Lion Sands – Tinga & River Lodge

Sandwiched between the Sand and Sabie rivers in Kruger National Park, Tinga Lodge offers peace and tranquility conveniently close to the Park headquarters, while River Lodge close by in Sabi Sand offers slightly cheaper accommodation in a similar setting. Jonathan and Sophie check them out.

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. So often stiflingly hot and humid now in late November, today when we arrive at Tinga Lodge it is refreshingly cool, but the warm greeting by manager Glenda and the delicious home-made lemonade quickly have us forgetting the overcast, gloomy skies.

We call this time of the year the ‘secret season’ for safaris – the dry winter is over, the crowds have gone, the lodges are quiet (often with good deals to be had). But the summer rains are not out in force yet, the bush is green and lush but the grass is still not too high to hinder game viewing too much. And the predators are after those impala lambs…

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. But for us, the business of the day was a game drive with ranger Alan, to explore this little gem of a concession.

Tinga Lodge

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

Until just a few years ago, this little corner of the Kruger was largely unexplored and the resident animals, leopards in particular, were unused to vehicles and people. This is changing now, but the concession still retains its wild feel, and with a maximum of just six game vehicles (together with adjacent Narina Lodge), quiet sightings are guaranteed.

The famous leopards elude us but we get a great sighting of the highly-endangered black rhino and the next morning, white rhino too as well as some fantastic, up-close elephant. We fire questions at Alan, soaking up his extensive knowledge of animal anatomy and behavior making for some fascinating drives.

With just 9 suites, Tinga retains a personal feel but it’s never claustrophobic – the beautiful suites are strung out spaciously along the Sabie river with no privacy issues at all. The communal areas, especially the magnificent deck are spacious enough that even when the lodge is full, which it was on our visit, it never feels that way.

We enjoyed a dip in our private plunge pool before a lunch of smoked salmon and pan-fried quail; dinner was a communal boma-affair where guests are joined by their guides, but usually meals at Tinga are taken at private tables.

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.

Suite, River Lodge

Suite, River Lodge

It’s a short drive from Tinga to River Lodge where we arrive in time for lunch, served by our exquisite butler, Advice, followed by a game drive with guide Nyathi. River Lodge is located inside the famous Sabi Sand game reserve where expectations are high for the game viewing. On our overcast afternoon, the game is playing hide & seek; even the antelopes hide away in the thickets. We come across a couple of elephants and a white rhino and in the dark we spot a beautiful Civet dashing away – our first-ever Civet sighting in the wild, what a treat! If only it had posed for a photo…

Relaxing in the pool, River Lodge

Relaxing in the pool, River Lodge

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 shongs and dance; it’s evident that the spirit of Africa blows gently through the leaves here at River Lodge.

River Lodge is the biggest of the Lion Sands properties with 20 suites, but it doesn’t feel generic or corporate. Thanks to 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.

Dining out, River Lodge

Dining out, River Lodge

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

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