FROM Johannesburg, Federal Air's Beechcraft takes 55 minutes to set us down near Singita Ebony Lodge in the Sabi Sands Games Reserve bordering Kruger National Park in South Africa.
There, twice-a-day game rides in a Land Rover open our eyes and minds to a peaceful, untrammelled world.
Being under an immense sky, observing small and large animals in their natural environment reminds us of how simple and majestic life can be. As buffaloes cross our path, baboons swing through trees and bushbuck freeze and stare, the stress of modern living recedes into the African bush.
Serenity vanishes when we face the savage aspect of bush survival. In the morning, when the walkietalkie comes alive, our ranger Chris revs up the vehicle and charges to a heartrending scene.
A large, coiled python is slowly constricting a baby impala! Nearby, two snorting, deeply agitated impalas circle helplessly. We watch with perverse fascination as inch by inch the python begins to devour its prey.
"Never turn your back on animals in the bush, and beware of elephant mothers who are extremely protective of their calves," Chris cautions when we encounter a herd camped across the road.
An elephant gridlock is exciting! For several minutes, we watch the endearing spectacle of baby elephants with wary elders.
The ranger's warning reminds us of another safari in Kruger National Park when our group had alighted on a narrow bridge to watch elephants in a stream.
When we boarded the van, someone looked back and shouted: "Lion!" We were stunned to see not one but three lions nonchalantly filing past us on the bridge.
"Riding through the wild, untarnished African bush brings home the fact that we live within a remarkable creation on this planet," says Tracy during an evening ride.
As if to prove the point, the big sky lights up with mind-blowing hues of orange, yellow and purple. Strong rays of colour filter down through the clouds and bathe the landscape in ethereal light.
A solitary tree is boldly etched against the amazing scene. I can almost hear the stirring music from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Our euphoric mood is heightened by Amarula (creamy libation made from the plum-like marula fruit), chilled wine, sizzling cocktail sausages cooked on the spot, nuts, chips and biltong (airdried meat) served on a table fixed to the vehicle.
A hyena ambles past but we are confident that animal-spotter James and the armed ranger Chris will keep us safe.
South Africa's famous game parks and reserves such as Kruger, Pilanesberg, Madikwe and Sabi Sand, accommodate both the budget-conscious and the big spenders. Within Kruger's two-million-hectare parkland, one of the world's great natural treasures, are about 40 rest camps and lodges, the biggest being Skukuza camp which has safari tents, family cottages, luxury guesthouses and a 9-hole (18-tee, par 72) golf course. Some units are booked a year ahead.
|BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: Impalas (top) graze peacefully, but the peace is shattered when a baby impala is caught in the deathly grip of a python. Wildlife abounds, and you can spot elephants and cheetahs.
Singita is a respected, high-end operation owned by safari-tycoon Lukes Bailes, who oversees four luxurious lodges in South Africa and three in Tanzania.
Singita Ebony faces the Sand River within the 1,800-hectare Sabi Sand Game Reserve - the country's largest private nature reserve - where views of wildebeest, warthogs, kudu and predators such as the lion, cheetah, leopard, hyenas and jackal are reserved for lodge guests.
From our thatched-roof adobe lodge, we watch elephants cross the water and birds flash through trees backed by a chorus of animal calls.
Between game rides, there is time for a back massage on the verandah or shopping at the on-site Trading Post.
For Singaporean Avantika Bijlani and her husband Ashish, the thrill was viewing Africa's Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo) from two Sabi Sand lodges.
"It was fascinating to view the food chain in operation. We saw a lion feeding on its kill, a wildebeest, which was being circled by hungry jackals while the vultures above were awaiting their turn," she says.
- You can book a safari through a travel agent or online at sites such as www.krugerpark.co.za, www.singita. com, www.siyabona.com and www.rhinoafrica.com
- Pack summer clothes from October to April and a light sweater for dawn game rides. Cotton clothing in neutral colours is recommended for game rides. White clothes tend to attract certain bugs at night.
- Weather at Kruger National Park: January to March is hot but you can see beautiful migratory birds. April is a cooler month. From May to October, as vegetation turns sparse in winter, visibility is high. During November and December, summer months with occasional thundershowers, predators roam as many young animals are born.
Photos by Rusi Kanga
This article was first published in the Special Projects Unit, The Straits Times on April 22, 2008