Sabi Sand Game Reserve is regarded as one of the finest game reserves in southern Africa. It is made up of a group of private game reserves and spans some 65 000 hectares of savanna thornveld. Officially named Sabi Sand Wildtuin (meaning ‘wilderness’ in Afrikaans), the premier wildlife sanctuary falls within the Greater Kruger National Park. There are no fences between the privately-owned reserves in Sabi Sands and the Kruger National and game moves freely through the wilderness region.

Sabi Sand Game Reserve, or Sabi Sands as locals call it, offers wildlife enthusiasts the ultimate Big 5 safari experience along with a selection of some of the most luxurious safari lodges in South Africa. It is the oldest private reserve in South Africa and dates back to 1934. The 65 000 hectares of wilderness consists of a patchwork of 18 unfenced private game reserves including world-renowned places such as Londolozi, Exeter, Sabi Sabi, Singita and Richard Branson’s Ulusaba. Sabi Sands premier safari lodges and unparalleled bushveld competes with the likes of the Masai Mara.


It is world-renowned as a premier destination for wildlife photography and it’s paradise for bird watchers. Luxury accommodation combined with pristine bushveld in one of the richest biodiversity regions in southern Africa puts Sabi Sand Game Reserve on the bucket list of well-heeled travellers from around the world. Access to the private reserves in Sabie Sands is restricted to guests staying at the luxury lodges on the properties which promise visitors exclusivity to game sightings and privacy at the lodges.

Sabi Sands is situated in the southwestern corner of the Greater Kruger National Park and shares a 50-kilometre border with Kruger Park. It has one of the richest game populations in the country and renowned for its leopard sightings. Sabi Sands is home to the Big 5 which includes elephant, buffalo, rhino, leopard and lion as well as an abundance of antelope and predators. Birdlife is prolific with some 500 species recorded in the reserve; many endangered and rare bird species can be found in Sabi Sand.


The reserve was named after two mighty rivers that flow through the protected wildlife reserve. The Sabie River runs along its southern boundary and the Sand River flows from northwest to southwest. The Sabie River is part of the Komati River System and has a catchment area of some 6 320 square kilometres.

Sabie River is one of the most biologically diverse rivers in South Africa and an excellent source of quality water for humans and animals. Sabie River rises in the Drakensberg range of mountains and flows eastward through Mpumalanga Province to the low-lying bushveld regions. It crosses the Greater Kruger National Park and flows on to Mozambique where it exits into the massive Corumana Dam.

The two major rivers are a contributing factor to Sabi Sands being a sought-after safari destination. The private enterprise boasts over 145 species of mammal, 110 reptile species and 30 plus amphibian species as well as 500 plus bird species and over 330 tree species. The area is not only rich in game but also cultural history with many archaeological sites on the reserve bearing testimony of inhabitants from as far back as the Stone and Iron Age.

Sabi Sands is unashamedly marketed to the high-end traveller. There are marginally cheaper lodges but staying at Sabi Sands is still way out of the budget for your regular South African wildlife enthusiastic. This exclusivity offers guests spectacular game viewing sightings as congestion around animal sightings and kills is negligible and strictly controlled by game viewing protocols


The only issue with visiting Sabi Sands is it is located in a malaria area. It’s considered a low-risk malaria region and the safari lodges take all precautions to limit mosquito bites and irritations. Consult your GP or a travel clinic for information on taking anti-malaria tablets before arriving at Sabi Sands.

Once back home or during the remainder of your holiday, watch out for symptoms of malaria which includes extreme headaches and fever, much the same as the start of a bad case of flu. See a doctor immediately if you experience any of the malaria symptoms ten days after going to a malaria area.

Where is Sabi Sand Game Reserve

Sabi Sand Game Reserve is located adjacent to the Kruger National Park in the Mpumalanga Province of South Africa. It lies in the southwestern corner of what is known as the Greater Kruger National Park. There are three entrances into Sabi Sands: Newington Gate in the west, Gowrie Gate in the far north and Shaw’s Gate in the south of the private reserve.



Why visit Sabi Sand Game Reserve

Sabi Sands is a premier Big 5 safari destination renowned for incredible game viewing, in particular, leopard sightings; excellent game rangers and trackers who take you out on two game drives a day; off-road driving which gets you up close to wildlife, in particular, lion kills; and superior high-end luxury safari lodges that rival those in the Masai Mara and Okavango Delta.

