Don't expect to be the main priority as a guest at Sanbona.
And to be honest, my family and I were entirely okay with that during our recent stay at Gondwana Lodge.
The thing is, at Sanbona - it is all about the animals.
These animals, which includes the Big Five and the rare white lion, are as much of a draw-card as the spectacular semi-desert landscape. Despite it being the heart of the dry, arid little Karoo, it makes for a special safari escape, about three-hours drive from Cape Town.
Previously part of the Shamwari Group owned by Dubai World Africa, Sanbona is now owned and managed by the not-for-profit Caleo Foundation. Set up by Swiss philanthropist Carmen Ellinger, the organisation is dedicated to conservation and this has made a huge difference to the running of the lodge, our guide Che-lee tells me.
In fact, all the staff who chat to us candidly during our two-day stay speak highly of Sanbona as a place to work, from the waiters to the manager they all appear to be of the opinion that it is one of the best reserves to work for.
Made up of three lodges Tilney Manor, Gondwana Lodge (which caters specifically for families and children with its Kids on Safari program) and the Dwyka Tented Lodge, it is a hidden treasure hugged between striking rock formations of the Warmwaterberg Mountains. But the reserve is also a popular safari experience, for those exploring along Route 62.
The private reserve is about 58k hectares - with some 25 farms bought over to create what is now quite literally a reserve the size of Singapore.
With that said, the drives are long.
Starting off early at 05:30 and then later in the day at 16:30 for a sunset drive - the drives can last anything between three to four hours. But the rangers know their stuff, with an intricate looping of radio comms between the four operating open safari vehicles - as they share and identify the locations of the animals we're hoping to see.
And yet each time you make your way back to the lodge, it's surprising how quickly three hours can disappear.
By the second drive you start to recognise one or two landmarks and we easily started to fall into the rhythm of the bush - but the animals from the elephants, eland and kudu are never predictable.
A journey of giraffe will catch you unexpectedly. A lonely hippo in a watering hole far from the dam he was ousted of, makes you ponder the social dynamics of this thirsty land where all and sundry seem to be fighting for survival.
The main Bellair Dam at Sanbona is creeping dangerously low, at 13%, as the Karoo waits for some much-needed rain - but the reserve is resourceful and guests are reminded to use the precious resource carefully.
An ever-hungry herd of elephants munching their mark across the Acacia-dotted landscape (one of the few species that can thrive in this harsh environment) makes the sunsets appear more golden. Just as a playfully loud troop of monkeys all make the hours fly by even faster.
At the end of the trips the lodge is the central oasis - and Gondwana specifically ensures kids of all ages are catered for. The drives have an age-restriction of 4-years-old, while the walking safaris are limited to 16-years-old.
But with a kid's on safari club that has qualified care-givers for young children and the outdoor little Karoo classroom stationed just outside the main lapa of the lodge - your family will soon discovered a whole other world of animal bones and poo - lots of it. They've returned home absolutely enthralled by South Africa's wildlife heritage.
What to know if you go:
- Sanbona is a three-hour drive from Cape Town or about two-hours to George along the Garden Route.
- There are two transfers to Sanbona from the entrance gate: 12:30 and 16:00 - if you take the later one you will miss the afternoon game drive on your first day.
- Guests have a choice of three lodges - Click here to inquire, booking essential.
- Your stay includes main meals, safari drives and sunset drinks. The rooms also come with a fully stocked mini-bar for your own account. At Gondwana, the kids have a special menu and are well catered for.
- The animals, including lion, leopard and cheetah are free roaming - so no unguided walks are allowed. The lodges are enclosed, with the gates closed at night.
- The lodges use a grey-water system, and guests are advised to shower instead of bath - with the plugs available on request though.