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Hyena Highlights (and more!) in Sabi Sands & Kruger


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After spending a week in SA with my parents, including a safari to Madikwe, we said goodbye to my parents as they flew back home. Our trip in South Africa continued for almost another two weeks, inlcuding a 4 night stay at Arathusa Safari Lodge in Sabi Sands. The 2nd time in a year in the Sabi Sands, as we visited this game reserve in March for the first time. It truly delivered an amazing safari experience at Ulusaba safari lodge, as I've described in this trip report. I'm happy to say Sabi Sands lived up to our expectations once again! It was full of highlights and impossible to appoint just one star. But if I would have to start with just one picture, it should be of an hyena as they were involved in quite a lot of memorable sightings.


Hyena pups are adorable!


Edited by LarsS
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As always, first an introduction to the lodge. The main area of the lodge overlooks a waterhole, which has turned into a dry plain as the drought affected it.



Here's a picture from the other side, where you can see the dining area and viewing area at the left, the pool in the center at the bright brown deck, the main buildings and some of the 13 suites:



Despite the drought, still many animals come to visit and so they did during our stay. For example zebra and giraffes. Everyday, there were animals to be spotted from the main area.







But wildlife got a lot closer. Hornbills were clearly aware of the breakfast and lunch times:






This nyala was hiding under the viewing deck



But others weren't so shy:






You can imagine other animals would be able to come into the lodge as well, if there's no fence in front of the lodge. And so they did. Hyenas usually came in after everybody went to bed, except on bbq night. Before we even started dinner, they already gathered on the open plain. And as soon as we finished, they would jump up to the main area, on the tables and start looking for leftovers. Pretty cheeky! No pictures though, as we didn't have a camera with us.


The main area was a good place to relax, as there were many sofas and a swimming pool with sunbeds.






But the main area wasn't where we were staying. Besides 13 suites, Arathusa also has 4 remote bush chalets. Bush Willow, the closest to camp within 5 minutes walking distance, was our home for four nights.






The chalet was very spacious with a huge living area:



A comfortable bed:




There was a bath tub in the room:




And the shower situation with an indoor shower with slide doors to the outdoor shower.




But that was not all. We had our own private deck:




And a not so private plunge pool:





It was a very pleasant stay, we had delicious meal three times a day. Meals were also a social event. You share a table with the people in your car, which was quite nice as we met a few nice people during our stay. The whole atmosphere was very relaxed and I can definitly see myself coming back here.


But let me first take you on this safari in the coming days.

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The curiosity of that young hyena just jumps off the page.  I have wanted to know more about Arathusa.  I believe it is one of the more reasonably priced options in Sabi Sands, if that is still the case.

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8 hours ago, Atravelynn said:

The curiosity of that young hyena just jumps off the page.  I have wanted to know more about Arathusa.  I believe it is one of the more reasonably priced options in Sabi Sands, if that is still the case.


Hi @Atravelynn, it indeed was one of the better priced lodges. I've looked it up for you: we've paid 48.920 Rand in total for two persons in a bush chalet for 4 nights. I did made a bit of a study finding a reasonably priced lodge ;)

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11 hours ago, LarsS said:


Hi @Atravelynn, it indeed was one of the better priced lodges. I've looked it up for you: we've paid 48.920 Rand in total for two persons in a bush chalet for 4 nights. I did made a bit of a study finding a reasonably priced lodge ;)

I will be looking forward to your photographic findings on the Arathusa concession and its inhabitants.  Doing a conversion $3420 USD for 2 people for 4 nights!  Thanks for sharing that.  Now how much is that per hyena highlight? :)

Edited by Atravelynn
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@LarsS Thanks for pointing me towards this thread! Looking forward to some hyena antics.


Pretty neat to have the nyala in camp. I've only ever had brief encounters with them.

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Lovely little hyaena cub! Eager for read more, and wow that really is barren for March!

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On 4/29/2019 at 5:30 PM, Atravelynn said:

I will be looking forward to your photographic findings on the Arathusa concession and its inhabitants.  Doing a conversion $3420 USD for 2 people for 4 nights!  Thanks for sharing that.  Now how much is that per hyena highlight? :)


Per hyena highlioght  you can divide it by 4 or 5. Per hyena it's even more affordable ;)


The price is by the way for a bush chalet, the rooms at main camp might be cheaper, but not sure about that.

