A Travellerspoint blog

Our Last Animal Party

Nottens Bush Camp, Sabi Sands Nature Reserve


View South Africa & Namibia 2024 itinerary on margofiala's travel map.

Arriving at Nottens Bush Camp was both exciting and a little bittersweet. It was a highly recommended nature reserve and lodge, and we were excited to get there but it was our last destination in SA - it marked the end of our adventure. ☹️

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Similar to other lodges on private game reserves surrounding Kruger National Park, Nottens offers an all-inclusive safari experience: accommodation, meals, game drives, with expert guides and trackers. Nottens is in the Sabi Sands Reserve, approximately 65,000 ha (2510 sq miles/6500 sq km), adjoining Kruger National Park. (The name is from the two bordering rivers, Sabi and Sands.) It is one of the last family run lodges in the reserve, about 60 years old. There are no fences between Sabi Sands and Kruger National Park, so the animals are free to roam. Many of the animals would have never encountered a fence as they exist free ranging within the reserve, or into Kruger. Our guide told us that many of the lions and leopards were born there, established their territory and have never left except occasionally for hunting. For generations, cubs have learned from their moms that the safari trucks were harmless so have become somewhat used to them coming by. They are still very wild and often disappeared but a bit easier to see because of that. Kruger Park, Sabi Sands Reserve or the game lodges within it do not feed, track or aid the animals in any way, other than keeping waterholes full and guarding against poachers, they just let nature take its course.

Sabi Sands Nature Reserve forms part of the Greater Kruger National Park, which is 3.5 M ha (3513 sq miles/35,000 sq km). Super-big, larger than any US National Park, and only slightly smaller than the two largest National parks in Canada. (Quite remarkable given the size of the US and Canada relative to South Africa.) Historically, areas of Kruger were first proclaimed protected in 1898, becoming a national park in 1926 and the Sabi Sands Reserve was formed in 1948. Bottom line: Many animals have lived here for generations without risk of man (other than poachers).

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The animals were truly amazing! It was an exceptional game reserve by all accounts, including very knowledgeable guides and trackers who taught us a lot about the animals and their behaviors. Nottens really knows how to maximize your experience. They kept us on a schedule to make sure we saw the most animals and ate the most food during our stay (Dean added the last part). The best viewing time for animals is sunrise, early morning and late afternoon as the light is changing, so a day at Notten’s looked like this:

5:30 am wake up call
6:15 am morning game drive (3 hrs)
9:30 am breakfast
10:30 am optional nature walk
11:30 am nap, pool or spa
2:00 pm lunch
3:30 pm sunset game drive (3 hrs)
7:00 pm dinner

Honestly it wasn’t hard to get up in the morning or follow the schedule because you were so excited to see animals. It’s always a surprise: what will we see today and what will they be doing? Also, staying in the bush you could often hear wildlife sounds that left you wondering - what was that? Or you might see something by the waterhole in front of the lodge - where did they go? Will we see lions today? It was all very exciting!

Our guide Jeffrey had been at Nottens for 24 years and his tracker Radon (sits in the chair at the front of the truck), 18 years. They knew so much about the animals, their predators, habitat and history:

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We met some great new friends at Nottens as well, the Carroll’s are from the States and do a “family trip” somewhere exotic every few years. We think that’s a great idea - Dad, are you reading this? It was super fun being on safari with them and we had the bushwhacking down pat!

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Here we go, the “Big 5” and their friends! (The Big 5 name comes from hunting, they are the five most dangerous to man if they are in attack/protect mode: lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalo.). We were very lucky to see leopards every day we were there, Nottens is known for their leopards that have established territories near the camp for generations. If you want to see leopards go here!

Our first introduction to Nysumi, one of the local leopards that was lounging in a dry river bed sleeping. We were told she had two cubs, but they were nowhere to be seen. The guide said she likely had hidden them away while she went hunting (or rested up for hunting?):

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The Lost Supper! Nysumi had gone hunting, killed an impala and carried it up a tree to keep it from other predators, such as hyenas and lions. Jeffrey said she would typically eat some of it, leave it in the tree and then go get her cubs to eat as well. However, three spotted hyenas showed up while she was in the tree, not good. They sat at the bottom of the tree waiting and snarling. We sat and watched for a while as she tried to tear into the impala, balance on the tree trunk, keep an eye on the hyenas, and not drop the impala. As we left, she appeared to be having a hard time biting into it and kept shifting the impala around the tree trunk.

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Enter the hyenas:

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We left the scene to go see another leopard and her two cubs who had been spotted by another tracker (the Nottens guide are all in radio contact with each other.):

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This is a cub under our truck!

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We loved watching them play and hang out:

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We returned later in the morning to see what happened with Nysumi and it was not good. It appeared she had dropped the impala from the tree, the three hyenas had finished it off in no time and she was stuck in the tree until they left. (A female leopard will avoid hyenas as they are bigger and stronger, especially three together.) We hope she got something to eat but not sure, and certainly her cubs lost their supper. Nature in action?

Listen for their “laugh” at the beginning, and the crunching near the end…

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Finally the hyenas left and she was able to come down, likely returning to her cubs empty handed.

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Later we saw the hyenas at the water hole washing up after their feast:

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Luckily they didn’t look like they were starving, as we saw the family together the next day:

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Mom must have been out hunting again, as we came across one of the cubs on her own. The cubs are taught from a young age to go straight up a tree if anything scary comes by, as they are smaller and can go up higher to skinny branches than any other predator that can climb trees (lions, leopards). Also she hides them separately, far apart, so that if one is found by a predator while she is gone and is unable to escape, she still has the other cub…now that’s practical thinking, ugh:

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Some days the driving was pretty exciting. Our guide Jeffery never wanted to miss anything, so if he saw the rear end of a leopard in the bush, away he went after it! We hung on tight, watching for branches, and made sure Radon, the tracker at the front of the truck was not lost as we chased a leopard. WOW, this one was definitely more about the drive than what we saw, lots of bum shots:

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Another sighting of one of the cubs:

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Our last leopard sighting on a morning drive the day we were leaving was of Nysumi and one cub, the guide thought she had made a kill and had gone to get the cubs to eat, she had one with her and was going to get the other as we followed them on the move. We looked for the kill but didn’t find it. Well hidden!

