LUXURY IN THE BUSH
South Africa's Earth Lodge at Sabi Sabi
BY GORDON GARRISON
We arrived at Sabi Sabi at four o'clock, just in time for afternoon
tea. The English tradition is still carried on, even in the African
wilderness! We had come to South Africa to see 'big game', close
up and in their natural surroundings. Our two days at the lodge
included four game drives in open Land Rovers, about twelve hours
in all, on dirt roads carved through bush country adjacent to World
famous Kruger Park.
In a way, you could say that our accommodations were also carved
out of the bush. Earth Lodge was built following devastating floods,
that in the year 2000 swept away the existing River Lodge. To replace
their loss, owners Hilton and Jacqui Loon, along with a prominent
South African architect, Mohammed Hans, designed what is arguably
the world's most intriguing Five -Star property. Thirteen suites
were built into the side of a hill, each separated by a mound of
earth, replaced following construction. Earth was also moved onto
the roofs of the units, leaving only a dome of clay covered thatch
resembling a termite mound. The lodge was so well concealed, that
we had trouble finding it, despite following direction signage.
Solly, our driver from PSTours had actually arrived at the small
parking area, left it, only to be told by the only person we saw,
that he had been right the first time.
Lodge manager Saskia Marlowe appeared from a sunken pathway to
lead my wife and me to the spacious reception area. We would see
immediately why the place was named "Earth Lodge". Floor tiles were
ochre. Walls and ceilings were covered by a dull brownish-gray porous
plaster with sprigs of straw showing through. The north side, completely
open, overlooks the Sabie River Valley, and the bush beyond. To
the left, a small swimming pool is open on three sides, but covered
with the continuing roof of the main building. Between the pool
and the reception desk, water tumbles among huge boulders enhancing
the ambiance. Seats, benches and desks by designer Geoffrey Armstrong,
were fashioned from driftwood, washed clean by the recent floods.
A large section of leadwood was installed as a desk top at reception.
A small office houses a computer for free of charge use by residents.
A gift shop offers high quality carvings and other crafts. There
is a 'paint station' complete with easels, brushes and watercolors
that can be used where they are set up in the lobby, or taken to
your personal suite. A well stocked library contains a wealth of
reading material, emphasizing African birds, animals, reptiles and
insects. Visitors are encouraged to see the wine cellar with over
8000 bottles of mostly South African products, plus a few imported
varieties. To cap off the amenities there is even a small gym, plus
a spa with a resident masseuse! The bar is glassed in, a haven for
enjoying a pre or post dinner drink. Or dinner itself, if the weather
is inclement. If it is cold, a roaring fire sends warmth throughout
After signing in, Thomas, our butler, piled us and our luggage
onto an electric golf cart and drove us a few hundred meters to
our suite. Again, we walked down a sunken pathway. Our door opened
into a large vestibule directly under the 'termite mound'. From
the inside we could see that the entrance way ceiling was thatched.
To one side a cabinet contained a small selection of books and a
mini-bar. Two upholstered chairs covered in a deep brown soft suede
sat beside a glass top table. Upon it was a welcoming bottle of
South African red wine, bearing the private label of Sabi Sabi.
We were already impressed but this was only the beginning.
The vestibule was completely open to the sitting lounge-cum-bedroom.
Ceiling pot lights illuminated the area after sunset. A skylight
produced a view of the Southern sky at night, and added illumination
during the day. Floor to ceiling windows provided a panoramic view
of the terrain. A sliding glass door opened to a tiled patio with
a 'plunge' pool, just the perfect size for cooling with a drink
following a game drive. Elephants, we were told, often helped themselves
to a drink from the pool during the night. Seems they prefer filtered
water over the ponds or river! A chesterfield, also in deep brown
suede, blended the earth tones of the walls, with the ochre floor
tiles. Beautiful books were at the ready for perusing, placed decoratively
upon the glass top of the coffee table. Chairs were fitted with
legs simulating antelope horns. The king-size bed was covered with
a pure white spread with a subtle African motif. Convenient switches
at bedside, operated both the reading and ceiling lamps. The 'head
board' was another Geoffrey Armstrong creation using driftwood.
A vanity and mirror, together with a luggage rack, separated the
bedroom and a walk-in closet. Especially designed, using native
wood, the closet and bathroom doors were probably 50% larger and
heavier than average.
Ahhh, the bathroom! Larger than many complete rooms we have stayed
in at prominent hotels around the world. The toilet was housed in
its own cubicle, with a frosted glass window that could be opened
if desired, for a view of the high earthen wall between units. Air-con
equipment and hot water tanks were installed outside, out of sight
In the main area, two sinks had individual lighting and a mirrored
wall above them that made the facility seem even larger. Another
skylight helped with the natural light preferred by ladies for applying
their make-up. Reflected was a deep oval stone tub, resembling an
ostrich egg shell cut in half. The piece de resistance was the separate
shower stall, glassed in on the inside and with a floor to ceiling
window to the outside! Nothing like a little game viewing while
enjoying your ablutions. From this vantage point on separate occasions
I saw giraffe (2), and zebras (3). And, oh yes, if you don't like
the idea of showering in front of a window, you could use the one
outside, just steps from the patio, contained in a curved adobe
Five star comfort is not expected in 'darkest Africa', except of
course in major cities where Holiday Inns and other major chains
cater to the up-market. In the bush, it seems you now have a choice:
everything from primitive tented camps to top of the line luxury
at Earth Lodge, Sabi Sabi, with more than all the comforts of home.
At home you do not find zebras grazing on your lawn, giraffe browsing
among the trees, or an elephant drinking at your pool!