This privately owned reserve up the Kariega River from Kenton-on-Sea in the Eastern Cape is the Garden of Eden. It has all the components of nature that make you want to weep at its beauty, marvel at the perfect animal specimens all fat and glossy coats, and sink into the sophoric rhythm of the river, in/on which you can swim, fish, canoe and take a boat trip . Truely, it’s got all the essentials and more of a good safari venue and is popular with tourists travelling the Garden Route as their final malaria-free stopover.
They’ve got a lot of competition in the area that have been better at publicising themselves, like Shamwari for example, but I was so pleasantly surprised at Sibuya that I really didn’t want to leave. May man had to prize me out of the hammock and frog march me down to the boat which is the only way for guests to arrive and depart from the lodge. It’s a leisurely 40 minute slow cruise up river to get to the lodge or just 10 minutes if you are in a hurry. Or like the guests before us you can canoe the 10km from the lodge at your own pace.
Waking early in the morning for a game drive, you really feel like you are in the jungle; the hornbills are squawking, the red-billed wood hoopoe are cackling and that damn boubou just won’t keep quiet. The monkeys are staring at you from across the river and spiders are creating patterns of exquisite beauty in webs that span the path -just make someone else walk ahead of you!
The tented rooms of River Camp are of a design that I have found to be the ultimate safari tent; a king-size bed set against a false wall in the middle of a large wooden floor behind which the bathroom is accessed from either side, with double basins, bath, shower and separate toilet. You will get the gist when you look at the picture. It has canvas walls and ceiling but still soft touches like drapes and decor features that make it unlike any camping holiday. Sliding doors open up to the wooden deck, where said hammock was strung on the riverbank.
Their other camp: Forest Camp is more rustic with no walls to the bathroom, which peterbed one German lady no end and she kept the light on all night so she could see if there were any creatures – which of course there were because they were attracted by the light! Duh!
While Sibuya claim the Big 5 you must understand this is not Kruger Park. It’s 300,000 hectares of riverine forest full of spikey euphorbia and other indiginous species and ex farmland that provide grazing for plains game like impala (everywhere), zebra, buffalo, eland, kudu and other numerous buck species. There are leopard but you won’t get to see one (please tell me if you do!) and there are 9 elephant with a stroppy male who put a whole through the front of the Land Cruiser. Witness the perfect tusk-size hole! They try and avoid him now.
Their three splendid lion are kept separately in a 50 hectare patch of bush and even though you know they are there, you can’t always find them. Logistics dictate that lions cannot roam free in this space, especially since they could decide to swim the river and visit the neighbours! Cheetah are also enclosed and are helping to grow the gene pool of cheetahs in Africa, which reached a critical level.
Lastly and largely they do have several white rhino – in fact the largest male white rhino I have ever seen with a tusk that is as grand as his stature. He is a magnificent beast, as are all the creatures at Sibuya. They are the healthiest looking wild African animals I have ever seen.
This must have something to do with the climate of intermittant rainfull throughout the year, warm humid summer days that are not too hot – and anyway you can always jump in the river if you get too hot. They tell me that even up to the end of May the weather is wonderful.
Our guide was a handsome khaki-clad 20-something and I think knew much more than he was telling us, or perhaps not! That is hard to tell. The walking guide, being a student intern from UK knew a surprsing amount but who this beautiful blond was only became apparent by asking her if she was the cook. The in-house folder did tell us that we could do activities like walking, canoeing, picnic, fishings, but such was the level of relaxation of the staff that no-one proffered it.
There wasn’t really a cook – more of a team of kitchen workers as much of the food is prepared at another venue and brought in. It is however presented well and offered an inventive and tasty array of dishes, with great breakfasts.
Would I recommend Sibuya to seasoned safari goers? Yes! Seasoned or not, you will love the combo of water, forest, grasslands and views that take your breath away. See their website for more details .
All pics were taken at the time of the visit.