Sable Alley

Sable Alley: Our full report

Rooms
12 tented chalets
Traveller's rating
Excellent (95%) From 20 reviews
Children
Best for aged 12+
Open
All year

A luxury reincarnation by new owners of the original Banoka Bush Camp, Sable Alley opened in May 2017. The camp overlooks a beautiful lagoon connected to the Khwai River within the diverse 2,000km2 Khwai Private Reserve – which in itself borders Botswana's Moremi Game Reserve to the south and Chobe National Park to the east.

Sable Alley is independently owned, and located in the same extensive, private Khwai concession (NG19) as its sister camps, Hyena Pan, The Jackal & Hide and the new Tuludi.

With the name change to Sable Alley came a complete rebuild by an experienced team of people whom we have known for many years. We were already very familiar with the camp's riverine location, and having made several visits since the change, we remain very impressed. The staff are sociable and friendly, yet professional and efficient at the same time – a winning combination.

Wherever you are in camp you'll look out over the lily-covered waterway and beyond to Moremi Game Reserve. During our latest stay, in March 2019, the lagoon was filled with resident hippos, with baboons coming down to drink, whereas on an earlier October visit, numerous elephant were attracted to this permanent water source to drink, eat and cool off.

Long, sandy pathways lead out from each side of the main area to Sable Alley's 12 tented chalets: nine twin/double tents, one honeymoon tent, and two family tents which are each made up of two adjoining standard tents. All are spacious, timber-framed and canvas-walled structures, elevated on stilts, with wooden steps up to a veranda complete with a day bed/sofa.

Floor-to-ceiling, wood-framed and mesh double doors slide open to reveal the sleeping area, whose twin or double beds are backed by a large wooden screen with modern bedside lamps and tables, all within a mosquito net. There's also a writing desk with a complimentary decanter of sherry, and a comfy chair. Natural light-wood flooring, pale canvas walls, muted tones and large mesh windows make for a bright and airy room and gives a modern and fresh feel.

The en-suite bathroom at the back of the room comes with twin ceramic basins, separate toilet and shower cubicles and an open wardrobe. You'll also find a full-length mirror – a luxury that's lacking in most safari camps. A door from the indoor shower leads to an outdoor shower, where a semicircle of rough wooden poles gives privacy while leaving great wash-time views. The honeymoon tent, which is furthest away from the main area for extra privacy, has the added bonus of a bath.

Each of the two family tents is essentially two tented chalets linked by a shared veranda. While this makes it suitable for those with teenagers, it would not suit families with younger children unless one parent slept in each chalet, since the tents themselves are not interconnecting.

Central to the camp is a thatch-covered main area, raised on a wooden deck beneath a high ceiling, the apex reaching to about 10m. Several seating areas are spread out under the covered area and beyond, giving it a relaxed, more spacious feel than many Delta camps. The décor is rather stylish, too, with browns, cream, beige and light green offset by local African artefacts and more modern pieces. Tasteful, contemporary tables and chairs are found in the dining areas; squashy fabric or leather sofas, armchairs and rattan chairs with large cushions furnish the lounge areas and sunken veranda; and outside on the deck you'll find fun hanging chairs. The bar had the widest selection of gins that we have seen in a Botswana camp – not that we sampled them all!

Down some steps you'll come to the firepit – a great meeting place for pre-dinner drinks, and warming breakfasts during the winter months of May to August. As the weather warms up, the plunge pool comes into its own, with some comfortable loungers and a shaded area with chairs. And at the back of camp, a small, air-conditioned curio shop is the hub for their 'bush' Wi-Fi.

While you’re at the camp, it's worth asking for a back-of-house tour to learn how the camp functions and, in particular, about the efforts being made to promote sustainable and renewable energy usage at the new breed of safari camps like this.

Activities at Sable Alley include day and night game drives in 4WD vehicles, seasonal mokoro (dug-out canoe) excursions and guided walks (with armed guides) for the more adventurous. On request, you could also take a full-day game drive which allows you to travel further afield to different areas. Depending on time and logistics, your guide may also be able to take you to the eye-level hide at sister camp, Hyena Pan. This camouflaged hide, which faces a small pumped waterhole that attracts a steady stream of wildlife, makes a great place to sit and watch whilst the animals come to you, and affords excellent photographic opportunities.

