Nestled among the Mopani trees deep within the Klaserie Private Game Reserve lies the secluded Klaserie Sands River Camp. A hotspot for elephant, this lodge strikes a balance between comfortable luxury and a relaxed, family feel experience.
As you cross the dry Ntsiri Riverbed, taking a slow trundle up the riverbank, one is instantly reminded of the absolute wilderness in which we are surrounded by. The Klaserie Reserve is one of the private reserves that makes up the Greater Kruger area. Covering a space of 60,000ha and holding over 40 years of history within the unfenced borders, the Klaserie Reserve has truly grown wild; The animals have come to settle within the many different terrains and habitats, creating an entirely unique eco zone all on its own.
Home to the Big 5 (of course), along with many other mammal species such as hyena, cheetah, aardvark, wild dog, giraffe and more – along with a TONNE of antelope species, reptiles and bird species – the lodges within the Klaserie have access to some PRIME game viewing.
River Camp is the first in what co-owners Brian and Rozanne hope to be a collection. Rozanne doubles as the Front of House manager, ensuring that the lodge runs smoothly day-to-day, whilst Brian operates as the head guide. Both Brian and Rozanne come into this relatively new lodge with an absolute wealth of experience, having worked at some of the industry’s most well known camps. Brian has over 16 years of guiding experience underneath his belt, and this was demonstrated throughout my time with him. I often stress to my clients that the difference in a good experience and a GREAT experience is the not only the book knowledge that the game ranger holds, but more importantly, the actual field experience he has accumulated. The more knowledge a ranger has, the more he is able to aptly read and decipher the environment and the wildlife, allowing the signs and signals of ‘the wild’ to form a story that he (or she!) can translate back to you as the guest.
Arriving at Klaserie Sands River Camp is like arriving at your best friend’s mansion. As one of the owners of the lodge is also well known in the local building industry, the eye on the architecture of the property can be noticed throughout the design. With a perfectly green grassy area creating a natural cul-de-sac, one is immediately greeted by the main building, which houses the bar, lounge, eating area and of course – the breath-taking deck and pool area.
One of the best features of this lodge is the outdoor area, designed for guests to relax in Summer or in Winter. There’s a specially designed pool that overlooks the large waterhole and the open riverbed, comfortable sun loungers splayed around for the sun-seekers, and comfortable couches dotted underneath the shade of the ancient trees for those who wish to sip a warm or cool beverage and see what game can be found ambling toward the water.
For the bird watchers, there is a friendly weaver busy building his nest right over the main outdoor dining area – a great way to watch the temporary character of nature in full swing. The Pearl Spotted Owlets call throughout the day, creating a chorus with the Hornbills (think Zazu from the Lion King!) and the Grey Louries (Grey Go-Away birds) that all call the area home. For the tech-obsessed, or those who need to keep in touch with home/business while in the wild, there is free WiFi throughout the main area.
To the left of the communal area are most of the chalets. Modern in design, with a focus on simplified comfort, they are large enough and have everything a guest needs to relax in their ‘off hours’. Catch up on some sleep by taking a nap on one of the most comfortable lodge beds I have ever experienced, or perhaps lie outside on the sun lounger, spying the waterhole or perhaps reading up on the wildlife that surrounds. The bathroom is spacious, with two rooms one room – the most private – offering a romantic outdoor shower at the end of a short walkway that winds its way through along thick trees down into the riverbed area. This room is also slightly more spacious, offering the perfect option for honeymooners who just deserve a little special treatment!
I loved the ‘little touches’ at this lodge – a welcome letter, and a card with a feel good quote – as the positive person I am, this scored mad brownie points in my books! A signature welcome drink on arrival also helped to set the tone of the entire experience – laid back and relaxed in comfort and style.
As lunch was served, I was interested to see that the tables were set separately – some lodges do this, and some prefer to have all of the guests together. As this is quite a popular lodge with couples and honeymooners, having the tables a little way away from each other allow for private enjoyment and one on one connection with your significant other.
Lunch was simple and light – often what is needed on safari, as one feels as if you are constantly being fed – fattened up for the lions! Marinated chicken kebabs, cous-cous salad and freshly baked bread with warm butter satisfied the appetite and the tastebuds.
After lunch, ample time is given to allow you to unwind, relax and digest before grabbing a warm piece of clothing and heading back toward the main lounge area, where you are greeted by the Land Rover – SAFARI TIME!
The biggest thrill of the entire safari experience is, without a doubt, the actual game drives – taking you into the wilderness, armed only with your ranger and his ability to read the wild.
Brian started with a solid introduction of the standard game drives ‘rules’ – placed there for not only the safety of you and fellow guests, but for the protection of the animals too.
Just before we departed, he turned toward us and asked if we were feeling adventurous. Most of us nodded enthusiastically, encouraging a grin from Brian.
