopped to hear sounds, started driving circles around the same patch of land. But there was nothing to be seen.


Then Ryan stopped the car, told us to stay in the car, he took his rifle and left with Orange for a short walk to see if they could find what they were looking for. Ryan came back with his rifle, which meant Orange was walking around unarmed. Ryan felt we deserved an explanation, so he told us they were looking for something special. The grass was pretty high, above your knees, I didn't think it was smart to walk in grass that high with probably a predator around, but surely they knew what they were doing, right?

Ryan said Orange was staying in that area and we would drive one more time around the same patch of land to see if there were tracks going out. We were 400 meters away when Orange's voice came through on the porto. He had found it.

We drove back to pick him up and I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Unfortunately no pictures. First there was Orange, walking on the side of the road, just in the grass, looking pretty relaxed. Then, suddenly there was a leopard crossing the road! It was an insane sight of seeing a leopard crossing the road and our tracker walking in the bush behind it, I think 25m from the leopard. (may be a bit more, but way closer they I thought you could)


Then another car came from the other side and parked between Orange and the leopard. The situation however never looked frightning or so.


This is the picture with the leopard in front, the other car and Orange is just behind the car out of sight. It's not sharp, but serves to show the situation.




At that moment we were excited seeing a leopard on the move.




Sniffing around to determine which direction to go.




What we, apart from Ryan and Orange, didn't know, was that there were actually two leopards around. A mating couple and they were just getting together again.




We didn't have to wait long to see them mate. The female walked in front of the male.






They didn't bother about us, and started their business.






But it was over before we knew it and the male quickly walked away.





This is a leopard's sexy look:




They didn't mind us being around at all and after a quick break they continued mating right next to our car. You can see a part of the car in the picture. They were that close to us.




They repeated their mating ritual over and over again. After a little rest the female took initiative and lay down in front of the male and then they started mating.








As you can see on the latest picture, it isn't very romantic to say the least. More violent behaviour. I was told that mating is a painful process for leopards. That's why the male bites the female to keep her down, because as soon as she gets the chance, she will try to bite or hit him. Despite mating being a tricky event, they didn't mind repeating it over and over again. Awesome sighting!!








And again...










And one last time for this post:






Who knows, they might be mom and dad right now...




An awesome start of the gamedrive!

Edited by LarsS
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While the leopards were busy making young ones, the next sighting was a hyena den with some younger ones. At first there were just two, but others showed up just after we arrived. Hyenas are sometimes called ugly and mean, but I really like them. They look so cute and have pretty eyes.














And I like how curious they are.





Needless to say we spent a lot of time on the leopards and hyenas. It started to get dark when we spotted a few giraffes.






It got dark soon and we had a short drive using the spotlight. Although short, we managed to find this lion, who was moving into the bush. We arrived just in time to spot him.




And also an owl:






Then it was time for drinks. No sundowner, but they made a campfire and there was a performance of traditional music and dance. The ladies were lucky, they were invited to participate. Somehow the ladies didn't see it that way ;)


Usually I'm not that much into these kind of events. I'm not always sure what to think of it, but I felt like everybody enjoyed themselves. A nice ending of a memorable gamedrive :) 

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It seems that what to us is a dangerous situation, is to the guide/tracker reasonably safe, l would prefer to stay in the vehicle though. Awesome photos of the leopards.

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Great post of the Leopards @LarsS - Is that the old beaten and battered Male lion from earlier in the trip?

Awesome sightings allround.

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Thanks @CDL111 and @Hads!


11 hours ago, CDL111 said:

It seems that what to us is a dangerous situation, is to the guide/tracker reasonably safe, l would prefer to stay in the vehicle though. Awesome photos of the leopards.

True, if you spend so much time in the bush, you know how you can stay safe around wildlife. But I thought it would make sense when Ryan got back in the car he would have given his rifle to Orange.


7 hours ago, Hads said:

Great post of the Leopards @LarsS - Is that the old beaten and battered Male lion from earlier in the trip?

Awesome sightings allround.


Yes, this lion is the same from the group we saw earlier. This time we only saw him, I believe we were just too late to see the others cross that road.

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Great sightings so far @LarsS mating leopards especially!

The elephant interaction was also fascinating to see.

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The next morning Ryan and Orange found fresh tracks of lions, but couldn't find them. Determined as they were, they got out of the car again and started looking for them on foot.




It paid off again, because they soon returned to the car and showed us the lions, who were hidden in the tall grass.










It's not hard to imagine that they were pretty hard to find from the car, as you can see the amount of grass in the pictures although we parked right next to them. And when they lie down like this, they are almost impossible to spot even from a short range.





