Luxury Explorer Review

5-Star Hotel Review

Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

South Africa

Phenomenally stylish, Sanbona is also a serene introduction to a wildlife, both flora and fauna

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Sanbona Wildlife Reserve


Cape Town, Anysberg Nature Reserve, Montagu

Travel Information

3 hours drive from Cape Town

Top Tips

No trip would be complete without a drive out with one of the excellent rangers to spot some of the most majestic animals in Africa

5-Star X-Factors

Surrounded by inspiring wilderness

Sanbona - Simply Stunning

Only three hours from Cape Town and it feels like light years from 'urbanity'. Sanbona is a Wildlife Reserve with game. It is not a Game Reserve in the wild, which ignites your adrenalin several rides over. It is, on the beast front, gentle by comparison, though it is as uncultivated, remote, native and as indigenous in feel as any bush adventure you could wish for. What's more, there are no flights, no transfers, just a cruise of a drive, alongside some of the Cape's most humbling scenery.

It is also phenomenally stylish and it is malaria free! It is a serene introduction to a wildlife, both flora and fauna, (including the big five) that is free to thrive and roam feral in a dramatically rugged terrain, where one of the Cape's most threatened bush species, Renosterveld, is protected.

Anna and I packed her 4x4 (a useful car for this adventure but not essential) with little Bibi and plenty of water. We weren't going into a desert, but my childhood memories of the Karoo are all about putting your foot down and getting to the sea. However, this is not the harsh Karoo, it is the Karoo that reminds me of how a craterless moon may look if it benefited from water. Enormous areas of flatland surrounded by mountain ranges that seem to defy earth itself, and an endless sky that turns into your own planetarium by night. You are not instantly struck by the lush shock of beauty that hits you face-on as when you float down into Franchhoek or arrive in Stellenbosch; it is slower to creep up on you though possibly more consuming. Arguably more relaxing.

The Wine Route to get there

We went on the N1 North and met Route 62 at Worcester where we stayed almost in cruise control until the Klein Karoo. Route 62 has a charm and beauty that makes this drive more than enjoyable. We love stopping at farm stalls for a bag of biltong, a woven basket, a drink, wine, whatever really. They are packed with local goodies and, on this route, humour. When you get out of the car you are not just hit by the dry warm air (it can reach serious highs in mid-summer) you are also struck by the stillness of the far-reaching beauty. The enormous palette of blazing azure sky sets a heavenly contrast to the subtle muted tones; greens, purples, greys and browns; of the unruffled distant mountains, many of which rise up behind hectares of verdant vineyards.

All the white- washed stalls are covered in piercingly bright bougainvillea. Take your camera.

The longest wine route in the world, it is tucked between the Langeberg and Riviersonderend mountain ranges with the Breede River gifting lush life into the valley. It has many notable estates worth visiting: to view, imbibe or both. You pass several little towns and a few large prestigious ones, some of which are perfect examples of picturesque Cape Dutch settlements. On our return we stopped for lunch at a petit-luxe gem in Robertson. Ridiculously good value for somewhere that would definitely be in Tatler's top100 boutique hotels, if they knew about it... we will be reviewing this hotel on our next visit.

The Reserve

So an inspiring drive later and you arrive at the gates to the wildlife reserve of Sanbona. From here it was another 45 minutes before we reached our lodge and I think we were fortunate to have a 4x4 because the road was a little uneven. You can though, leave your car (in safe hands) at the gate and get a transfer in one of the reserve's vehicles.

Sanbona has three lodges. Tilney Manor, an immaculately restored original farmhouse dating back to 1898, nearest to the entrance (it was closed for decorating purposes in November so I didn't see it); Dwyka Tented Lodge, complete with 9 of the most outstanding, authentic, and romantically decorated tents I have seen, back-dropped by a sheer cliff which, at the time, had a nesting black eagle with three fledglings; and Gondwana, the family friendly lodge with 12 suites, where we stayed for two days and nights.