“Great,” he said, turning back to the wheel, “We’re going to do something a little different then.”
Knowing Brian’s fondness of walking, I assumed this would be on the cards! It was the perfect day – the sun was warm, and the breeze was in our favor.
We began the drive by simply crossing the riverbed that the main lodge overlooks, and meeting up with three elephant bulls at the waterhole, enjoying their afternoon drink.
Brian enjoys all animals, but he has a special place in his heart for Elephants, who he regards as the most intelligent animals – far more intelligent than we, as humans, give them credit for.
He speaks to three bulls as if they were old friends, asking them how their day was and conversing with each one in a lighthearted way. He ensures that he has parked the vehicle in a position that allows all guests to have a great view no matter where they are sitting. As someone who is a little nervous of elephant, I am always a little too cautious around them (I reverse my vehicle if one even so much as looks at me!), but I found myself becoming relaxed as Brian explained their behaviors to us (what head shake X means when compared to head shake Y).
As we continued further into their traversing area, I noticed how varied it was – everything from Mopaniveld so common in that area, all the way through to the riverine sections and the open lands – the wider of a variety the traversing area holds, the more opportunity there is to see a higher mix of game!
As we the road curved ahead of us, we approached a dam and were greeted by a magestic rhino bull, something seen less and less these days due to the horrendous poaching the entire Kruger area is facing.
Brian was driving slowly, looking intently upon the road for something – once he found it, he hit the brakes and climbed out of the car, signalling us all to do the same. Lions.
“Now,” he said quietly, “We are only going to do this if every person in the group agrees – it has to be one for all and all for one. I know that these boys were in the area last night, and I know that they have eaten, so if we all agree – we are going to set out on foot and see if we can say hello.” He finishes with a cheeky grin, making eye contact with each of us to gauge our agreement (or lack of!). When presented with the opportunity to do something out of this world, one rarely says no – even if said one is terrified.
His smile widened, and he rubbed his hands together in excitement. It was inspiring to see someone who had been doing this job for so long still hold so much passion for what he does. As we all touched ground, Brian began to explain hand symbols to us, making sure we all understood the importance of each one – stop, come to me, freeze (different to stop – stop is just stop walking, whereas freeze means we’ve encounter the lions in close proximity and need to stay dead still, even if we’re in mid step), turn around etc.
So, with our new sign language in mind, out we set – into the wild once again. Something I noticed immediately (out of fear!) is that Brian didn’t carry a weapon. I am used to rangers having a rifle of some sort with them, if not two (with the back up guide holding the second), so this was a first for me. It definitely brought my adrenaline right up to about MAXIMUM. I made a mental note to ask Brian about this once we’d arrived back at the vehicle safely.
As we trundled through the rocky terrain in search of the lions, Brian kept ensuring we were all doing everything safely – walking quietly, making sure we stay in single file, padding as gently as we could on the ground. I always appreciate when a ranger keeps checking on his guests, as sometimes fellow safari-goers may lag behind, or walk out of formation, causing unintentional danger to the group. Walking farther into the bush, and further away from the vehicle, I began to loose my bearings and was grateful to have someone leading us who knew the lay of the land well. Brian stopped often, crouching onto his haunches, surveying the rough terrain with a furrowed brow.
We walked for a good 30 mins – and under a beating sun and the last of a hangover – I was relieved when Brian said that, according to the bush newspaper (tracks), they had been lying where we were standing, but seemed to have been pushed away by a herd of elephants that had come through earlier. As we clambered back onto the vehicle and drove toward the sunset, I asked Brian why he didn’t make us of a rifle. His answer took me by surprise at first, but the more I listened, the more I began to understand.
“Well,” he said over his shoulder as he drove, “There are a few reasons. To me personally, body language is something that is really important. If I’m holding a rifle, I am already on the offense – it is already an aggressive action. The animals pick up on that, and will reflect that. Plus, if you’ve got a rifle, I feel like you’re not as cautious and not as careful, not as respectful toward the animal and the environment – because you’ve got a back up.” He finished. It was a side of the conversation I’d never heard before, and it was interesting to hear a fresh viewpoint. This was one of the great parts of being able to visit so many lodges, and meet so many characters within the industry – with each character comes a fresh perspective.
As we drove further into the sunset, and the warmth of the day began to disperse, Brian circled a particular block a few times, keeping us guessing as to what it was we were searching for. Eventually he stopped the vehicle near a small pan, brimming with water thanks to the recent rains.
“This is really interesting,” Brian started, pointing to tracks on the soft ground, “There are actually two separate leopard tracks here – a male and a female!” He exclaimed with excitement. He spent the next few minutes telling us about the dynamic we were seeing; Perhaps they were mating! Excited, we circled the block a few more times while Brian dropped hints as to what he was looking for.
