Rhino Sands Safari Camp is truly a piece of heaven on earth! This intimate, 4 suites, luxury camp is delicious in every sense! From being completely off-the-grid and self sustaining, to lush vegetation and an abundance of wildlife that surrounds the area, and the amazing team that run the place, no detail is forgotten about!
My arrival at the camp went seamlessly well, with Igula Tours (see below for more details on them) as my transport method. A mere 3 hours or so away from Durban, Rhino Sands is pretty much in the middle of nowhere! However, being this disconnected from the rest of the world brings some kind of peace that cannot be found anywhere else. Within the Manyoni game reserve itself, and in a prime area of the “Big Five”, guests are literally submerged in the wildlife experience that being in the African bush should provide! I personally love being immersed in nature, especially with animals all around. It provides such a sense of aliveness yet is humbling at the same time.
The staff welcomed me to the camp upon my arrival, with a cold face towel and cold drink. I ended up sitting around the evening camp fire in the Boma later that evening exchanging wild stories with the general manager. I had many questions and was curious as to how life in the African bush is, so I was very intrigued and eager to hear some memorable events and memories, especially animal encounters.
As you saw in the video above (assuming you watched it) is that this place is of true luxury and filled with natural features incorporated into the structure and design. Made with the idea to have as little an impact on the surrounding nature itself, it almost feels like the suites are suspended within the trees! They have gorgeous and completely private decks overlooking the river bed, where many animals sightings occur! Each suite has it’s own plunge pool (although the water is mighty cold since the nights dip much lower than the heat during the day), lounge chairs and even a complete private outdoor shower. They also have their own pathway leading to each one, stemming from the main one that connects to the lounge and dining area.
The interior feels like an explosion of African art and decor, with a modern twist. It feels like a setting in the “Out of Africa” movie or something of that nature. A fairytale place for sure!
The bed was extremely comfortable, with thick duvet covers for those chilly nights. Draped over the bed were mosquito nets, mainly as precaution, as the tent zippers need to be closed at all times to avoid sneaky creatures coming in, mainly monkeys! However, little flying insects we love so much do sometimes make their way in uninvited.
The suites also have a sitting lounge with some nice books on African wildlife. The bathroom is incredible as well, with a stand-alone bathtub and corner shower, and leading out onto the deck where the outdoor shower is too. Taking a bath at night when the bush is alive makes you feel like there are a million eyes watching!
Everything else is simple perfection, and it’s even more appealing because everything, from lights to hot water to electrical outlets, are all run on solar energy. Happy me!!
The Nighttime Camping Experience
The first night was an interesting one! As I’ve said, the bush comes alive at night! There are noises and sounds that you don’t hear anywhere else, and it is just teaming with wildlife! It’s even more intense because we can’t see squat; it’s just so dark. The pathways to the suites are all lined with solar lanterns; a very beautiful setting, however since there are no big lights, the staff give guests a flood light, because it is pitch dark once the sun sets. There is also a security guard at all times during the night who can escort guests to and from their suites. It is imperative to look out for any predators that may be lurking nearby! Since the camp and suites are built on an elevated pathway of about 6 feet high, it’s less of a risk than walking through the bush, but any animal could easily jump onto it (don’t worry, most animals don’t have any interest in humans!). There is also a blow horn in every suite, to alert any danger nearby or to chase away an animal that may be too close for comfort. Additionally, they also provide a walkie-talkie (which I kept by the bed) in case of emergencies, one of the staff members has one on at all times. Of course, these are just precautionary and I’m sure rarely used (well, I don’t know but I can only assume!). I personally would have no problem waking up to a leopard on my deck, but I’m also a little crazy! 😉
Since the suites are basically permanent tent structures, there are no windows. Instead, thick zipper closures encompass the tent, which basically feels like you’re sleeping outside! I LOVED it! It can be a bit creepy at first, especially when you’re alone and you can’t see anything, but it is so exhilarating to be one with nature.
I woke up in the middle of the night, around 3am, to the sound of large heavy footsteps on my deck… or at least it sounded like it. I could hear something walking around, but I have no idea what it was. I was too cold to get out of bed and check, and didn’t know what would pop up at the other end of the light… so I fell back asleep somehow. I was told the following morning that it was probably bush babies, but it sounded way too heavy for it to be that. We all joked around wondering what it could have been… a leopard, perhaps? I guess I’ll never know! 🙂
*As a side note, there are no fences surrounding the camp, so the animals are free to come and go as they please. The only protection they have is a thin “electric elephant wire” to keep the elephants out since they can be very destructive due to their immense size. The wire is located around the perimeter of the property, at about 10 feet (I guess?) high, so any other animals can easily pass right under it. Many times, lions and leopards can be heard in the area, usually calling for a mate… and occasionally be seen right in front of the suites near the riverbed! Exciting!!!
To say that the main lounge and dining area is cozy is a true understatement! This place makes you feel like you’re home! The structure was built around trees, which again gave a very natural feel to it. Dotted with personal touches from the owners lives, such as some photos of them and their son, makes it feel like I was visiting family members!