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Lions are territorial and a pride of two males, three females and their cubs had claimed a large area around Nottens. However we did not see them until our last night and morning drives as they had been away hunting, or so our guide speculated. When we finally saw them they were resting and had full tummies (you could actually see their round bellies), but the cubs were full of energy, playing and nursing. It was special to see the whole pride together:

The two male lions:

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The lionesses were sound asleep as well, but multi-tasking!

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The seven cubs were priceless:

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We saw the two males the next morning, sleeping about 50 ft away from each other on an open plain, I guess they don’t worry about predators when you are the “top of the food chain”. The first one was looking a little worse for wear, our guide reckoned there had been a fight with another lion, as the lionesses and cubs were no where to be seen:

The scrapper:

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The smart one? No visible injuries, Jeffrey said they were brothers so would not fight each other. This one is older, you can tell by the bigger mane:

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We saw many rhinos in the area, also territorial animals. They were all dehorned, except the babies. Notice the birds on the rhinos. They are eating ticks and insects, another symbiotic relationship. First some single males:

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A mom and youngster:

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Rhinos moving together at full speed are known as a crash. Even when they're just hanging around, they're called a crash because of their potential:

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Mom and baby, approximately 3 mths old, matching wrinkles?

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The elephants are just so big, they never cease to amaze:

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The buffalo calves are quite inquisitive, always starring at us as we pass by:

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Headache?

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There are no cheetahs with a territory near Nottens, so it was very lucky to see this one, even Jeffrey, our guide was surprised. They don’t tend to live near leopards, as they are “lower on the food chain”, faster but not as strong. They are so majestic. The tear stain reduces glare when they are hunting:

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One of our favorite friends, giraffes. The darker colored giraffes are older and the lighter ones are younger. Check out this neck action!

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Jelly roll, our favorite hippo, a young male who had been “voted off the island” so was on his own for now:

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Here he is on another day with terpins (turtles) on his back:

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Spotted hyenas are not really one of our favorites after what happened to Nysumi, but they are an important part of the ecosystem as they get rid of the remains, bones and all (final cleanup crew). They have very powerful jaws and even eat the bones:

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We only saw a few zebra here, not nearly as many as other parks:

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Vervet monkeys were always casing out the dining room, and were amazingly quick to steal a muffin or fruit when someone looked the other way:

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A majestic male nyala:

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One day as we started our guided nature walk we saw some female nyalas coming into the camp, close to our car. It shows how big they are, and the males are much bigger:

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Our guide for the walks, Tingatie is a very knowledgeable naturalist and knew the area well, he has never used his gun in 18 years at Nottens:

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Tingatie explained what animals these bones were from, which had been collected over the years from the reserve:

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An elephant jaw: elephants go through six sets of teeth through their lifetime:

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The jaw of a warthog:

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Jackals are not common here like they are in western South Africa, so when we spotted one our guide actually diverted us from a rhino to see it:

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Dwarf Mongoose, very cute and very fast! We had to borrow a picture:

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So many interesting birds, but hard to capture in a photo. Here are just a few, first the lilac breasted roller, we borrowed the second photo to share the beauty of this tiny bird:

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Vultures in a tree at sunset:

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Southern Yellow Hornbill (aka the banana bird):

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Crowned Hornbill (aka Zazu from Lion King):

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Grey Heron:

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Sabi Sands Reserve is big and beautiful, lots of water but also lots of big plains that reminded us of scenes from “Out of Africa”.

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The sunrises and sunsets were spectacular:

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The camp itself was a little piece of heaven. Nine separate cabins with decks overlooking the waterhole and lovely commons spaces, the “Summerhouse” which had the dining room, bar and waterhole viewing area:

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The pool and garden area:

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The library, Dean loved the big kudu horns:

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Our cabin:

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Each night when we returned from our game drive, there would be a bubble bath waiting for me in the room - so decadent!

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An outdoor shower:

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The deck for watching the animals:

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The chef at Nottens, Jan, was very talented, we had too many wonderful meals in many settings around the lodge and one night around a bonfire in the bush. This particular night, Dale the manager was doing the grilling:

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Morning coffee and sundowners in the bush:

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A truly wonderful place, website: Nottens

Last but not least, we even got dog time! The Nottens manager, Dale, brought his three dogs (two Rhodesian Ridgebacks and one other pup) to the camp one day for a visit:

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NEXT STOP: Back to Johannesburg for one night, a day tour and home! Thanks for joining us on this adventure, adios until next time!

Posted by margofiala 22:29 Archived in South Africa

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Comments

I loved going through all the Notten pics! You had so many good ones and the lions, which we missed seeing, were great to see through your eyes! We truly enjoyed our time at Notten's and meeting the both of you! All of my experience there and meeting you alleviated a lot of the anxiety that I was feeling being on this trip to Africa -- but in the end, it truly was a trip of a lifetime, one I will never forget. Thank you for sharing all this with the Carrolls!

by Kathie Valeri Carroll

Margo I don’t know what I’d missed most - those glorious sunsets or those bubble baths!!!!
Touche! Another great trip to remember.

by Donna-Lynne

Wow - fascinating to see the photos that go along with the story you told us about the impala. Amazing!!

by Kim

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