Karoo Classics

The surrounding landscape speaks for itself. It is a long distant view, a 360 degree take on a landscape that really does feel and look unguarded, remote and unfettered by mankind. It's this unencumbered wilderness vibe that paralyses stress (no venom involved). While they have the big five here, including a gloriously healthy pride of white lions, you don't feel threatened on your drives and it is therefore an excellent introduction for the bush-first-timer, for families with young children, or indeed for a lover of nature who is not seeking a daily white knuckle ride.

One is not entirely fearless here because although you can be protected from the potential wrath of the big five, you need to be mindful of venomous snakes. Snake alert is a necessary state to be in most of the time but it is important to remember that bites are extremely rare if you live and let live and if you take the necessary precautions. As it happens, we saw two boomslang and two puff adder, all on the road and spotting these extraordinary animals was as thrilling a sighting as any other.

Karoo Chic

We arrived to an open-arm welcome and little Bibi was adored from the start. Richard, the general manager, became an instant friend and immediately introduced us to his best friend, sitting almost disguised on the branch of an old scraggly blue eucalyptus tree. A spotted eagle owl named 'Boo' because of the adorable 'boo-boo' hoots he sounds out whenever you call him. He is wild, he just, like the rest of us, loves Gondwana. I am certain he fell for Bibi, as he was a constant companion for us too.

Our suite was upstairs with views to a nearby waterhole, a large dam (the Bellair Dam) and the Aynsberg Mountains. The haphazard vegetation, seemingly uninhabitable to mankind, is extremely good for animal spotting and our suite's terrace felt like a perfect hideout. Our immaculate bedroom, decorated with contemporary haute bush appeal, in a palette of fynbos-green, taupe and cream, had a spacious terrace, complete with super comfortable deck chairs, a bongo drum table, and a funky chocolate brown canvas beanbag lounger. The floor throughout the suite was spotless, polished, beige screed, absolutely desirable when it comes to things that creep and crawl. We saw very little on that front. Also, we suffered not a single mosquito bite, though we are fastidious about protecting ourselves.

Our bathroom was quite seriously award winning, with seamless screed blending into limestone, all milk and honey in tone and comfort while the bespoke potions and lotions were totally dreamy. It too had the far- reaching views from our private terrace, (which is separated from the next by a wall and does feel totally exclusive). Comfort and privacy are paramount at Sanbona.

The Scenic Drives

The rangers are extremely aware of both the human and the animal and as a result the vehicle does not invade the space of the animals. You observe their activities from a healthy distance. We saw plenty of game such as the white lions, hippo, white rhino, different buck, crocodile, ostrich, zebra, lizards, goshawks, but never once did we, or as importantly, the game, feel threatened or disturbed. It's all quite organic here: a peaceful drive through an absorbing landscape.

We enjoyed drinks and biltong while we watched an amber sun drop behind the ragged maroon outline of the distant Aynsberg Mountain range, leaving the sky flushed with exquisite shades of an African sunset; followed by a faster pace back to Bibi who was being spoilt by several members of the loving team back at the lodge.

The Spa

They offer some serious treatments considering you are out in the wilds of the Karoo. I opted for the most exotic, expensive, extravagant facial involving the plastering on (face only) of crushed pearls and caviar. It was amazing and for that afternoon and night the skin genuinely looked rejuvenated. It then reacted slightly when we got to Paarl the following evening, but once that reaction wore off my skin glowed with a sort of 'pearlessence'!


We ate hearty, healthy food on both the terrace, which looks across to the long slick swimming pool, with the glistening dam and mountains in the distance and, at night, in the dining room with soaring proportions and African inspired elegant interiors. I do remember a delectable ostrich stew and they are exceptionally accommodating to personal requests. We enjoyed warm, friendly, hospitable and kind service throughout our stay. Meals, together with a well-selected list of fine South African wines, are all inclusive.

I really do recommend a few days here. As a couple I would stay at the tented lodge because the thrill factor coupled with the edgy romance of the place is very captivating. However, for little ones or even bigger ones, Gondwana has created a formula that benefits the whole family. Sanbona is, without any doubt, a great Cape Escape.

Sophie Marchant
Sophie Marchant

Luxury Explorer
Luxury Explorer
Luxury Explorer
Luxury Explorer