– Safari Review by Klein Collection reviewers, Jonathan and Sophie
Hidden away on a huge private concession in a remote corner of Kruger National Park, Singita’s Lebombo Lodge combines cutting-edge architecture, five star luxury and some of the best game viewing in South Africa. We visited for two days as part of our honeymoon to see how they measure up to other top lodges.
At Lebombo Lodge, you feel the wilderness like nowhere else. Part of it is the glass that’s everywhere, including all four sides of your private suite. Part of it is the view out over hundreds of square kilometres of the Kruger from its elevated perch up in the rocky Lebombo hills, close to the Mozambique border.
And part of it is the memory of yesterday’s 3-hour drive from the Kruger park gate, itself in a pretty remote spot.
But it’s the award-winning (and some would say controversial) architecture that sets Lebombo apart from all the rest. We’re hot and tired after the long drive when we arrive and Lucky shows us to our suite. We’re gobsmacked – almost the whole construction is glass, steel and solid hard-wood with a private deck with an extra bed where you can sleep under the stars. Huge amounts of imagination have gone into harmonising a contemporary design with a wilderness area, and the result is electrifying. We like it a lot.
The main lodge area is no less spectacular. The centrepiece is a dramatic lap pool, which makes up for the lack of private plunge pools in the suites (a feature of Boulders and Ebony lodges). The pool tends to be overlooked by the dining area so if privacy is particularly important, you might be better off at one of those lodges.
We’re just in time for the afternoon game drive and to our delight, Deirdre Opie, the head guide, has been assigned to us. As qualified guides ourselves, the quality of a guide is important to us and Deirdre is well known in the industry as one of the best. Among many formal qualifications, she’s on the cusp of attaining Senior Tracker status, which makes her not only the best female tracker in Africa, but probably in the world.
It’s overcast and windy today – animals are skittish and nervous but it’s perfect conditions for predators and we spot a young male leopard at dusk, and two large-spotted genets on the way to a stunning bush dinner, tables set around a roaring fire, lanterns hung from the rocky outcrops, under a stormy sky.
Singita prides itself on its wine collection and before the next day’s poolside dinner (a 6-course tasting menu), Kevin treats us to a private tasting. To accompany dinner we select a Kanonkop 2004 Cab Sav – my favourite South African wine. As always with Singita, every one of the wines in their comprehensive cellar is complimentary. Wine lovers will be in heaven here.
The dining experience at Lebombo is excellent, but in this price range it needs to be. The breakfast menu wasn’t quite as comprehensive as Boulders and Ebony and sometimes there was less attention to detail, but Lebombo is like that – more minimalist, less extravagant than it’s sisters in Sabi Sand.
Biking in the Bush
With so much gourmet food and wine on offer, and in almost unlimited quantities, we’re soon in need of some exercise, so while Sophie takes to the beautifully equipped gym, I grab one of the guides, Chris, for some mountain biking.
Riding a bike in an area dense with dangerous game is an exhilarating experience, and safe thanks to the experience of Singita’s guides. Chris takes off at a brisk pace with Daniel, our tracker, driving the Landy some distance behind in case of emergencies (and to carry food, cameras, water and anything else you might want). The vehicle is always out of sight (and earshot) and doesn’t intrude on this unique experience, while the animals are not sure what to make of bikes – they’re less wary than if you’re on foot, but more cautious than if you’re in a vehicle.
With the short, steep ups and downs here in the Lebombo Mountains, it’s a good workout and I cool down in the huge, feature pool overlooking the rugged hills and reflect on yet another incredible day. And if biking sounds too much like hard work, other activities such as archery can be arranged, all included in the daily rate.
Safari lodge, or 5 star hotel in the bush?
There’s not much African in the architecture or décor of these lodges. Don’t get me wrong – we don’t like African kitsch or kudu heads on the walls, but this design would fit into any natural environment from California to Australia. For some, this is a refreshing change. But if you want a traditional-style safari experience, this isn’t it.
Once out on a game drive though it’s just the same, with the same quality of guides you’d expect from Singita. Game viewing has improved in recent years and is virtually on a par with Sabi Sand, with regular sightings of leopard and large prides of lion (up to 25 in one pride), although these can sometimes be tricky to find. And with the huge size of the concession, exclusive to Singita, and never more than 8 vehicles on the reserve at any one time, you can avoid the crowds of vehicles that sometimes descend on sightings in Sabi Sand.
We linger over a late breakfast next to the pool, trying to delay the start of the long drive to Joburg. With Kevin’s help, we select a couple of rare bottles from the wine cellar to buy (at excellent prices), and Lucky hands us a goody-bag of snacks and drinks for the road. It’s the kind of farewell we’ve come to expect from Singita, and it won’t be the last.
We’ll be back.
Good for: Romantic getaways, those after something a little different
Not so good for: Young children (although children of all ages are welcome at Singita lodges, some exposed drops at Lebombo might make life a bit stressful for parents. Unlike Boulders Lodge and Ebony Lodge, there are no family suites). Currently there is no cell reception or wireless Internet, but this should change in the near future
What we liked most: Simply incredible architecture and décor. Fantastic wines and the best afternoon tea in the business
Our verdict: Stunning and complements Boulders perfectly, but being pinned down to choosing one of the two, we have to go with Boulders. Ask for suite number 3 here at Lebombo (or number 5 if you want to be really secluded) for the most spectacular views.
We would love to help you plan your own African safari. Contact us today.
Email: info[at]kleincollection.com | South Africa Tel. +27 (0) 21 813 6961