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Sanbona Wildlife Reserve
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All reviewsdwyka tented lodgegame driveson footcape townsafari experiencegame reservewhite rhinomain gatehot towelsour honeymoontwo nightshis knowledgeclose encounteronce in a lifetimefantastic experienceamazing animalsprivate reserve
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Reviewed December 23, 2010

I often see posts on the forum asking about the game reserves close to Cape Town. I recently took a group of people to Sanbona Wildlife Reserve which is about three hours drive from Cape Town and thought it may be useful to write a trip report.
What an amazing experience! This must be one of the most beautiful reserves I have ever visited. It is massive, covering 54,000 hectares (over 200 square miles). Even the 45 minute drive from the main gate to the lodge was wonderful and our journey was frequently punctuated by oohs, ahs, and wows as one spectacular view after another revealed itself to the group.
The group was accommodated at Gondwana lodge and on arrival they were greeted with drinks and checked into their rooms before enjoying a buffet lunch. Although Farmer (our driver) and I stayed at Dwyka Tented Camp, we joined them so that I could have a look at the rooms and have lunch with the group. The rooms at Gondwana were lovely and everybody was very happy with the accommodation. I am a big fan of good food and wine and while the food was not spectacular, there were enough tasty treats to please everyone including the vegetarians and vegan with us.
After lunch, the driver and I were transferred to Dwyka and as nice as Gondwana is, I really think we got the best deal! Dwyka is supposed to be a tented camp but the rooms are constructed from stone and glass and the only tent like things about them are their canvas roofs. They are very comfortable and beautifully designed. Unlike Gondwana, the rooms at Dwyka are separate from each other and have private plunge pools but we were there in winter so I did not make use of mine.
Sanbona is unlike any other reserve I have visited and going there is not just about seeing the Big 5. We all had some great sightings but if your only priority is to see the big 5 then there are other reserves that I would recommend (though none as close to Cape Town). It is a very harsh environment and the plants here are very slow growing so they are not able to sustain the same density of big game as areas which are dominated by grasses and trees. This also means that the vehicles do not drive off road. But this does not detract from the experience. Sanbona is about appreciating all aspects of nature. The animals, the plants, the geology and the feeling of tranquillity that fills you when you are in an area like this all add up to making Sanbona a very special place. There are also several sites on the reserve where you can see San (Bushman) rock art.
The reserve is divided by a mountain range called the Warmwaterberg (warm water mountains) and has completely different types of vegetation on each side. If you have an interest in plants, it is a worthwhile place to visit for this alone but even if this is not a particular interest of yours, there are just so many weird, wonderful and beautiful plants here that you will want to find out more about them. One side of the reserve is covered by Fynbos which is the type of vegetation you will see around Cape Town and the other by Succulent Karoo, where the plants are adapted to a much drier environment. There are around 650 different plant species on this reserve, which is remarkable when you consider that the whole of the United Kingdom has around 1600 species.
In my opinion, one of the most important factors that contribute to an enjoyable stay at a game reserve is your ranger. Our group was quite big so we were split up into four groups for our game drives. All the groups were very impressed by their rangers' knowledge.
Farmer and I were lucky enough to have our ranger, Andrew, all to ourselves. This of course gave us a lot of flexibility and we were able to choose what we wanted to see and how much time to spend at each sighting. I was also able to spend quite a bit of time photographing some of the remarkable plant life. Andrew was great. Not only was he able to tell us about the animals, plants and geology but he also had a very engaging personality and a good sense of humour.
We did four game drives during our stay and saw two magnificent white lion males, lots of elephants very close to us, white rhino, zebra, giraffe, oryx, kudu, hippo, baboons, jackal and numerous birds. I am sure there was more but those are the animals I got photographs of. We also just missed a cheetah kill.
Photographing animals in their natural habitat is one of my very favourite things to do. In game reserves, most animals have been habituated to game viewing vehicles so it is easy to get very close to them and this can provide some wonderful photo opportunities. It is also (relatively) safe as the animals do not perceive these vehicles as a threat (or potential prey). Of course, wild animals are unpredictable and these activities can never be 100% risk free but I think that this is part of the attraction too, for me at least. Generally, the only animals I am really wary of when in a vehicle are elephants, basically because an elephant is just about the only animal that can take on a two and a half ton land rover and win! Saying that, I must also admit to being a little un-nerved when a lion or leopard looks me directly in the eyes from two meters away! I have to say though, what really excites me is viewing animals on foot! It is a completely different experience. You feel more in touch with the environment and MUCH more vulnerable even though you are accompanied by a ranger carrying a rather large rifle! It is a primal experience and always makes me think what it must have been like for our ancestors who lived in places like this and did not have the benefit of being accompanied by a ranger with a very big rifle!
The rangers at Sanbona often take those clients who are comfortable doing so on walks to track animals. Andrew took us out to view a rhino (which we got fairly close to) and a giraffe that was so relaxed with our presence that it actually walked towards us. We also tried tracking cheetah but lost them in the bush. One of the other groups did manage to get very close to the cheetah though and were thrilled by the experience.
Overall, I can highly recommend Sanbona. The accommodation, service and rangers are top class and I would not hesitate to return.

