A previous trip to Earth Lodge several years ago had imprinted the lodge on my mind as one of the best I’d ever visited. This second visit confirmed to me that this is indeed so. It was as beautiful as I’d remembered and everyone went out of their way to make our stay memorable.
by ALAN SAMONS
When I first started going to game lodges, like many tourists, I went on every game drive in the hope of seeing as much wildlife as possible. But almost fifteen years later, my priorities have shifted slightly to enjoying the lodge, the suite and the spa – it all adds to the total experience. As South Africans, we don’t have the same priorities as overseas visitors. They need to see as much wildlife as possible. For me, just being in the bush, smelling the air and hearing sounds is heaven. Earth Lodge is a piece of heaven, all the more so because it is located in my favourite part of the country, Sabi Sands.
Upon arrival guests see only grass-covered low mounds and enter along a simple pathway that seems to lead underground. The narrow passage suddenly opens to a vast entrance area with a central water feature and the bush beyond. It’s a startling effect. To one side is the dining room, bar, library and shop. On the other are two lounge areas, one with draped corner seats and a shallow central pool set with dining tables and chairs where guests can dine with their feet in the cooling water. Considering the temperature can reach in the forties, this is a practical form of cooling.
Spacious, open public spaces and sophisticated interior design in natural colours and softly glowing metallics impart a sense of restrained opulence. Built to give guests a feeling of being underground, the thick rough-plastered walls, a sweeping curved roofline surrounding a water feature filled with fish and frogs is a totally unique architectural style that blends harmoniously with the natural setting without appearing contrived or out of place.
Thirteen ultra-luxurious suites including the Amber Presidential Suite provide the ultimate in guest comfort. The beautiful suites each comprise of an open plan lounge, dining and bedroom area, as well as a large bathroom, inside and outside showers and a walk-in wardrobe, which helps in keeping the room tidy. A spacious covered patio and plunge pool tempts guests outdoors. There are no fences and our suite, at the very end of the lodge, had the added advantage of having a game path running right outside. We saw bushbuck, warthog and elephant. One particular bull elephant had developed a liking of pool water and has often been seen at our suite’s pool enjoying a drink. Just before we arrived, a lioness and her two small cubs were seen on the roof of our room! One day, perhaps we’ll be lucky and experience something similar.
Sabi Sands is blessed with incredibly diverse wildlife and we were happy to enjoy a rare sighting of a black rhino bull. Cheetah and wild dog are also present on the reserve. At night we opened the windows and sliding doors, and with only the mesh screens closed, we were treated to myriad night sounds. Frogs, hyena, owls, birds, crickets and all manner of other creatures all added their vocal colour to the tapestry of night sounds. It’s easy to get stuck on the Big Five, as most tourists understandably do, but the smaller creatures have a charm of their own. They are easy to overlook – a chameleon glowing ghostly white on a tree at night, or the small foam nest frogs who had taken up residence on the wall sculptures in the dining room. I enjoy the bugs and birds as much as larger game and while I was sitting on the patio, reading and listening, I heard a soft rustling in the bushes next to the outdoor shower. Two beautiful bushbuck were browsing on the shrubbery, completely unafraid of me. It’s a special feeling when an animal lets you into its private space. It could just as easily have been a lion or a leopard, but then I wouldn’t have been quite as calm!
Our ranger, Terry, was most entertaining and his love of the bush was inspiring. Moses, our tracker, was excellent at spotting animals and we marvelled at his keen eyesight. Naturally, a topic of much discussion was rhino poaching and Terry, quite understandably, had strong feelings about the detestable state of affairs. We counted ourselves lucky to have seen a few of these beleaguered animals.
Back at the lodge, we were taken care of by husband and wife management team, Stefan and Nadia Schoeman. Their genuine warmth and love of the bush added to our experience. And then there was the food. Chef Alwyn Laubscher’s incredible cuisine added to our waistlines and as it had been my birthday a few days before our trip, we were treated to a special private dinner in the library. After yet another incredible five course meal and a few flutes of celebratory bubbles, I was surprised by a delicious mini birthday cake, which I took to the suite to enjoy as a midnight snack. Alwyn’s food was outstanding and I would rate it on a par with some of SA’s best restaurants, which is quite a feat, considering that one cannot quickly nip out for produce. We were introduced to pangasius, a Japanese freshwater fish, which we’d never tasted before. It was delicious and I’ll keep a beady eye out for it from now on.
A trip to the Amani Spa is a most enjoyable way to while away some time between meals or instead of a game drive, especially if the weather is less than pleasant.
Earth Lodge offers an elegant combination of comfort and raw African bush, made even more special by the warmth of the people. It’s a place you will want to return to again and again.