South Africa: A True Wilderness Experience


Walking Sabi Sands

There is pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:sabi-
I love not man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.

Lord Byron

The lions had just finished roaring when we began walking in the soft light of dawn. A chorus of birds marched along with us as we began the epic journey up the artery of the Sabi Sands Wildtuin. Our destination was the western fence line of the reserve, the exact point where the Sand River would enter the reserve before beginning its mighty charge down into the untamed wilderness below. It was 45 kilometers away and as the dust settled in the wake of each new track, the Sand River hummed softly to our right. This river was to be our guide, our teacher and the lifeblood of a true wilderness experience.

There is an endless bounty of biodiversity to appreciate in the Sabi Sands, a private wildlife sanctuary in the northeast corner of South Africa. Appreciating this nature from the relative safety and comfort of a safari vehicle, however, is a vastly different experience to observing it on foot. On foot, one is forced to reconnect with the senses and gain a new awareness of the surroundings as our very survival relies on how in tune we are with the breathtaking nature around us.

Sand River Sunrise 

Sand River Sunrise

The brief to each other was simple: Our group of eight rangers was to stay off the beaten track and avoid areas where man’s footprint was most evident. As we walked in riverbeds, through grassy plains and lush thickets of scrub, we experienced a continual cycle of amazing encounters. We observed buffalo bulls, breeding herds of elephant and hippos out of the water and without them ever being aware of the group’s presence. We saw flocks of white storks, juvenile raptors and orioles. We breathed in the air and we walked until every muscle of our legs ached with exertion.

By the time reached the lookout, the calls of lions began again in earnest. This time however, they were much closer. The powerful roars exploded through the dusk and not 30 meters away, on the opposite banks of the Sand river, a lone lioness stared at our now silent group. With piercing eyes she caught our gaze for a second, then flicked her tail and melted back into the reeds to join the rest of the pride. After dark they would swim across the river leaving only their footprints for us to muse over in the morning.

Evening Stars on the Sand River 

Evening Stars on the Sand River

The following midday heat of the summer sun underlined to us the harshness of nature. Walking silently for hours on end, we would become lost in our thoughts about the wilderness and these animals. A constant battle to survive by avoiding predators, finding food and water as well as shelter and breeding opportunities; these are everyday struggles that the animals of the African savannah face, and ones that we as humans were also immersed in once-upon-a-time. For these animals, they do not conceive of their own petty strivings for they are insignificant in this place, in this vast primeval world, a true wilderness. Amidst the silence we all knew that if only all people could at one time or another be set down in this place, even for a brief space of time, that they might return to their lives renewed and invigorated, all of their subsequent striving less vicious, less stressful and more attuned to consistent presence of nature.

So lost in this wilderness experience did we become that a strange air of disappointment hung briefly at the sight of the western fence line. Although our goal was achieved, the journey was over. Yet with this ending I realized that the journey itself was far more profound. We had seen the Sabi Sands Wildtuin from a new perspective, one that was different to traditional experiences that other safari destinations so generously afford.

Stream Crossing 

Stream Crossing

This Game Reserve is an Eden which has so much to offer and is a magnificent place to go on safari, to experience wildlife, and enjoy the exclusivity and true solitude of the wild.  In just two days we had forgotten ourselves, at least briefly.

We revel in the knowledge that wilderness still exists, the natural order endures, and the pulse of Africa resonates as deeply as ever ever.

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