The only off-putting issue is the cost of staying at Sabi Sands. It’s reserved for those with very big vacation budgets. At the same time, this offers guests exclusivity and a high degree of privacy. There is a strong emphasis on the safari tours of ticking off the Big Five; elephant, buffalo, rhino, leopard and lion. Don’t forget that there is so much more to Sabi Sands than these five famous fellas.

Sabi Sands is particularly popular because of its leopard sightings. For aspiring wildlife photographers, you should get many excellent shots of beautiful leopards lounging in trees. Leopards are territorial and your tracker should easily find a resident leopard and possibly a few cubs on every game drive in Sabi Sands. Wild dogs are also fairly common sightings in Sabi Sands; they’re endangered and strictly monitors so trackers usually have a good idea where to find a hunting pack on an evening game drive.


One of the best time to visit Sabi Sands is during the Dry season (June to September) if you do not want to come in the rainy season, however, all year round is great for safari as every month has its own beauty and characteristics. Game viewing is good all year round due to the fact that we can go off road to track the animals if necessary.

One reason to visit Sabi Sands is for birdwatching. It’s a birders paradise. Sabi Sands’ guides are all extremely clued up on their birds, particularly the birds of prey. They love escorting bird lovers on walking trails and game drives as it takes a little bit of the emphasis off the Big 5. The best time to visit Sabi Sands if you’re a bird enthusiast is from November to April when the migratory birds are present.


History of Sabi Sand Game Reserve

The original Sabie Reserve was proclaimed in 1898. The man behind this iconic initiative was the president of the Transvaal Republic, Paul Kruger. He proposed the region be declared a protected wildlife sanctuary because of concern over unchecked hunting and rampant poaching. It would be some 12 years later that Paul Kruger’s proposal finally came to fruition and South Africa’s precious wildlife was provided with a safe haven to roam freely.

The area between the Sabie and Crocodile rivers was named Sabie Reserve and declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1898. Hunting was severely protected and conservation programmes initiated to boost depleted game numbers. The National Parks Act was proclaimed in 1926 and Sabie Reserve and Shingwedzi Reserve were combined to become the Kruger National Park. Under this act, the wildlife sanctuary became a state-sponsored national reserve and private landowners whose farms fell with the Sabie Reserve were excised from the Kruger Park.

In 1948, the private landowners’ owners set up a formal association to amalgamate the private reserves that bordered the southwestern boundary of the Kruger. Sabi Sand Private Reserve was created and would later be renamed Sabi Sand Private Wildtuin (meaning ‘wilderness’ in Afrikaans). Of that group of pioneering private game reserve owners, six families still own land in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve with third and fourth generations still living off the land.


Fences were erected between the Sabi Sand and the Kruger National Park in 1961 because of the threat of foot and mouth disease and hunting concessions on the private lands adjacent to the Kruger. In 1993, after exhaustive negotiations, the fences between Sabi Sand and the Kruger National Park were taken down and the Greater Kruger National Park was established as an expansive wilderness region.

The land that Sabi Sands Game Reserve now occupies was previously used for subsistence farming, mostly cattle farms and some tropical fruit farming. There was a shortage of water at the time and private landowners assisted local communities by putting in boreholes and dams. These boreholes and dams were kept intact when Sabi Sands became a private game reserve and are a valuable source of permanent water supply for the wildlife.

Sabi Sand Game Reserve is home to landowners who care passionately about conservation and the well-being of communities living adjacent to the reserve. Environmental management programmes and studies include, among others; alien plant control, micro-catchment management to combat erosion, monitoring wildlife and habitat densities, anti-poaching and control of runaway fires. Most luxury lodges in the Sabi Sands have initiated their own social responsibility programmes geared to uplift neighbouring communities.

Setting the trend for luxury lodges

Sabi Sands set the trend in South Africa for high-end luxury safari lodges. In the 1970s and 1980s, accommodation at the Kruger National Park was limited to the traditional rondavels (round huts) and family bungalows. There was little on the tourism market in the Kruger region for travellers who have a taste for the finer things in life.


Family homes were converted into beautifully decorated safari lodges with touches of modern elegance seamlessly integrating with an authentic African bushveld experience. Originally, the lodges were decorated with the “old hunting” colonial-era safari theme but most today are modern and contemporary masterpieces. A stay at a luxury lodge in Sabi Sands is as much about the architectural and décor experience as it is about the Big 5 experience.