Couches with pillows and throw blankets, coffee tables with books and African artifacts… the place is stunning and homey!
A beautiful Boma area where dinners around the fire would take place, a night cap, or some chit-chatting amongst guests and staff members, was very lovely. Every evening after the game drives, a nice bonfire would be going and drinks served to whoever wished to have. Rhino Sands is an all-inclusive safari experience, meaning drinks and all are included in the nightly rate!
The food is out-of-this-world delicious! There is a set menu for the day, but alterations can be made if needed and the chef is always so accommodating to the guests needs! The Butler was such a delight, very professional and sweet in every manoeuvre! The people who work at Rhino Sands are simply exquisite and they really do cater to everyone’s personal needs as much as possible! The owners, Shannon and Dale, are quite lovely (although I only met with Shannon), and you can really tell that they want their guests to have the best experience possible, all while sustaining a very high respect to nature and the animals that inhabit the area.
The Game Drives & Wildlife
Rhino Sands has excellent game rangers who are extremely knowledgeable about the African wildlife, flora and fauna. The game drives weren’t only “look out for animals”, but instead were a learning experience as well. My guide would explain different species of trees and the uses they had back in the day! He knew his way around the reserve very well, all the bends and curves in the roads… which is a lot to know for 23,000 hectares (roughly 230km²)! There are two game drives a day, like most other camps, 530am before sunrise and late afternoon before sunset!
The vegetation was much more prominent than in the north, and it made it a little bit more difficult to find the animals! Nonetheless, we did see plenty of wildlife: lions, buffalos, hippos, zebras, many antelopes, warthogs, birds, ostriches, giraffes, and rhinos! Sadly, we didn’t get to see any leopards as he was apparently being very cheeky since his territory was literally where the camp sits (I’m sure he was the one who paid me a visit that night ;)). Nor did I see cheetahs or elephants since they were seen in the very opposite end of the reserve during my stay! Oh well, I’ll just have to go back! That’s the thing with game drives and wildlife safaris: it’s not up to you, but up to the wildlife – they are in charge! When they want to be seen, they are… but if they don’t want, believe me you’ll never see them even if they’re a mere 5 feet away in the grass! They camouflage THAT well, its crazy!
The weather was incredible while I was there: Dry and hot days and chilly nights. A small jacket and scarf (and even a blanket!) is needed on those game drives before sunrise and after sunset. It is chilly! After sunrise, we would stop for a little break and have a nice hot beverage such as tea or coffee, and the same for the evening: right around sunset time, a stop for a “sundowner” to have snacks and a drink – a perfect way to end a perfect day!!
Manyoni Private Game Reserve
Rhino Sands Safari Camp, is set in a beautiful nature reserve called Manyoni Private Game Reserve. Previously, about 14 years ago, 17 reserves dropped their fences to form one big reserve as it is known today. The mission was to support the WWF black rhino range expansion project. In total, the reserve measure 23,000 hectares, which is quite large, and provides different terrain from acacia thornveld to open savannah to riverine forest. It is home to all the big five, many species of antelopes, giraffes, many species of birds, cheetahs and wild dogs. Rhino Sands is located in the Kwazulu-Natal area of South Africa, also known as Zululand, and has one of the highest density of wildlife in South Africa. It is quickly becoming one of the best places to visit in South Africa, and also knowing that there is a contribution to great conservation projects is always a huge plus! The game drives are done very respectfully with minimal impact to nature and wildlife, all while providing the true African bush experience!
Arrival and Transport to the Reserve
The best way to reach Rhino Sands is to drive. It is about 3.5 hours from Durban International Airport, and a fairly easy drive as well. I however did not rent a car while I was in South Africa, so I needed to opt for a transfer service. Igula Tours provided me with an impeccable service to and from the game reserve. From pick up at the Durban airport, then a timely return for my outbound flight, they were seamless and dependable in every sense. Aside from transfers, Igula Tours also offers safari and cultural tours in the Elephant coast of South Africa.
When it’s all said and done, Igula tours is the way to go if private transfers are needed in the more remote parts of South Africa. The driver I had was extremely pleasant, stopping halfway for a bathroom break. The lush vegetation in this part of the country provides some nice views to pass the time along the way in their comfortable vehicles!
Here are some photos of their transport vehicles.
I’d like to take a moment to thank Rhino Sands for hosting me during this very special trip! Not only did they exceed all of my expectations, but they created so many beautiful memories that I will cherish for a very long time! I’ll definitely be back for more awesome adventures in the African bush – and another visit to Rhino Sands without a doubt!
If you have a chance to get to South Africa, put this place as a Must-do on your list of places not to miss!
Thank you all for taking part in this amazing journey and for reading my stories! Your support means the world, and I hope my passion encourages you to find yours!
Happy and safe travels, my friends!
Love & Light,
*For more photos from my full trip in South Africa, see “A Photographic Journey Through South Africa”.