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Starting a TR ofcourse means posting. So let's continu doing just that by sharing the video of the first day. A short one, as it was a travel day from Nelspruit to the lodge with slow traffic and a stop for lunch along the way. Nonetheless Sabi Sands delivered straight away with what the reserve is most famous for: leopard!



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We arrived a little bit later than expected at Arathusa due to all kinds of reasons. It meant that at arrival we just had time to join for lunch, do the checkin, get our stuff in the room and go on the first gamedrive. After visiting Ulusaba in another part of Sabi Sands, I was surprised to see no animals after entering Gowrie gate and the drive to the lodge. But as you could see on the pictures of the camp in my previous post, there were no worries about a lack of wildlife.


For the first drives we shared a car with 6 other people: 2 young couples travelling together who were there for a few days already and another couple who arrived just before us. Sabi Sands sometimes can feel as a zoo experience, but it sure wasn't the case on our first drive. The first 45 minutes we didn't see any animal, not even an impala. We drove to several sections and finally decided on checking a waterhole. Then all of a sudden a lot happened at the same time.


First we spotted a few ellies at the waterhole and others on the road going for a drink or bath as well.






The guide told us that there's a resident hippo in the waterhole as well, just out of sight. Just as he wanted to position the car, news over the radio from another Arathusa guide. Just as I was staring in the bushes he apparantly told there was a leopard on the move closeby and everybody agreed on going there. I missed it, because I was staring in the bushes and saw two rhinos coming to the waterhole as well. Which could have lead to an impressive sighting of grey giants at one waterhole: one hippo, two rhinos and a few ellies. However, the two couples that were there for a few days hadn't had good leopard sightings yet, so we went there. Understandable, but I also really wanted to stay a little longer at the waterhole. It all happened so quick we literally only got these two pictures above.


Luckily the leopard didn't move out of sight and we got to spend quite some time with the leopard. Walking around through the bushes, crossing the road and going for a number 2 in front of our car (surely the tracker could smell it) and finally relaxing on top of a hill, checking out the surroundings.

























After more than half an hour we decided to continu our drive. Again lot of empty roads, it looked like most of the wildlife took the day off. But just before it got dark, we spotted a rhino in the bushes not far from the road. It was hard to take good pictures in this light and the rhino being in the bushes.




But luck was on our side, the rhino move just between us and the sunset, resulting in a very nice photo/videographic opportunity with the sunrays giving it a warm ambiance. We didn't do anything particular to the photo below or the footage in the video of this moment. I was really happy to capture the rhino in this light.





Soon after it got dark and we went back to the lodge for dinner. It was a bit of a strange first gamedrive: the guide and tracker did their best to find animals, but a lot of the time we saw nothing. But eventually we ended up seeing three of the big five. Which you can hardly call a bad score and especially the leopard sighting was really good. Mostly, I was really excited that we had more days to come and this first drive was promising for things to come.



About the meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner were at set times and you shared the table with the same people you shared the car with. Lunch was a bit of a false start after we arrived so late and the others were finished, but at dinner we got to know each other better and we had a good time at dinner and also the whole next day. Later we were had a few changes and shared the car with a French family (grandparents with two grandchildren) and a younger couple, which worked out nice as well.



No hyenas yet, so you know there's more to come.


Edited by LarsS
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Yay!! A @LarsS video, but with the added enjoyment of some wonderful photos. You may have found the perfect combination. Of course I am totally enjoying this TR and I had to giggle about the toileting photo of the leopard....not your average "look what I saw on vacation" shot.....makes it all the more fun. Looking forward to more :)

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@lmonmm Thank you! The plan is to do this combi for the whole report :)


My wife recently made kind of a sport of it to photograph animals during their toilet business. Ellies are easy, other animals more difficult as you don't see it so often. Since a few weeks our toilet is decorated with photos of animals doing their business. We thought it was funny :)



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This cracks me up...what an ingenious way to share potty photos!!!  I love the idea :)

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I love it too!  I always take all potty photos I can since they seem to be the grandkids favorites.

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Wonderful TR so far thanks @LarsS

Edited by Hads
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That's a different type of leopard action shot alright...;)

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  • 2 weeks later...