Most lodges in Sabi Sands offer luxurious pamper treatments at their own spa and wellness centres. There’s no skimping when it comes to treating their guests and most establishments set up beautifully appointed spas in a bushveld oasis with top quality therapists seeing to their guests.

Coupled with award-winning head chefs at the helm with a team of culinary magicians, the most qualified game rangers and trackers in the industry and professional service staff; a stay at any lodge in Sabi Sands is on par with the best of the best in the world.


Rich in cultural history

The Greater Kruger National Park is rich in cultural heritage and is as popular for its archaeological wonders as it is for its wildlife. There is ample evidence in the Kruger Park and Sabi Sands that inhabitants from the Stone Age and Iron Age lived in or passed through the region. This includes Stone Age artefacts, Bushmen paintings and trading artefacts linked to the Arab, Portuguese and Dutch traders that traversed the region many moons ago.

The Voortrekkers passed through the game-rich area as well as the Shangaan tribe who were fleeing tribal territory wars with King Shaka and the Zulus. Ancient traders the likes of Joäo Albasini crisscrossed the region, creating a network of trading routes which started in Lourenço Marques (now Maputo in Mozambique) and reached inland as far as the Lowveld and even the Great Zimbabwe Ruins.


Big 5 safari experience at Sabi Sands

Sabi Sands is home to the Big Five which includes leopard, lion, rhino, buffalo and elephant. This term was given to the five most dangerous animals to hunt but over the years has been adopted by safari operators to describe the five best sightings in game reserves.

The Big 5 are exciting to see but there’s so much more to the Sabi Sands bushveld than the big guys. Sabi Sands, in particular, is well known for its incredible leopard sightings but the reserve also has an exciting lineup of antelope and predators as well as incredible birdlife.


Typical day at a safari lodge in Sabi Sand Game Reserve

The beauty of a safari tour at Sabi Sands is each day is the same but promises new and exciting finds. Days start very early with a 5.30am wakeup call and a quick cup of coffee and rusk. Each morning starts with an early game drive in open 4×4 safari vehicles. Your guide will stop at a spectacular vantage point for a coffee and snack break. Stretch your legs and soak in the peace and tranquillity of a gorgeous morning in the bushveld.

Guests return to the lodge after a 3-hour game drive and it’s time for a hearty breakfast. Most of the luxury safari lodges in Sabi Sands have their own excellent spa and wellness facilities which is a great way to spend the morning, or you can lounge outside in the privacy of your own deck and do a bit of birdwatching. Lunch is light but delicious and a prelude to a lovely afternoon sleep.


Guests meet back at the main lodge for a decadent afternoon tea before departing on the afternoon safari tour at around 4.30pm. Another 3-hour game drive promises exciting sightings and takes you into the early evening with a sundowner break at another glorious vantage point.

The day ends with a delicious dinner; usually at the lodge boma. Boma is the South African word for outside barbeque area. It’s the best way to end the day, sitting under a blanket of stars listening to the sounds of an African bushveld night.


Three nights in the bush is what most safari operators recommend because you do spend most of the first day travelling to your safari destinations, and you need to be out the lodge by 11am on the last day. Three days means you enjoy at least four game drives.




Situated in the northern section of Sabie Sands; closest entrance is Gowrie Gate.

The name ‘Arathusa’ is derived from the North Sotho word ‘reathusa’ which means “we are helping”. The farm was purchased in 1960 and was a family retreat until 1998. The land was leased to Chitwa Chitwa until 2006. When the lease expired, Arathusa Safari Lodge was developed and is now run as a family-owned and operated establishment.


Apart from being located in Big 5 country with an abundance of antelope and other game, Arathusa Safari Lodge is renowned for its leopard sightings. There are approximately 14 leopards living in their territorial areas around the lodge and many have become familiar and easily recognised by the game rangers, trackers and regular guests. There are also a number of territorial lion prides in the area as well as large herds of buffalo and elephants in large numbers.


Arathusa Safari Lodge supports Hananani Primary School in the local community of Dixie. The village has about a thousand households and limited facilities. Previously, school children had to walk kilometres to the nearest primary school and received basic education with scarce teaching resources.