Travel Log: Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, South Africa

Today I would like to share my final South Africa travel log, this one focused on our safari adventures. You may have already seen my Capetown and Wine Country posts, if not be sure to check those out as well. We knew our South Africa trip would not be complete with a safari experience, and our friends did quite a bit of research before deciding on Sanbona Wildlife Reserve in the Western Cape. Sanbona Wildlife Reserve is a 54,000 hectare (133,000 acre) privately owned game reserve just a three hour drive from Capetown. There is a variety of wildlife coexisting on the reserve including the famous "big five" game animals: elephants, lions, rhinos, leopards, and buffalo. In addition to the big five, we saw a variety of other animals including ostrich (our first animal sighting inside the reserve), various members of the antelope family, giraffes, a hippo, a cheetah, jackals, zebras, and more. Please read on for photos and details of our three days at Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, and fair warning that this post contains a large number of photos!

We stayed in the Dwyka Tented Lodges, which are luxury tents situated within a canyon on the reserve. There are nine tented lodges for guests and one main lodge where guests can dine and relax. The above photo was taken on the deck of the main lodge.

Here you can see the main lodge behind me as we headed into our guest lodge. This game reserve has an arid climate, so even though we visited in winter we enjoyed sunshine, 80 degree temperatures during the day, and zero rain. It did get cold at night, so I recommend bringing a jacket for the early morning and evenings.

Here are a couple of photos of inside our Dwyka Tented Lodge. This luxe lodge had a king size bed with heated mattress pads that the wonderful staff would turn on when they came to turn down the beds at night. It got pretty chilly at night, so after an evening game drive and dinner it was SO wonderful to jump into a warm bed.

This is a view of the bathroom with sinks in front, tub and open shower in back. There was also a hot tub out on the deck!

Here you can see three of the nine tented lodges nestled in the canyon. It was so pretty in the afternoon with the sunlight streaming in.

We had a large group of eight people, so we booked four out of the nine tented lodges in Dwyka and had our own vehicle and ranger for our trip. If you visit with a smaller group of say two people, you will most likely get paired up with other guests for your game drives and get to meet some new friends. We arrived at Dwyka early afternoon, with enough time to get checked in and relax for a little bit before heading out on our first afternoon game drive.

We were so excited to get out on the reserve and see the animals, so imagine our surprise when pretty much immediately after leaving Dwyka we came across two male white rhinoceroses! Our Ranger Pascale educated us that these were two social younger males who opted to graze together rather than be alone.

We saw herds of antelope family members: kudu, oryx, springbok, and red hartebeest like this handsome fellow.

We were able to get up close and person to this zebra herd as they crossed a dry riverbed.

We could tell that the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve staff was focused on conserving the environment and supporting the animals on the reserve. It is all about finding a healthy balance.

The rangers use their radios to monitor the location of the animals as they criss-cross the reserve throughout the day and night. We were lucky to be able to see one of the reserve's female cheetahs during our first evening drive because another ranger alerted us of her appearance nearby. Cheetahs are noctural, usually only seen at night, so this was a rare and special sighting.

One perk of the evening game drives is the sundowners. The term "sundowner" usually refers to any alcoholic beverage enjoyed at the end of the day, and the Sanbona team graciously packed ingredients & tools for evening drinks. I love this golden hour shot of Ranger Pascale setting up the table at the front of the vehicle! The ladies enjoyed gin & tonics and the gents enjoyed local brandy.

This is another favorite photo of mine - it captures the vibe of our group so well! This was a snapshot of us singing along to Toto's "Africa" and just being our fabulous selves.

The next morning, we received a wake up call at 6am to get dressed and head up to the main lodge for coffee and light snacks. When our group had all arrived and had our coffee, we were ushered outside to our vehicle where we were given blankets and hot water bottles for the morning chill. Talk about service! Our first sighting this morning was a male white rhino peacefully grazing in the morning light.