There were no signs of them having a kill around, so this hyena was hanging around for nothing.




We also found a steenbokkie



A squirrel




And a relaxed male nyala feeding on the branches






And then again, elephants! I wonder how it feels like when you're sitting on the front of the car and these giants are walking just a few meters in front of you.




We first saw only the one on the road, but when we parked the car to watch it, we realized we were actually surrounded by elephants. Slowly they would walk around in and out of the bushes.


We were not the only ones that were very happy by this encounter. It looks like this ellie was joyfully running towards us.




And some more pictures of the elephants around us.


















We had a coffee break in one of the most beautiful spots. On top of a few rocks a long the river. Can you believe the water can rise almost up to the rock we're standing on?




We had a nice time there, enjoying the tranqiulity of the place. Then it was time to get in the car and drive back to the lodge. A few last sightings on this drive.









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After that last gamedrive we went back to the lodge, but not the same lodge we stayed in for the first two nights.


We moved from Rock Lodge / Heaven in Heaven:





To Safari Lodge / Heaven on Earth. Both lodges are very close to each other, so we did all our activities with the same group of people. The two lodges are very different, although service and food were excellent at both places. The location makes all the difference. Rock lodge has amazing views, but lacks wildlife close to the lodge. That's the main reason to choose Safari Lodge. So if you ever plan going here, I would suggest 2 nights at each lodge (they usually have a 4for3 offer).

The main area of the lodge, with the indoor dining and bar area and also a terrace. We actually always had dinner outside.










It also has a nice pool to cool down:





Entrance to our room:




Bedroom and seating area:




The bathroom, where you still have the opportunity to spot wildlife:






Private balcony with views on the dry river bed:





Safari Lodge is located along a dry riverbed. Not sure if there's water sometimes, it looked very dry when we were there. They made wooden walkways to easily and safely walk around camp, connecting all the rooms and public areas:




The main area is sort of the center of the lodge, with rooms located on both sides. On one side the walkway is elevated. Taking you over the riverbed, giving you some nice views and eventually, after about 900m, leads to a waterhole. The house has a nice lounge area and is catered. You can make coffee or tea and find water and sodas in the fridge. Also there's a toilet. So no need to head back to the main area if you just want to spend as much time possible for spotting wildlife.









Spending some time at the lookout, we enjoyed the hippos and other animals that came for a drink:




I liked how the turtoises were hitchhiking on the hippo's back:




A warthog:




A group of waterbuck showed up:




And quite a lot of impalas:




When we walked back on the elevated walkway, there was this elephant eating from the branches:






Closer to camp we found male and female nyala, litterally walking under our feet:






During our stay we would see much more nyala. They felt very safe around the lodge and didn't mind us coming within 2 meters of them. I could swear I could have touch one if I would stretch my arm, altough then she probably would have ran away.

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The afternoon gamedrive started with a drive around the waterhole, but there weren't really any other to be seen than we already had seen. Except for this pretty bird, my guess is a kingfisher (forgive me for not knowing it's name).




Meanwhile a giraffe quietly walked by on the other side:




We started looking for some elephants again, but couldn't find any. It was actually a quiet drive, especially compared to other drives. We probably used a lot of our luck on the first days.


That said, we did found two rhinos enjoying a mud bath. A mother and a calf.




After the mother was finished, it was the calf's turn:




Beautiful animals:







We were watching them getting in and out of the mud. When the darkness fell, their behaviour changed. There was a male coming to the same area. Too dark for good pictures. It was very interesting to see how they were checking each other out, very carefully. When the male came one step closer, the female moved two steps away. Then slowly walking towards the male, which resulted in the male backing off. Despite this behaviour, they somehow managed to get closer and closer to each other. The mother and male greeted each other and even the calf came close to the male, although not sure the mother thought that was a good idea. We left them when it got too dark to see anything.


The male that came to the party:





These were actually all the animals we saw on the afternoon gamedrive. But it wasn't the end of our night. At Ulusaba they have a stargazing observatory. Something totally different and I must say I really liked it. During sundownder drinks they set it up and we then spent about an hour or little more watching the stars. Amazing how much detail you can see and all the clusters of stars in all kind of colors. And the technology as well, after setting it up you could just enter a code of a constellation and it would automatically aim in the direction you wanted it. Amazing how you could see things that were no way to be seen with the naked eye.


No pictures of it, because it had to be absolutely dark to use it. I've googled this image to show you the observatory.




When you've seen so much on the other drives, it was nice to do something different. And as it didn't look to be our day anyway, a great alternative activity :) 

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