The name Sabi Sabi is derived from the word ‘tsave’, meaning ‘fear’ or ‘danger’ in the Tsonga dialect. This stems from the large numbers of dangerous crocodile and hippo in the Sabie River. European hunters first established a camp on the south bank of the Sabie River in 1830. Hunting for game ivory and rhino-horn continued until the end of the century. The discovery of gold in the Lowveld brought a temporary boom to the area.
A railway link for gold
Also in the late 19th Century, construction began on the Selati Railway Line to link the goldfields in the west with the coast. Remnants of this railway line can still be seen throughout parts of the Sabi Sand Wildtuin.
Recreational rail travel into the area became popular in the early 1920’s. Game viewing from the comfort of a railway coach was possible, and public awareness was raised as to the beauty of the Reserve.
One of the train stops was Newington Siding, a stone’s throw from where the luxurious Selati Camp is situated today. The story goes that one night almost a century ago, the train driver peered into the darkness trying to make out the shapes of potential passengers. There was nobody to be seen at the stop so the train carried on towards Komatipoort.
Meanwhile, alongside the track dismayed travellers having been forced into the surrounding trees by a pride of hungry-looking lion, watched helplessly as their train steamed away into the night. The sympathetic railway management eventually placed permanent ladders against the trees for the convenience of passengers threatened by prowling predators! Today Selati Camp is furnished with memorabilia relating to the pioneer magic of the railway era.
In 1979, the present Sabi Sabi company was formed. During the 1980’s and 1990’s, the owners purchased three portions of the farm ‘Shaws’, on which Selati Camp and Bush Lodge were built. This was done with great foresight as the land was bought during the turbulent apartheid era, when the country’s future direction was uncertain.
Subsequently, after purchase of the beautiful farm, ‘Lisbon’, Earth Lodge was constructed. Over the years, assisted by a dedicated staff of approximately two hundred, Sabi Sabi has preserved a wonderful piece of Africa.