Mark September
Small World Tours

  • Stayed: August 2010, traveled on business
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1  Thank SA-Guide
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed December 21, 2010

Seven couples stayed at Dwyka Tented Camp from December 11 to 13 on their 2night 3day inclusive package. Our package was arranged through Kevin of Afruka Eco Tours. The tent was fantastic about 1400 square feet, air conditioned, large comfortable bed, gorgeous bathroom, hot tub on deck, refrigerator stocked with amenities.

The lodge provided wonderful meals, included were breakfast, lunch, tea, and dinner all meals included wine and anything else one would want to drink. On our morning game ride we even had hot drinks and biscuits, evening drive included a sundown drink of our choice and appetizers.

Our guides provided morning and evening tours that lasted 2 to 3 hours each time, and we were able to spot lions, elephants, rhinos, hippos, cheetahs, springbok, ornx, jackals, eagles, baboons all up close and personal. We were even fortunate enough to see lions feasting on an early morning kill.... know this sounds awful but it was an amazing sight.

The staff were wonderful, the lodge and tents very clean, food excellent, there is absolutely nothing negative one can say about Dwyka Tented camp, service, and staff. If you have the chance to visit go for it!

Stayed: December 2010, traveled with friends
Thank oligarchy
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed December 21, 2010

I can only agree with the latest reviews of the Sanbona. We stayed for 2 nights in early December and had the most fabulous time. We stayed at Dwyka which is amazing, fabulous setting, great staff - just couldn't fault it! We were lucky enough to be driven by Soloman, who was a real laugh and very informative and also Geran who is a fantastic guide and was also our guide when we visited Shamwari. Sanbona is a different experience to Shamwari. It is larger and feels very open and as many have commented - you have to work/travel to find the animals. It is very much about the overall experience and how the the whole eco-system works. It is really fascinating. The other thing that was amazing is the star gazing - you will never see anything like this is an urban environment.. It really is worth a visit!!

  • Stayed: December 2010, traveled as a couple
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Thank Journeymaid
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed December 19, 2010

Amazing location, staff out of this world - George was great! Food excellent, wonderful experience - just be prepare to travel to see the animals as the reserve is vast!

  • Stayed: December 2010, traveled as a couple
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1  Thank WuWe
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed December 15, 2010

What a beautiful place. We were concerned that with what we were paying we wouldn't get our money's worth, however, they treated us so well here and it made it worthwhile. In fact, we didn't realize how out of the way it was and nearly ran out of gas trying to get there. The staff helped us with our situation and completely put us at ease. The game drives were pretty great. Our guide, Alvain, was interesting and knowledgeable. We saw quite a few animals and he knew a lot of information about all of them. The only thing we didn't see was a lion, but we only stayed one night, and likely we would've seen one if we'd stayed longer.

The food was great and the wine was equally great. It was truly all inclusive, which I know is not the case everywhere you go for an experience like this. Our tent was luxurious. We certainly didn't feel like we were in a tent. We sincerely want to go back to South Africa, but especially to Sanbona and for more than one night.

  • Stayed: September 2010, traveled as a couple
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Thank mbsGA
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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