What might that sport be called?  Your display of the results is impressive!

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I like how you're all enthusiastic about the potty photos. I just uploaded my second video and coincidentally I discovered a potty videoclip among my footage as well. See for yourself what animal it is time ;)


This day it was all about cats. Also a very short cameo of the first hyena. Funny how I remember it as a safari with hyena's as the star, but they hardly showed up the first two days. Ofcourse, that means there is something to look forward to!



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The 2nd day started where we ended the previous day. But this time better light to capture this beautiful white one.




An oxpecker whispering in the ear of the rhino. I wonder what secret he shared ;) 



On the first day we spent some time searching for cheetahs. There were reports of them being seen, but by the time we arrived they just moved out of reach. Luck was with us this morning though, as we found three of them the relaxing in the bushes.




We woke them up apprantly, so they were looking at us and around to see what was going on and who disturbed them.






Soon they realized we were no threat and no potential prey. The fatigue kicked back in and they fell a sleep for who knows how long.






Continuing our drive, we came a cross a small group of zebras.




They were not very skittish, but not relaxed either. They look pretty with their deep black stripes.




A little further there was a road block the grey giants are known for.




As we were forced to stop, better spend some time watching the ellies. They decided to do exactly the same :) 




Not for long though, as we weren't that interesting apparantly. The female walked past our car, and headed into thicker bush with the other ellies.






Overall, there wasn't a lot of general game to be found in the area we drove in. At first we thought the cheetahs were responsible for that. More likely was the presence of this pride:



In total a pride of 14 lions, but actually two different groups: a pride of 11 and three lone males. The three males were in a bad condition and adopted by the pride.

The pride consisted of 11 lions of which only one younger male.


Both groups benefitted from this collaboration:

- the three lone males were too young and experienced to provide food for themselves, hence their weak health. Staying with a succesful hunting pride provides them with enough food and the chance to come to strength again.

- the young male in the pride gets the chance to bond with other males and maybe form a coalition with them, which would increase his chances of survival once the time comes he has to leave the pride.



You can see the condition of the lone males isn't particular good. Our guide told us their condition was even much worse when they joined the pride.



This male clearly enjoys the abundance of food.


The young male of the pride is in a better condition as you can see the differences in their skins.



What shoe size would lions have?




Last but not least, the ladies that are responsible for this unusual partnership with the three lone males. They realized their male offspring could benefit from this situation and decided to accept the lions in the pride and provide them with food.






to be continued

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@LarsS  Ha ha- African Fish eagle poop :)   A very productive day.  I always wonder about the "lone guy" up there in front when elephants, lions, etc pass by. He looks so vulnerable up there. And I must say, a very nice room/chalet. I am curious...you said the first drive or so had 6 other people...that means 8 including you two. That sees a lot to me...I've never had more than 6 in a jeep, and usually less than that. Was/is this the norm in this area? As always- looking forward to more :)


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Great video thanks @LarsS - what a great day you had.

Looking forward to your next installment.

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7 hours ago, lmonmm said:

@LarsS  Ha ha- African Fish eagle poop :)   A very productive day.  I always wonder about the "lone guy" up there in front when elephants, lions, etc pass by. He looks so vulnerable up there. And I must say, a very nice room/chalet. I am curious...you said the first drive or so had 6 other people...that means 8 including you two. That sees a lot to me...I've never had more than 6 in a jeep, and usually less than that. Was/is this the norm in this area? As always- looking forward to more :)



I don't think it's the norm in this area, may be specifically for this lodge. It's one of the more affordable lodges in Sabi Sands. Might be they keep prices low by having more people in the car. Also, I believe the lodge was fully booked whole our stay. Not sure if they would have less people in the car if it was less busy. I've seen cars from other lodges with less guests in the area.


I didn't think it was too bad, also because we usually had one bench for the two of us. However, with so many people taking photos and videos, it was sometimes hard to shoot if the action was on your opposite side of the car. Overall it was a good experience in the cars, the other guests were nice, we rotated front/middle/back and the last days we had the luck that there was a french family that were happy to sit in the back so we only switched between front and middle row with an other couple.



Sitting up front on the car puts you in a vulnerable position indeed. I am curious how you would feel up there. I think it all depends on the animals you encounter. An ellie sniffing you would be an amazing experience and I wouldn't be very scared (I think). The lions walking past him at night however... seems pretty scary to me.

