Now that's what I call a really wonderful experience. Our journey through South Africa commenced with our arrival in Cape Town, beautiful city of luxury and the famous Twelve Apostles Hotel (owned by the Red Carnation Group, who's superior London Hotels are featured in our UK section).
Going on safari in South Africa can be a memorable experience to see animals in their natural habitat, and after just returning from two private lodges, I can vouch for the sheer luxury and comfort involved as well. Lion Sands Safari Lodge is on a private game reserve on the border of Kruger National Park, and to get there you have to fly into Johannesburg and then catch another flight to Mala Mala airstrip, before being transported directly to the lodge. Here you will be pampered beyond your wildest dreams, in preparation for your first safari excursion in a range rover either at 5:30 in the morning or 4:30 in the afternoon. There are only six luxury lodges, each one at least 30 meters away from its nearest neighbour, and all offering an en-suite bathroom with an indoor and outdoor shower.
A major flood of the Sabie River in 2000 actually forced the creation of the Lion Sands Safari Lodge, along with the creation of the Game Reserve from the two brothers whose family have owned the land for more than sixty years. Today the luxury of the accommodations and service stand as a pride to hard work, and the combination of Ebony and Ivory make a remarkable balance in the Afro-European décor that awaits in your luxury lodge. The only think likely to bother you during your stay are the early morning visits from the monkeys, who will stand and watch you shower in the morning, hoping for a chance to get in the lodge to steal some fruit.
The Rangers that run the safari programs have to go through the stiffest of exams to qualify for these sought after jobs, and they always travel with a tracker in the range rover to track down the more elusive animals such as leopards and cheetah's. They carry a rifle which is just as well, because the same week we were there, an American tourist was trampled to death by a rampaging elephant at another game reserve. She was probably wearing red, definitely a color to avoid when going on safari as it tends to frighten the animals. You have to sign a waiver anyway before you go on the safari, to protect the lodge from any lawsuits should things go horribly wrong. It can get quite cold out in the bush especially in the early morning, so warm clothes are a must, but they carry plenty of hot coffee in the range rover when they stop for a break usually by the Sabie River.
Instead of groups of animals in a large herd in the bush with the possible exception of impalas, these animals have to be tracked down, and the two or three rangers in the reserve keep each other posted by radio on animal sightings. On one morning in particular, we saw young giraffes playfully oblivious to our presence, zebras, a group of elephants destroying a bunch of trees to get to the foliage, black rhino's and hippopotamus. To top it off, there was a pride of lions resting after feasting on their latest victim, a giant kudu that had been attacked and eaten the night before. They seemed totally unfazed by our presence, and the carcass of the antelope was now prime fodder for the vultures who were circling overhead ready to pounce.
In addition to the larger animals, the rangers like pointing out some of the smaller animals, and they are also fond of the amazing range of birds on the preserve. Many different kinds of eagles, owls and birds of prey can be seen, making for an exceptional experience. We were unlucky not to see the leopards during our stay, despite some frantic efforts by our ranger to track them down. The trackers are highly trained to pick up any flicker of movement in the bush, and stop the land rover on a seconds notice to point out any one of a hundred tiny creatures.
One of the unique aspects to Lion Sands is the fact that they have created a tree house in a 100-year old Jackalberry tree right in the middle of the bush, where you can spend the night completely isolated. They drop you off there sometime in the evening, fully stock the house with food and drink, and then pick you up again in the morning. A large flashlight keeps you informed of any elephants or other animals lurking about, but there is no reason at all to feel nervous. The house overlooks the Msutlu dry riverbed, and comes with a luxury bed, mosquito net and private toilet and vanity table. The only problem being that if it rains you will have to figure a way to get back to the lodge by calling them on the radio, but luckily that was not an issue the night we spent there.
The Royal Malewane Hotel is also something special, an even more upscale than the Lion Sands Lodge. No wonder Elton John stays here on a regular basis for a week every January, as the ratio of staff to guests is about 2.5:1, and no expense is spared. Royal Malewane is also adjacent to the giant Kruger National Park, and all the giant suites feature a palatial air-conditioned bedroom/sitting room with fireplace, mini bar, antique canopied king-size bed and large bathroom with a window-side Victorian bath and indoor and outdoor showers.
The food here is delectable and a full breakfast, lunch, high tea and gourmet dinner are included in the all-inclusive price, and at least one of your breakfasts will be fully catered in the bush, an unforgettable experience. Here, just like Lion Sands you will most likely see the "Big Five"- lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino. A minimum of a three day stay is advised at Royal Malewane to really savour the atmosphere of such a unique lodge.
The daily routine generally includes a leisurely breakfast after the morning game drive followed by a relaxing morning and then lunch, followed by either an afternoon or sundown drive preceded by high tea, before returning to the lodge for a sumptuous gourmet dinner.
An added bonus to the Royal Malewane is the brand new gym and spa set in a most magical environment. It offers health and skin care therapy, and guests can either have the therapy in the spa or in their suite.
Essential Requirements for Safari: Anti-malaria pills, walking shoes, sun hat, sun screen, sunglasses, binoculars, camera and warm clothing for game drives.
Mike HepworthNovember 2005