Safari Breakaway | Lion Sands, Tinga and River Lodges

Between the Sand and Sabie rivers in Kruger National Park, lie the Lion Sands lodges offering peace and tranquillity.

Lion Sands boasts a number of lodges. Tinga Lodge conveniently located close to the Park headquarters and the River Lodge in Sabi Sand. Jonathan and Sophie check two of the lodges in the Lion Sands collection out.

  • Hospitality
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  • Food
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  • Guiding
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Summer is here.

The first rains of the summer have fallen. The land is turning green at last and the bush is sprinkled with gangly, new-born impala lambs.

As we arrive at the Lion sands Tinga Lodge it is refreshingly cool, instead of the often stiflingly hot and humid usually expected in late November. Manager Glenda greets us warmly with delicious home-made lemonade, which has us forgetting the overcast skies. Tinga Lodge is set on the banks of the Sabie river in the shade of an ancient Jackelberry tree under which Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk famously met in the 1990s. For us the business of the day was a game drive with ranger Alan, to explore this little gem of a concession.

We call this time of the year the ‘secret season’ for safaris.

The dry winter is over, the crowds have gone and the lodges are quiet. This often means good deals to be had. The summer rains not yet come. The bush is green and lush, with the grass is not yet too high to hinder game viewing. It is hunting season and the predators are after those impala lambs.

Our guide Alan and his tracker Omega are one of the most experienced guiding teams in South Africa. Alan’s passion for leopards is evident from the moment you meet him. He has 14 years of experience at Lion Sands and knows the area better than anyone. “We work a little harder for our sightings here, but it’s worth it”, he says.

Until just a few years ago, this little corner of the Kruger was largely unexplored. The resident animals, particularly the leopards, were unused to vehicles and people. This is gradually changing now, but the concession still retains its wild feel. This is helped by the maximum of just six game vehicles being allowed between the adjacent Narina Lodge and Tinga. Quiet sightings are guaranteed.

The famous leopards elude us this time, but we score with a great sighting of the highly-endangered black rhino. The next morning we are lucky, seeing both white rhinos and having some fantastic close-up elephant encounters. We fire lots of questions at Alan, soaking up his extensive knowledge of animal anatomy and behaviour, which makes for some fascinating game drives.

More about Tinga.

With just 9 suites, Tinga retains a personal feel without feeling claustrophobic. The beautiful suites are strung out along the Sabie river with plenty of space to ensure complete privacy. Our favourite finishing touch was the elaborate, personalized bed-decorations crafted with flowers and grass, an example of the attention to detail that Tinga prides itself on.

Tinga’s communal areas, especially the magnificent deck are spacious enough that even when the lodge is full, which it was on our visit, that never feels cramped. After our morning game drive, we treated ourselves to a dip in our private plunge pool, before a lunch of smoked salmon and pan-fried quail. Later that day dinner was a communal boma-affair, where guests are joined by their guides. However, usually meals at Tinga are taken at private tables.

Tinga, while not ideal for young children, is perfect for couples and small groups, or larger groups looking to book out the whole lodge.

River Lodge

The next day we make the short drive from Tinga to River Lodge, located inside the famous Sabi Sand game reserve. Expectations are high for the game viewing. We arrived in time for lunch, served by our exquisite butler, Advice, and then we were treated to a game drive with guide Nyathi. The game was playing hide and seek on the overcast afternoon. Even the antelopes hid away in the thickets. We came across a couple of elephants and a white rhino.

Our first-ever Civet sighting in the wild, what a treat!

We spot a beautiful Civet dashing away in the dark. Unfortunately, the civet did not stay to pose for a photo… Back at the lodge we enjoy a drink in the bar, before joining our fellow guests and guide for a traditional boma dinner with a delicious, traditionally South African menu, including springbok shanks. During the course of the dinner, the staff choir perform beautiful traditional Shangaan songs and dance for us. It’s evident that the spirit of Africa blows gently through the leaves here at River Lodge.

The Lion Sands properties.

River Lodge is the biggest of the Lion Sands properties with 20 suites, but it doesn’t feel generic or corporate. Thanks to the staff, like our butler Advice, service is top-notch and personal.

For more exclusive and luxurious accommodation look no further than the impressive Ivory Lodge located right next to River Lodge. Ivory Lodge has larger suites and private plunge pools and is ideal for honeymoon couples. Likewise for Narina Lodge, the sister lodge to Tinga, where the only notable difference is that the suites have outdoor showers. Literally, a few minutes drive from Skukuza Airport both lodges are also ideal for those with less time, and with direct scheduled flights now between Cape Town and Skukuza, you can literally be on top of Table Mountain in the morning, and be sipping a pre-lunch cocktail under Tinga’s Jackelberry tree a few hours later.

We’ll do that next time, and next time that leopard won’t elude us…