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Sable Alley’s name provides just a tiny clue of what to expect at this relatively new camp in the Okavango Delta (it opened its doors in May 2017). Its special location on the banks of a sizeable lagoon certainly bestows it with its most unique quality: the pound seats from which to view the ever-changing wildlife spectacular that’s likely to unfold right in front of you, 24-seven. On the other side of this plus-sized water-hole-of-sorts is a vast open ‘alley’ along which herds of sable antelope, elephant, and who knows, even the occasional thirsty lion, might wend their way for a drink of water at some stage of the day… in your direct line of sight. No game vehicle necessary.
But forget even having to wait. What you’ll notice immediately on arrival, especially if heading straight to what must be one of the world’s best loos-with-a-view, is that Sable Alley’s lagoon happens to be home to its own huge pod of hippos. The happy-splashy-grunty sounds you’ll hear actually becomes a sort-of soundtrack for the duration of your stay, and you can’t help feeling remarkably privileged to be able to peek out at any moment, from your tent’s private veranda or outdoor shower, or from one of the camp’s chic sunken lounges or even from the delicious cool depths of the swimming pool, at these amazing creatures simply getting on with their lives, in incredibly close proximity to yours.
Located in the heart of the vast 200 000ha Khwai Private Reserve concession, near the Moremi Game Reserve, Sable Alley has all the rewarding game-viewing you could hope for, and as mentioned you’ll get to see a fair amount without having to budge very much. But, once out on a drive, there’s literally never a dull moment as you could go (as we did) from staring down a leopard concealed in a clump of bushes to spending a good hour watching a pack of wild dogs playfully gamboling about in the long grass or sunning themselves right in front of you on the dusty track, to stopping for an up-close view of a pod of hippo blissfully lolling about among the water lilies – all in the space of one drive.
The mokoro experience – a must – there is absolutely nothing like languorously drifting along the waterways in a mokoro (a modernised fiberglass version of the authentic local wooden dugout canoes), spotting birds and just generally chilling out while your able guide navigates, keeping a close eye out for approaching hippos and crocs.
The camp itself has perfected its ratios of wild to elegantly tamed, refined to relaxed, Instagram-worthy decorated to perfectly casually comfortable. Both the spacious communal areas and the 12 guest tents have been decorated with an eye for detail but also practical comfort in a fresh Afro-Scandi style: bare wood and rattan offset with sophisticated charcoal and neutral hues and pops of verdant green. It’s all in harmony with, rather than fighting against, the natural scenery here, the undisputed star of the show. That Sable Alley runs on rigorous green principles underlines this all the more.
There’s no shortage of nooks where you can stake your claim in the open-sided lounge and bar area, and with the camp being limited in the number of guests at any given time, there’s never a sense of being on top of each other. You can take your pick of where to dine by day or evening, while the nightly ritual of pre- or post-dinner drinks fire-side in the boma offers a chance to get to know fellow guests in a most convivial manner.
After a bright early start and a busy morning of game drives or mokoro cruising followed by a buffet-style lunch spread, there’s plenty of time for a snooze on the daybed back at your tent. But a lounger beside the lap pool offers that perfect combo of sun-soaked naps interspersed with refreshing dips in the cool water, with the hippos splashing about just metres away. You’ll still be hearing their gruff grunts as you drift off late at night, exhilaratingly close to the action but snugly ensconced under crisp cotton sheets beneath the reassuring whirr of the ceiling fan.
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If sleeping under the stars and being just the right amount of ‘exposed’ to the wild is your thing, do book a night in the course of your stay at SkyBeds. It’s an extra cost (along with the transfer), but an outing that’s as exceedingly romantic as it is exciting. With only three of these magnificently constructed sleeping platforms at the camp, you feel as far from the madding crowds as you can get. Enjoy sundowners on the top deck of the mess platform before tucking into a simple but hearty dinner that seems almost miraculous considering the out-of-the-way location, then a nightcap around the fire before snuggling down and preparing for all manner of celestial wonders to unfold, for sleep is not the priority here, nor will it come too easily as you listen to the soft, but constant, movements of elephants through the night to and from the waterhole. The biggest luxury has to be taking a hot morning shower while making meaningful eye contact with a passing ellie. That the platforms also boast flush loos says it all.
Reviewed by Leigh Robertson