When we looked a little further, we saw that there was a mama and baby rhino not far away too.  This male was not the baby's father, but instead a male who was hoping that by being nice to this mother rhino that she might consider him as a future mate. The baby was a few months old and just adorable!

How cute is this little one compared to the two adults?

Ranger Pascale alerted us that four of the preserve's lions had been spotted that morning, including their two white lions.  They were a little far away from Dwyka, but we booked it over to where they had been spotted. I was not expecting to see the lions up close, thinking that we would see them from a distance, but they were right next to the dirt road. We sat and watched two youngsters (about a year old) playing for a while, and then the white male stood up.

I was shocked at what happened next--the two white lions (brother and sister) walked right by our vehicle.

They basically walked around us over to the other side of the road where they could go lay in the sun and take a nap. We sat there watching in awe - I never imagined getting that close!

After our lion encounter, Ranger Pascale drove us to a valley where we saw a tower of giraffes munching on the trees as well as herds of springbok and oryx.

I was a little surprised when Ranger Pascale suggested that we get out of the vehicle and walk closer to the giraffes. I mean, I've read those horror stories of people who get out of their vehicles and get attacked by lions. Is that safe? However, she educated us that giraffes have excellent eyesight and would see any predators way before we would. The fact that they were comfortable (plus we'd just seen the lions fairly far away) meant there was no immediate danger.

We followed instructions and quietly walked in a single file line through the brush behind Ranger Pascale. The giraffes watched us with curiosity as we got closer and took a few photos, but never moved away from us. We then quietly walked back to the vehicle and went on our way.

After getting up close and personal with both lions and giraffes, I didn't think the day could get any better. But it did! The chefs packed up our breakfast and several bottles of the Le Lude bubbly we brought, and had one of the team members drive it out to a secluded shelter on the reserve. We drove up to see this table all laid out for us.

The Sanbona staff definitely goes all out to spoil their guests. Cheers to breakfast and mimosas out on the reserve!

We had some time to relax and get massages between our morning and afternoon game drives, and then we headed out to look for some hippos on the lake.  The lake is very shallow in some places, so they keep a small boat to take guests out.

We didn't end up seeing any hippos that evening, but we enjoyed our sundowners and saw a gorgeous sunset.

Our last morning drive was focused on seeing the buffalo herd and elephants, since we had not seen those yet. The buffalo herd is kept in a completely separate enclosure to keep them safe from the lions due to their value. These buffalo are extremely expensive and historically a person's value was calculated by how large of a buffalo herd they had. Today one buffalo can easily be worth one million South African rand (~$70K USD).

While traveling from the buffalo herd to find the elephant herd, we stumbled across several more giraffes walking along the dirt road.  One male slowly walked right past our vehicle on his way to wherever he was going.

We located one of the two elephant herds on the preserve, but unfortunately they were a bit far away grazing on a mountainside. These photos were zoomed in, but you can see they have two youngsters who are 1-2 years old.

Our last surprise was hearing that the lions had killed a zebra during the night and were still actively feeding that particular morning. We were able to see the two young lions we had seen the morning before, with the two white lions presumably napping with full bellies nearby. It was quite an exciting way to end our game drives!

If you couldn't tell by what I've written so far, I absolutely recommend Sanbona Wildlife Reserve if you are looking for a safari experience in the Western Cape near Capetown.  Of course there are many options in South Africa, with the famous Kruger National Park in the Eastern Cape being the largest. I thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Sanbona and absolutely want to return at some point. South Africa has been on my travel wish list for a bit now, and we fit a lot into our week in this amazing country. We had a great intro visit and we will definitely be back. If you would like to learn more about Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, be sure to check out their website or their Facebook page. They also have some great videos on their YouTube Channel here.

I hope you enjoyed this travel log, and if you would like to ask any questions about visiting the Western Cape please don't hesitate to leave me a comment or drop me an email. I hope you have a wonderful rest of your week!


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