“These tracks are fresh,” he said as he drove through the thick bush, “And they are just coming and going from the pan right back into the bush.” Brian stopped suddenly, grabbed his binoculars, and pointed them toward a large tree far in the distance.
“Right. That is what I’ve been looking for.” Driving us closer through the bush (a real technique!), we spotted what Brian had been searching for. Right up in the crook of the tree lay a carcass, still red and bloodied. But, in true leopard fashion – neither he nor she were anywhere to be seen, despite us hanging around for a good 30 minutes. After discussing many reasons as to why neither of the leopards were around, Brian decided it was time for us to stretch our legs, and we began the journey to our ‘puza spot’, where we would enjoy our choice of beverage as the sun set upon the plains. On our way out of ‘Leopard Block’, we happened upon an extremely relaxed herd of elephants, munching their supper. Brian stopped the vehicle and turned off the engine, explaining that with elephants, it was always best to give them space and allow them to become curious about us, approaching us if they wanted to – and not the opposite way around. And so, we sat for at least 30 minutes with these graceful giants, who gradually become very comfortable with us. A few youngsters came right up to the vehicle, swaying their trunks in an interested way, almost tempted to place the tip onto Brian or the vehicle as they passed. A few of the adults sauntered toward us, sniffing our different scents and coming within a meter of the vehicle as they walked by. This is by far one of my absolute favorite elephant sightings, due to how RELAXED the herd was, surrounding us in such a comfortable way.
After allowing the herd to pass in their own good time, we continued onto our sundowners spot.
Brian pulled into an open area, surrounded by small hills – there was an old bull elephant that was making his way down the road, and we hoped he would join us for a drink.
Sundowners are always the perfect opportunity to reflect on the day had, or simply to spend a moment alone, enjoying the sound of pure and undisturbed nature. As I sipped my ice cold white wine, and a warm wind flowed around me, Brian offered around some snacks to tide us over until dinner, which included Biltong – a widely known South African food. It is dried and cured meat, usually made from beef but SOMETIMES, especially at the lodges, it can be made from the wild game too. Delish!
As the sun set over the horizon, and the light changed from orange and reds into purples and blues, it was time to jump back aboard our vehicle. Brian took us straight to the leopard kill and we hung around for another hour or so, listening to the incredible evening sounds. One can’t help to give into the ghostly, eerie feeling that surrounds the bush at night – jackals calling in the distance, bushbabies crying in nearby trees, a lion waking in the night…. all sounds primal enough to humble even the greatest of egos. As we sat, eyes to the stars above us, we were visited by a hungry and curious hyena, brought to the tree by the a smell that only a hyena could find enticing – stomach innards laid so temptingly over a branch.
Though it tried, no amount of sniffing or staring would make the carcass budge, so the animal eventually left, sauntering back into the thick bush with its head held low.
With a sigh, Brian deciphered that the Leopards would not be coming back anytime soon, and suggested we head back to the lodge for dinner. He added excitedly that whoever would like to come back out after supper to look for the Leopards again would be welcome to join him. I’d never experienced that before, so I put my hand up immediately. Most lodges will offer morning game drives from around 6, 6:30am and again from around 3:30, 4pm for about 3 hours depending on what is seen. The evening game drive does usually transcend into the night, but it was GREAT to have an opportunity to do a ‘nocturnal specific’ night drive. Most lodges (well, the good ones!!!) will generally wake a guest in the middle of the night to take them into the bush if they hear something like a lion kill nearby, or perhaps there is a rare animal nearby or a commotion that needs investigating etc – but I’d never had the opportunity to do this specifically in search of a certain animal.
As the spotlight guided us back toward the lodge, and disembarked from the game drive vehicle, we were handed warm damp towels to hep us freshen up a little before dinner. Brian instructed that we had a few minutes to head back to our rooms if we wanted, before inviting us to join him at the bar.
As all of your food and drinks are included in the rate at River Sands, there is a wide variety of beverages available and Brian is quick to recommend something refreshing to suit your taste be it wine, beer, or something a little stronger. The pre-dinner drinks are the perfect time to interact with the other guests, sitting at the bar or lounging on the comfy couches around the fire, reveling in the day that was. As stories are shared across ice cold drinks, everyone shares their favorite sightings, and we relive the serenity of the elephant herd.
A few moments later, as Brian announces that dinner is ready, we are directed out toward the deck area, and we take our seats at a lavishly set table underneath the stars.
As we are seated, and our drinks are topped up, the chef of the lodge joins us. He introduces himself and announces the meal for the evening; Cauliflower and Biltong Soup as a starter, Roasted Pork belly with mash and seasonal vegetables as a main, and a fried banana with chocolate in filo pastry to end. BRING IT ON, I thought hungrily.
