One of the few colonial style properties in the Sabi Sands reserve, Kirkman's is one of the most homely and comfortable. Set in 15,500 acres of land bordering the Kruger National Park it offers spacious and cosy accommodation, top notch food and some fantastic views over the reserve. Their rangers are amongst the most passionate you could possibly wish for and the level of service throughout is admirable. They have a full range of safari activities suitable for the whole family and viewing, especially for leopards, is as good as anywhere.
Kirkman's is located in the south eastern corner of the Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve and shares an unfenced border with Kruger National Park to its east. The Sand River runs right through the camp and due to its elevated position, some great bush views can be had from the lodge itself. Kirkman's is just a short drive from the Skukuza airstrip to which you can fly direct from Johannesburg in the morning or afternoon and be picked by the lodge staff. Alternatively, you can fly to Nelspruit or Hoedspruit where transfer times are one hour and 45 minutes and three hours respectively. If you so wish, you can drive from Johannesburg which will take you around five to six hours. If arriving by car you should enter through Shaw's Gate, where a small entrance fee is payable for both the vehicle and for each person, and follow the signs to Kirkman's.
The lodge is named after one of the area's most legendary figures, Harry Kirkman. He served as a ranger and warden at Sabi Sands and also had spells working for Kruger National Park and National Parks before eventually retiring at the age of 70! While viewing (especially of leopards) is good all year round, the dry winters lend themselves particularly well to sightings as less plant life means less chance of the animals being hidden. And remember, you should not walk around the site unaccompanied at night as you never know what beast is lurking around the corner. If you need to move around, call a torch-bearing member of staff who will gladly escort you where you wish. Over the next six months the team at Kirkman's plan to plant 200 indigenous tress in neighbouring communities for both aesthetic and carbon-offsetting benefits.
The fact that the camp itself perhaps lacks some of the grandeur of the others in Sabi Sands takes nothing away from the arrival given that the warmest of welcomes committees awaits you as you step out of your vehicle. While your bags are being taken care of, the beaming team of staff will escort you inside the 1920s Transvaal building and explain, while you sip on your welcome drink, everything you need to know during your stay. This is usually done in what is known as Paul's Pub, named after the present owner's father. This inviting space, dominated and surveyed by a water buffalo head above the working fireplace, is a small treasure trove of objects from yesteryear including pocket watches, old tins and bottles, worn books and Harry Kirkman's original rifle licence. At one end of the room is the bar while the other end has a comfy seating area centered around a table adorned with flowers and offering complimentary sherry. There is also an iPod docking station here on which you are free to place your own device.
Just next door is the huge main lounge whose walls are full or Kirkman portraits, some of his old rifles and several hunting trophies or various antelope. Very much in the same style as Paul's Pub, this is a great place to come in the evening after your meal and exchange stories with fellow guests. Should you feel the need to get your fix of television or internet and have not brought a laptop with you, then head to the TV room which also has a computer free for everybody's use.
Down at the bottom of the small hill (at the top of which is the main lodge) is the pool area. This smart infinity pool, which is surrounded by sun loungers and parasols on the paved border, has great views of the bush and is fully exposed to the sun all day long. Below you can see not only the Sand River, but from time to time elephants and water buffalo roaming around. Just behind the pool is an air-conditioned cabin in which the lovely Zanele gives massages of all sorts and which also houses a relaxation area and showers. If you prefer to have a treatment in the privacy of your own room Zanele will be happy to oblige.
Unlike many other lodges in the area, Kirkman's boasts large areas of open lawns which are great for strolling around (during daylight hours). There spaces, as well as all the public areas of the lodge are kept in fine condition by a dedicated and wonderfully friendly staff.
In addition to the twice-daily game drives, there are other activities on offer (some of which require a supplement) such as walking safaris, tracking adventures, photographic safaris and bird watching sorties. If you require binoculars during your drives you can rent a pair for 75ZAR (£6.30) with proceeds going back into the local communities. Similarly, every time a Wild Child bracelet is sold at the camp's shop, the money allows a child from the local community to participate in a conservation awareness workshop at Kirkman's.Additional services include complimentary wifi in the main lodge building, tennis, pétanque and croquet. There is also the option for kids between the ages of 0 and 12 to be looked after by a qualified ranger who will give them their own little safari pack.
It may not feel like it, but Kirkman's is one of the larger camps in Sabi Sands, with 18 rooms. There are nine buildings dotted throughout camp each with two rooms and every one has its own balcony looking on to the surrounding wilderness. Staying faithful to the camp's colonial background, the spacious suites feature a king bed with 1920s style linen, cushions and headboard above which are old black and white shots of life at Kirkman's in days gone past. To one side of the room you'll find a fully stocked minibar above which is a leather snack tray with complimentary water and fine crystal glasses. There are a couple of armchairs in one corner of the room while the only other furniture in the room is two tablecloth-adorned bedside tables each with their lamp and a telephone. A nice touch is the few info sheets placed on the bed's plaid informing guests about the lodge's community work and the extra activities available. There is also a helpful list of Shangaan vocabulary. The enormous bathrooms each have both a claw foot soaking tub and separate monsoon shower as well as a wooden vanity and toiletries in personalised dispensers. A make-up mirror and hairdryer are also at guests' disposal. One criticism of the rooms is that the roofs are made from corrugated tin which means that when the vervet monkeys decide to come out and play they make a hell of a racket which may disturb your sleep!
Although it may not have the variety of some of the other camps in the Sabi Sands, the quality of the food at Kirkman's is impressive. Breakfast is served after the morning drive, either on the beautiful shaded terrace with wilderness views just in front of the main lodge or in an opening in the bush. A fresh, continental breakfast is offered with the option too of a hot dish. Lunch is usually served on the terrace while dinner, during which you will be joined by your ranger at least once, alternates between the terrace, bush, lawn and of course the traditional boma with its central fire and after-dinner singing and dancing courtesy of the adorable staff. For each of those meals there will be a choice of at least two dishes for each course. The service is first rate at all times and not a meal goes by without a series of smiling faces behind the serving stations. As long as you stay for the usual several nights at Kirkman's you should be able to experience all dining locations as well as a different cuisine every day. If, however, you feel like eating in your room, on your terrace, privately in any of the locations or have special requests, dietary or otherwise, the staff will be delighted to cater to your wishes as best they can. Indeed, if you happen to be the only family/couple at the lodge, it is more than likely that the staff will ask you when, where and how you would like to eat! In addition to the main meals, you will be given hot drinks and a snack during the morning game drive and a tipple and another snack during the evening drive.
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