A five-star, luxury safari camp situated in one of KZN’s most picturesque, diverse and conservation-focused game reserves, Leah Shone spent a few nights at Rhino Sands Safari Camp in Manyoni Private Game Reserve.
As the temperature quickly drops, the sky turns an ombre of pink fading into deep purple on the horizon, eventually melting into the inky sky above us. The black silhouette of a single giraffe next to a flat crown tree transforms it into a ‘picture-perfect’ bush sunset moment.
We pull our blankets a little tighter as the game vehicle speeds up, heading back towards our five-star lodgings at Rhino Sands – along with the red wine and three-course fireside dinner that await us.
Just then, a spotted eagle owl swoops down and a short while later, a little mouse scurries safely into the grass. Venus makes her presence known, piercing the darkness with a single, bright sparkle, joined, first by a sprinkling, and then a shower of stars across the sky.
As game ranger Josh stops the vehicle, turns off the engine and allows us a moment to simply listen to the sounds of the night, I am reminded once more of how extraordinary every single game drive in this beautiful country we call home, is.
Manyoni Private Game Reserve, where Rhino Sands is situated, is particularly beautiful. The incredibly scenic and diverse terrain makes this picturesque, 23 000-hectare Zululand reserve one of the most renowned in the country. You needn’t see a single animal to be left in awe of its natural beauty.
The game is plentiful, though, and the reserve has a strong conservation history, having originally been formed as part of the WWF black rhino expansion project. It still has a strong conservation focus – particularly on endangered species such as pangolin and African wild dogs.
Amongst our most memorable sightings during our two-night stay were witnessing the reserve’s large elephant herd (including a few baby ellies) all together in the fever tree forest, and watching a lioness snooze contentedly while her four, 8-week-old cubs frolicked and played on top of her.
There were numerous rhino sightings, as well as close encounters with large male lions and a plethora of plains game, buffalo, giraffe, baboons – and even a puff adder!
The bird life is prolific – the word Manyoni means ‘place of birds’ in Zulu – and birders will be in their element. We even had a special encounter with a Narina Trogon while eating lunch at the camp one afternoon.
Like Manyoni, Rhinos Sands Safari Camp is also breathtaking. It’ s everything you would expect from a luxury tented safari camp, and more. Plus, they offer special rates and offers for South Africans.
It is the intimacy and attention to detail at the 8-bed eco-friendly lodge that stand out more than anything. Situated on the banks of the Msunduze River, the whole camp is set under canvas and perched on wooden platforms within the forest.
The carefully curated and collected decor makes it feel like you’ve stepped back in time and straight into a 1920s East African Cottars safari camp. Everything is open . . . almost as if you have been dropped into the bush, without disturbing the surrounding natural habitat or wildlife.
Each of the stunning, four private tented suites has its own lounge, private deck and plunge pool. They all open out completely on three sides, offering magnificent views of the forest and riverbed below from anywhere in the tents, all of which have a classic, romantic safari ambience and decor, along with all the modern-day creature comforts you would expect (electric blankets, indoor and outdoor showers and a ball-and-claw bathtub that’s perfect for a candlelit soak under the stars . . .
The food at Rhino Sands is simply phenomenal. And plentiful! It starts with coffee on the open fire with homemade rusks before sunrise. Breakfast, after your game drive, comprises a generous continental spread of yoghurt, fruit, muesli, cheese and cold cuts (served on a large tray placed alongside at your table), followed by a hot breakfast (the Benedict is a must-try!).
Lunch is relaxed and light, served mid-afternoon just before your second game drive of the day. In winter, game drives start at 3pm and end at around 7pm, and there is, of course, a mandatory ‘sunset drinks stop’ as well.
Dinner is always a gourmet, three-course feast and the chef takes time to find out about your likes and dislikes before presenting you with a few different options. A night cap around the fire is a must, before being accompanied by a guide back to your tent to fall asleep to the sounds of the bush.
On the morning of our departure, we awoke to the sounds of lion roaring in the distance and couldn’t help but let out a sigh of sadness at the thought of leaving. I have no doubt we will be back though . . . hopefully very soon.
Our African Footprints
Our trip was arranged by the incredible team from Our African Footprints who are bespoke safari designers based right here on the North Coast, as well as the organisers for Beats in the Bush. Owners Domi and Brett have travelled extensively throughout Africa and now spend their time curating incredible, memorable experiences for both individuals and corporates.
073 180 6363, @ourafricanfootprints