The food was beautifully presented, and the portions were massive – happily satisfying all around the table. Both Brian and Rozanne joined us all for dinner, which I think speaks highly of the importance of the guest experience to the management team. Some lodges indeed prefer to leave guests during meal times, which can be called for sometimes – but this provided an opportunity for the guests and the management team to chat in a relaxed and social manner – and the red wine always helps! I appreciated that throughout the night, Brian ensured all guests were completely catered for.
With tired eyes and full stomachs, we finished dinner and joined Brian back on the game drive vehicle with a warmer layer of clothes. There stars shone bright above, and the night air was a lot cooler as we drove toward the Leopard kill. Brian turned off the vehicle, and we sat in the eerie night silence, surrounded by darkness, broken only by the light of the moon. Though the Leopards still hid from us, it was primordial experience, having metal between us and the wild, sounds of the night erupting underneath a blanket of stars.
As midnight loomed, we disembarked the vehicle and zombied toward our rooms – thankful they weren’t too far of a walk. I must say that the beds at Klaserie Sands absolutely in the Top 3 ‘most comfortable lodge beds in Africa’. Needless to say, sleep was upon us quicker than you could say ‘roar’.
I found myself waking up only a moment before Brian knocked on our door, croaking a chirpy, ‘Good morning!’. I groaned a Hello back, rubbing my eyes as they adjusted to the soft morning light, pink and golden. This was my favorite time of day in the bush, as the animals all began to wake up, a chorus of birds echoing across the horizon. We piled on a few layers of warm clothes and trundled toward the lounge area, cheeks cold with morning air. Brian was ready and waiting with hot coffee and tea – along with the ultimate South African pre-breakfast snacks – RUSKS! These are raised baked biscuit type things that are rectangle in shape, often with pieces of muesli/nuts/raisins baked into them.
As we, along with the other guests, sipped our coffee sleepily, Brian announced we would of course be hot on the trail of our missing leopard, and he was confident we would find him that morning. So, out we set, blankets wrapped around legs and eyelids getting lighter thanks to the caffeine now in our systems.
After making our way back to the ‘Leopard Tree’, passing and learning about various antelope species along the way, Brian slowed the vehicle and grabbed his binoculars excitedly.
“Folks,” He said with a grin, “There it is!”. Eyelids now turning to slits (built in magnifying, obviously!!), I finally spotted the skulking leopard, walking quickly underneath a thick brush of shrubs and trees – well on his way somewhere. I was overcome with happiness at seeing the most elusive of the Big 5, as quick as the sighting was before he curried away. Brian furrowed his brow and rechecked his binoculars, noting that the animal was acting a little odd. He reversed the vehicle through the thick bush (and let me tell you that this takes real skill!), and promptly began to follow the leopard. He was darting through the bush (and so were we as we followed it!), and as he entered a clearing, Brian stopped the vehicle and pointed into a nearby tree. There was a second leopard with a carcass up in the tree! And – contrary to what we thought – they were both male! We expected a brawl, or at least some commotion, but Brian explained that the leopard on the ground was a young tom, still a little unsure of himself, whilst the leopard in the tree was an older, established male who just could not be bothered with the youngster. We watched them interact for a few moments – the younger cat prowling around the base of the tree, and the older male yawning (if he was a female human, he’d be checking the dirt under his fingernails!).
Eventually, the younger male got bored, and decided to take a stroll back into the bush, taking a new path. We thought he might be going back to the original carcass, so Brian decided to follow him and allow the old man some peace and quiet. Within a few minutes of following the young tom, we were astonished to find him with……. ANOTHER LEOPARD! YES – three leopards in the space for 30 minutes! This was one a female! With three different leopard sightings to choose from, we spend the next hour moving between them and enjoying quality time with one of Africa’s most elusive animals.
As we arrived back in camp with joyful hearts and hungry tummies, we were greeted with hot coffee and tea, and a full breakfast splay ready and waiting for us. The staff at KSRC were attentive to our needs, and once we had completed our first course – a selection of fruits, yogurts, crumpets, cereals and more – we were invited to order ur choice of the hot meal selection. Bacon, toast, hash browns, eggs, sausages….. Everything one could wish for to eat while reveling in the once in a lifetime leopard experience we had just had.
Thank you to the team at Klaserie Sands River Camp for a truly engaging, entertaining, out-of-the-box safari experience. Klaserie Sands River Camp has the perfect combination of comfort without forgetting the rustic ideal of a safari. The outdoor/indoor flow of the lodge inspires total relaxation, and the peace and quiet of the waterhole allows for hours of game viewing without leaving the comfort of the sun loungers. The staff are top quality, experienced in what they do, but also really relateable on a human level – it feels like you’re on safari or at the lodge with a good mate.
Thank you to the team, and I can’t wait to come back!