One further option is to sleep under the stars at Skybeds – a magical experience that we loved (though we know it's not for everyone). Such a night ideally needs to be arranged in advance as space is limited to just three “beds”, and they are becoming increasingly popular.

Khwai Private Reserve (NG19) incorporates some of the most diverse habitats in northern Botswana and the Okavango Delta. Riverine woodland and open floodplains flank the river and attract herds of plains game, along with the predators that hunt them. Away from the river and Delta lagoons, the environment changes to mopane woodland dotted with open grasslands which, together with the abundance of water, draw herds of elephant (best in the dry season from around July to October), and buffalo.

Like many reserves around the Okavango Delta, this was a former hunting concession, although hunting here ceased in 2014. Thus the wildlife around camp was initially limited and skittish, while the thick mopane bush away from the river and its lush riverine forest made it difficult to track, especially in the earlier months of the year.

The good news is that wherever hunting has stopped in the Okavango region, we've seen wildlife sightings turned around within two or three years, and this is certainly happening around Sable Alley. In addition, a team from the camp spent more than a year tracking wildlife in the reserve with a view to habituating the animals prior to the camp's opening, and they continue to do so even if there are no guests in camp.

If animal sightings can still feel a bit sparse, particularly in the summer season when the grass is tall, our experience of game viewing from Sable Alley has been very good – with one of our team describing it as “pumping”. On our first visit, in May 2017, we had good sightings of wild dog, and more recently we spent time watching two male lions sleeping in the afternoon heat, and followed leopard tracks to fresh pelican kills (although sadly no leopard). We also saw elephant, hippo, red lechwe, sable antelope, waterbuck, zebra and giraffe amongst others, as well as a juvenile scops owl, with a personable and knowledgeable guide. Most recently, in March 2019, we watched spellbound as a hyena approached a female leopard and her three-month-old cub that were eating a waterbuck. The cub quickly scrambled up a tree to a safe distance, while the mother dragged her kill up to the high branches.

Back at camp, it's also worth asking for a back-of-house tour during your stay to learn how the camp functions and, in particular, about the efforts being made to promote sustainable and renewable energy usage at the new breed of safari camps like this.

Our view

Sable Alley is a comfortable, stylish and well-run camp, with a firm focus on good guiding to get the most of the wildlife experience here. We feel it’s a good choice of camp in the Moremi/Okavango Delta area as wildlife densities are improving, and the animals are becoming more relaxed around game-drive vehicles. It's definitely worth considering.

Geographics

Location: Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana

Ideal length of stay: We'd suggest a stay of two or three nights at Sable Alley, perhaps combined with their fly camp, SkyBeds, or other camps in more watery parts of the Okavango Delta, and possibly also in the Makgadikgadi Pans area.

Directions: Access to Sable Alley is usually via light aircraft to Banoka airstrip, from where it's about a 15-minute drive to the camp. For most of the year it's also possible to reach the camp by road from Maun, a half-day drive that does open up possibilities for those who don't want to fly – especially when linked to camps such as Meno a Kwena, which is also accessible by vehicle.

Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer

Key personnel

Owner: Natural Selection and Khwai Private Reserve.

Food & drink

Usual board basis: Full Board

Food quality: Each time we have visited Sable Alley, most recently in March 2019, the food has been very good and in general was lighter and healthier than the usual safari meals. Dietary requirements and food intolerances can be catered for, though please do advise us in advance so we can give the lodge prior notice.

A light breakfast buffet with a selection of cereals, fruit and yoghurts is offered before your early-morning game drive, together with tea, coffee, and fruit juice.

Lunch is served buffet style, and because it’s individual dining, guests have the flexibility to eat when they like between 12 noon and 2.00pm. You can expect a good array of dishes, including perhaps quiche lorraine, quinoa with roasted peppers and onion, feta and olive green salad, minted grated carrot and pea-shoot salad and freshly baked bread, with a selection of fresh fruit and a cheese platter to follow.

If you opt for a full-day game drive, the camp will provide a packed lunch (usually sandwiches, fruit and biscuits).

Afternoon tea, served just before the afternoon activity, is delicious. Ours have included mini pizzas and a delicious carrot cake served with a cool ginger drink with a refreshing kick, as well as iced tea, coffee and fruit juice

Dinner is plated, and usually also served at individual tables, unless you wish to dine with other guests. We started with a tasty tomato gazpacho soup and fresh bread rolls. The oxtail that followed was a little too fatty (we probably would have preferred the fish); both came with mashed potato, green beans and baby corn. To finish, pudding was a delicious passion-fruit mousse.

