The Veranda at The Oyster Box Hotel. Photo courtesy of the Oyster Box Hotel.
By Jason Feinberg
IT’S WHAT MANY WOULD CONSIDER THE TRIP OF A LIFETIME. IMAGINE A PLACE WITH A WEALTH OF ASTONISHING BEAUTY AND SOPHISTICATED COMFORT, OFFERING THE CHANCE TO ENCOUNTER SOME OF THE MOST MAJESTIC ANIMALS THAT WALK THE EARTH. THIS IS SOUTH AFRICA.
An African safari is certainly at the top of anyone’s bucket list. But often overlooked are exceptional destinations along the way, where one can rejuvenate oneself in the lap of luxury, with all the comforts of home and much more. Luxury Living had an opportunity to do just that, venturing across the Atlantic to the southern tip of the African continent.
Left photo: A leopard sits patiently while guarding its prey. Photo credit: Jason Feinberg. Middle photo: Suite at the Fairlawns Boutique Hotel and Spa. Photo courtesy of Fairlawns Boutique Hotel and Spa. Right photo: Zebras sip out of a watering hole.
The flight is long: 16 hours one way (and 17 back) from JFK to Johannesburg, located in South Africa’s Highveld. While some might choose to continue directly into the bush, lingering for a time in Johannesburg, the City of Gold, to rest and unwind is a great option.
The 5-star Fairlawns Boutique Hotel and Spa is a secluded property with chic guest rooms rich in amenities, including en-suite fireplaces that make you feel at home. After such a long flight, who wouldn’t want to take advantage of the spa, which offers an abundance of rejuvenating treatments, or spoil oneself at the onsite Amuse Bouche Restaurant or Manor House Bistro?
Having relaxed in great style, it’s time to travel further into the northeastern corner of South Africa toward Kruger National Park, where highways and roads become more rugged, asphalt turns to earth and congregations of buildings give way to fields of green and forests of eucalyptus sprawled over rolling hills.
While Kruger is usually the first choice for a safari in this part of Africa, a private game reserve offers a much more personal and up-close experience, catering to your desires. The Sabi Sabi Game Reserve is adjacent to Kruger and offers several upscale lodges that undoubtedly will pleasantly surprise even the fussiest traveler. Sabi Sabi’s Earth Lodge always makes the top 10 lists of must-stay locations. With just 12 überluxury suites, it’s an exclusive sanctuary on the African savanna that offers only VIP treatment.
Left photo: Earth Lodge suite. Photo courtesy of Earth Lodge. Right photo: Plunge pool overlooking the Sabi Sabi reserve. Photo courtesy of Earth Lodge.
Upon entering, one notices a vast openness, with a priceless vista that not only overlooks the reserve but is part of it, so that guests become one with their surroundings. Each suite has amazing views, where wild animals walk right up to one’s personal plunge pool and take a drink. The accommodations are quite spacious, and every suite has its own lounge, dining table and décor that blends sumptuous comfort with the natural setting. The oversized stone bathtub with a selection of salts offers a perfect way to unwind and watch the sunset over the reserve.
One could simply luxuriate in this oasis all day, easily forgetting that Earth Lodge is situated within the animals’ habitat. There are no fences or artificial barriers separating guests from them. As none of the animals are domesticated, the staff escort guests at night to and from their suites. It’s not uncommon to spot a leopard perched on the roof or to have an elephant, rhino or baby hippo walk over and take a drink from a fountain where one is sitting. However, at no time is there any sense of danger, as the professional staff is keenly aware of the behavior and location of the animals that approach. Safety is the primary concern.
Left photo: Presidential suite living room. Photo credit: Jason Feinberg. Right photo: An elephant takes a drink only feet away from guests at Earth Lodge. Photo credit: Jason Feinberg.
At Sabi Sabi, it’s the personal safari that makes this an excursion that is arguably unrivaled. Over the course of three days, Luxury Living experienced several private tours in an open air jeep. On any African safari, seasoned guides tell adventurers to look out for the big five: lion, Cape buffalo, leopard, rhino and elephant. In no time at all, one is embedded in their world and only feet away from the wildlife. There is virtually nothing between expedition members and baboons, monkeys or a rhino and her curious baby strolling past. One can experience a leopard only 10 feet away, watching as it guards its prey from a hungry hyena. Seeing wild animals in their natural state sometimes leads to the unexpected, yet, deep down, this may be the very thing that almost needs to be witnessed, contrasting with the comfortable ease of civilization.
Toward the end of the first safari, eight lions appeared, stalking and drooling, and were locked in a dead stare at two Cape buffalos. They moved slowly and patiently, as the hunt was on. The only thing between the lions and the buffalo was the jeep and its occupants, with the present writer (heart racing) alone in the back seat. Two of the lions had positioned themselves next to the vehicle, while a third crept around it. One lioness was only 15 feet away, staring contemplatively, when she finally started to approach. All that could be heard was the slight sound of the twigs breaking, as she moved through the brush. The lion stopped just a few feet away, too close to even capture on camera. Suddenly, two members of the pride took off. Immediately, the buffalo started to run. Out of nowhere, another lion came round and cornered the buffalo. The buffalo just couldn’t resist. With one lion on its back, another grabbed it by its neck and took it down. It was both frightening and sad, yet amazing to watch; this was nature and the circle of life. The Sabi Sabi guide said, “National Geographic will spend a month with us and not see something like this.”
Left photo: Penguins in Cape Town. Photo credit: Jason Feinberg. Right photo: A lioness, only feet away, locked in a dead stare with the writer. Photo credit: Jason Feinberg.
As the sun sets, the guides offer yet another exceptional experience. With no light pollution, this area offers a magical view of an uninterrupted sky. Safari participants can take advantage of this opportunity to stargaze while enjoying wine out in the dark, open savannah.
On the west coast, is Cape Town, a waterfront city reminiscent of San Francisco. The 5-star Taj is an opulent retreat where one can get reacquainted with civilization after the rigors of a safari. The property was transformed from a historic bank, retaining and incorporating some of the original architectural details. The rooms are spacious and well appointed, with some featuring balconies overlooking the city, the ocean and the famed Table Mountain.
Cape Town has a bustling nightlife, which starts with a sunset that looks as if it were painted. The area is also renowned for its sea life and is where great whites are known to break through the water’s surface in acrobatic display. Whale watching can be enjoyed right from the water’s edge, and the only penguins on the entire continent are found in this vicinity.
Traveling to South Africa’s east coast, one discovers the fast pace of Durban’s metropolis transitioning into an affluent suburban landscape situated on the turquoise Indian Ocean. Here, in Umhlanga, is the Oyster Box Hotel, famous for its celebrity guests, such as Sean Penn and Charlize Theron, and parking lot filled with exotic cars. Each of the hotel’s 86 suites and two-story villas is designed with its own unique décor that enhances the property’s colonial beauty.
On the veranda, while guests sip high tea or dine al fresco, it’s not uncommon for a friendly monkey to pop up and pose for a photo. In the evening, delectable dishes and desserts adorn long tables, looking more like a display of art than selections of cuisine that satisfy even the most discriminating palates.
From coast to coast, South Africa is very much alive, rich in both exceptional comfort and natural beauty, with adventures that need to be experienced at least once in a lifetime.