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Once back in camp after the morning gamedrive, the gameviewing actually continued.


At breakfast we were accompanied by red and yellow hornbills. Also a vervet monkey, but that one was way to quick to get on camera.


First the hornbills were shy and watching us in the tree.




But it wouldn't take long for them to come to the breakfust buffet. There they encountered an obstacle: somebody putted nets over the food. Who does that?




The birds were familiar with the net though and understood they had to lift it to get to the food. They've been paying attention watching guests from the trees. The hornbills struggled a lot with it, but never gave up. Persistence paid off: due to all the attempts with the net, a cake fell out of the basket and within reach of the hornbill. Hard work will be rewarded!






Although he had to share his price with his friend who was there for moral support.





On the plain in front of the main area of the lodge there were warthogs, zebra and nyala to be seen all day. Nyalas were by far the least shy. They would just walk in the camp. Really strange to walk around passed these animals without them being scared of you. They gave you a look if you came to close, but wouldn't walk away. The green grass was probably to die for. This male nyala is walking next to the outdoor dinner area, where on another night the hyenas were jumping on the table in search for leftovers. (they were unlucky, everything was cleaned up)




With so much game around at camp time goes by quickly and soon it was time to get on another gamedrive.


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The afternoon gamedrive started with a saddle billed crane and a fish eagle. Nice sightings while waiting at the waterhole for other guests to arrive.







We could see the other guests we were waiting for from a distance. Slowly they came closer as they couldn't decide to stay feeding on the trees or go to the water. But in the end, they walked passed our car and went for a drink and bath. I could watch them all day on occassions like these.










Clearly enjoying the water after a hot day in the bush!




A late comer to the party, still with a mouthful of leaves.




Bombs away!




After a good drink and a refreshing bath, it was time to head into the bush again.


We were able to get some nice pictures of the cute baby elephant, but I must say the mother did a good job protecting her and almost all the time the mother stood between our car and the baby ellie. Very nice of her to let that policy slip when they walked passed our car in and out of the water. :) 







Our reason to visit the waterhole was to spot some hippos, as I probably mentioned before my wife's favourite. The ellies showing up however meant that the hippos stayed in the middle of the pan and mostly underneath the water.






Sometimes you head into the bush looking for something and you won't find it. This time it was the other way around. We had spent quite some time with the ellies and went off looking for other animals. That's when you find more ellies ofcourse. They made sure we stopped for them and take their pictures as well.






From one member of the big five, up to the next. A herd of buffalos were crossing the road we were driving on.




They weren't sure what to think of us.






Someone didn't get the message everybody left the waterhole.



Zuid-Afrika oktober 2018 (1024).JPG

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It wouldn't be a gamedrive in Sabi Sands if there was no leopard involved. So here's a leopard photoshoot. The leopard gave us a hard time though, as he was on the move through the bush. Our guide followed him in the expectation he would go in the direction of another road. But ofcourse the leopard had other plans and lured us deeper and deeper into the bush. Quite a bumpy drive! But to witness such a beautiful animal, it's more than worth it to put in the effort.


Here's a selection (really, this is a selection) of the leopard pictures. Is it possible to share too many leopard pictures? ;)




















Soon after we left the leopard, the sun set. Time for drinks and enjoy the last sunlight.




We had our drinks at a waterhole with hippos in it. Too dark for good pictures though, but their sound makes the sundowner and snacks tastes even better. What we didn't know, was that we put ourselves in the perfection location for a treat.


On the other side of the waterhole there was something moving and coming our way. It didn't took long for the guides to recognize the newcomers: a pride of lions was coming our way! Luckily they didn't come for us, but for a drink. We had parked our car in the perfect position to have a good look at them, so we just hopped in the car and put on the spotlight. Not sure if I've had such a good view of them drinking before.










When they finished their drinks they came even closer and walked passed our car, just meters in front of the spotter sitting in front on the car, as you can see in my video.


The perfect end of a day on which we not only saw all three big cats, but also the complete big five! (If you count a white one, that is ofcourse)


After having had such good sightings, it's hard to imagine it would get even better in the coming days. The title has hyena in it for a reason and so far no hyena action...

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