Dining style: Mixture of group dining and individual tables

Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining

Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included

Drinks included: Bottled water, soft drinks, local beers and spirits and a limited selection of (usually) South African red and white wines are included. Champagne and imported wines and spirits cost extra and may need to be requested in advance. Guests can help themselves to tea and coffee in the main area throughout the day. Sable Alley uses a filtration/reverse osmosis system which makes the water safe to drink. Fresh bottled water is available for those who prefer not to drink the tap water.

Further dining info: Room service is not available, but plenty of private dining options are available in the main area.

Children

Attitude towards children: Children of six years plus are welcome at Sable Alley, but please note that children aged 6–12 are accommodated on game drives only in a private vehicle, which will be at an extra cost.

Property’s age restrictions: No children under six years. The minimum age for any mokoro (dug-out canoe) activity is 13 years.

Special activities & services: None

Equipment: None, but Sable Alley does have two family rooms.

Notes: The camp is unfenced and dangerous wildlife can wander through at any time. The tented chalets and main buildings are all raised off the ground on decks, with open railings, and access to the chalets is in part on sandy paths. There is no fence around the pool either. Children need to be closely supervised by their parents/guardians at all times.

Infrastructure

Power supply: Solar Power

Power supply notes: Sable Alley can be 100% solar powered, although it also has a back-up generator, should this be required. Each chalet has a multi-point plug adaptor.

Communications: There is no cellphone reception (unless you have a local Botswana SIM card), and no direct phone, fax or email for public use. There is a Wi-Fi hotspot near the main area, though please note that connectivity is not totally reliable and there is limited band width.

TV & radio: Sable Alley is in the bush and there is no TV or radio.

Water supply: Borehole

Water supply notes: All the tented chalets are plumbed with hot and cold running water and flush toilets.

Sustainability

Inspiring and educating future generations

Inspiring and educating future generations One of the main priorities at Sable Alley is educating the future generations. This old bush camp which was recently renovated, has kept its privileged location overlooking a hippo-filled lagoon amidst a variety of habitats. The camp retains a tasteful style carefully blending in with its surroundings. All tents are 100% solar-powered and amenities are locally-sourced. However, more importantly, the camp has been working on inspiring younger guests to be more empathetic towards wildlife and the challenges it encounters.

A new exciting project was developed in collaboration with Coaching for Conservation (C4C), a wildlife conservation initiative aimed at instilling a feeling of respect towards nature in Botswana’s future generations. The project uses Natural Selection lodges as the visitor “classrooms” where younger guests can partake in an integrated conservation program similar to what local children experience through the innovative approaches of C4C. Young visitors can spread this conservation messages around their own overseas classrooms and create a long-term relationship with Botswana, its wildlife and its local young conservationists. There’s also a strong focus placed upon having respect for oneself, other people, and the environment.

Earlier this year the C4C trainers visited Sable Alley to work alongside the guides in creating a camp based version of their programme that all the children who visit can enjoy.

Health & safety

Malarial protection recommended: Yes

Medical care: The nearest doctor is in Maun. All management and guides are first-aid trained and there is a nurse on call (via radio) 24 hours a day. Medical evacuation is available in case of emergency, but please note that it is only possible to fly out of camp during daylight hours as the bush airstrips do not have any lighting at night.

Swimming pool warning: Please be aware that the swimming pool at Sable Alley Camp does not have depth markings or No Diving signs. Bathers need to be careful when entering the pool.

Dangerous animals: High Risk

Security measures: Guests are escorted to their rooms after dark as dangerous wildlife is known to wander through the camp. A safety briefing is given on arrival. “Fog horns” are provided in the chalets to attract attention in case of emergency.

Fire safety: There is a firebreak near the camp and a fire extinguisher outside each chalet.

Extras

Disabled access: Not Possible

Laundry facilities: A laundry service is included at Sable Alley. Laundry is collected in the morning and usually returned the same day, weather permitting. Washing powder is provided in the bathroom for you to wash smalls, which, for cultural reasons, will not be handled by the staff.

Money: There is a safe in each room. No exchange facilities are offered.

Accepted payment on location: Visa and Mastercard are accepted, as are cash payments in US dollars, euros, GB sterling, South African rand and Botswanan pula.

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