Looking for a little romance under the southern African skies? Here are my top picks for South African safari lodges that I believe offer superior luxurious adventure, in some of South Africa’s finest wildlife areas where the “Big Five” roam.
1. Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge
Sculpted into a slope of the earth, almost invisible in the landscape, Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge uses texture, light and space to present a lodge like no other. Home to 13 ultra-luxurious suites including the Amber Presidential Suite, the lodge breaks with traditional bush lodge style to create a masterpiece of artistry and innovation. Each of the suites features individually designed furniture, private plunge pool, en-suite glass fronted bathroom, indoor and outdoor shower and butler services. An indoor/outdoor dining area overlooking a waterhole and unending bushveld, a secluded library, art gallery, meditation garden; and an underground wine cellar with a collection of over 6000 bottles of rare wines, the venue for an unforgettable dining experience – everything at this luxury lodge has been created for your indulgence. While on safari renew your spirit at the Earth Nature Spa and Exercise Centre where massages, natural therapies or classic spa treatments are on offer. Morning and afternoon game drives as well as bush walks are all included. Ask for private dining for an extra special treat.
2. Leopard Hills – Sabi Sands (Greater Kruger)
Perched on rocky ridge overlooking a waterhole, Leopard Hills is ideally situated for breathtaking views of Sabi Sands Game Reserve. Eight air-conditioned suites feature a glass-front, providing a panoramic view of the picturesque and game-rich veld below. Yet that is only the beginning of the luxuries here: each suite includes its own sundeck (ideal for relaxing with a book, or spying animals with binoculars), a heated plunge pool, en-suite bathroom and indoor and outdoor showers with views of the enchanting wilderness beyond. It seems no matter where you go here, you are followed by views of the enchanting African bush. The urge to explore this captivating land is quelled on early and morning and late afternoon game drives. Expert professional rangers point out the region’s plentiful wildlife (lion, elephant, white rhino, buffalo, cheetah, wild dog and hyena, to name just a few species) while you relax in the comfort of state-of-the-art 4×4 vehicles designed specifically for Leopard Hills. Should you wish to take to the bush on foot, a ranger will point out the finer elements of the Sabi Sand’s ecology—including insects, grasses, trees and smaller species you might miss in a vehicle. Back at camp, superb staff pampers you, whether you are enjoying a silver service dinner, one of the spa’s indulgent treatments or a glass of local wine by the crackling fire.
3. Ivory Lodge with Sleep out – Sabi Sands (Greater Kruger)
Lion Sands Ivory Lodge is a bastion of serene seclusion set along the winding Sabi River in the rugged wilds of Kruger National Park. The six en-suite tents have everything you’d expect in an ultra-luxurious safari sanctuary: air-conditioned bedroom, indoor and outdoor shower, a full lounge with large wood fireplace, a wooden viewing deck and patio, an indulgent spa and more. Your private pool comes in handy in the afternoon—perfect for cooling off in the African sun, floating effortlessly while catching a glimpse of wildlife as it ambles nearby. Should you wish to get a closer look, your private deck has a spotting scope ideal for glimpsing these majestic creatures as the go about their day, perhaps as they gather for a drink in the cool Sabi. When you pull yourself away from this cocoon of comfort, each time of day offers a spectacular range of activities. There are the riveting game drives twice a day, bookended, perhaps, by bush breakfasts on the wide savannahs and romantic bush dinners nestled in a dry riverbed. In the evening go for an astronomy game drive (keep an eye out for the Southern Cross) or a magical moonlit walk. Perhaps best of all: sleep out under the stars. Lie back in your deluxe, four-poster bed under a wide star-tinged firmament and listen to the harmonious chorus of the African night.
4. Singita Boulders – (Greater Kruger)
Singita means “a place of miracles” and this world-renowned collection of safari camps certainly lives up to the divine distinction. Inspired by the landscape and enhanced by world-class service, Singita Boulders infuses these rugged environs with supreme luxury. It’s as if you’ve entered an over-the-top oasis in the heart of South African wilds: Senufo artifacts and smooth linen, raw wood and cascading water. Luxuriate in the serenity of your suite featuring magnificent en suite bathrooms and bask in the pure wildness of your surroundings on the sundecks. Famous for its cuisine (not to mention 35,000 bottles of superb South African wine), Singita’s chef creates dishes bursting with flavor. Of course, there is another reason for Singita’s standing as the world’s finest properties: the wildlife. Globally renowned for its diversity and concentration of big game, including the vaunted Big Five, the Sabi Sands Reserve features broad, open savannah interspersed with acacia thornveld, rocky outcrops and riverine forest. Herds of buffalo and elephant, large prides of lion, majestic leopard and antelope by the thousands make the 18,500 hectare Singita Private Game Reserve, at the heart of the Sabi Sands, one of the finest locations for viewing the Big Five anywhere in the world
5. Great Fish River Lodge – (Kwandwe)
For those of you who want a malaria-free option, you can’t do better than the romantic Great Fish River Lodge at Kwandwe in the Eastern Cape. Set along the lush green banks of the river after which it is named, the Lodge is designed to amplify the endless landscape. Everything here takes place on a grander scale, but it is the attention to detail and expansive, unmatched vistas that keep visitors coming back year after year. The nine luxurious suites have been designed to take full advantage of the spectacular scenery. Floor-to-ceiling framed glass doors fold back to reveal an uninterrupted wilderness, and the ensuite bathrooms, complete with bath and indoor and outdoor showers, separate w.c and twin basins offer unmatched views over the sweeping landscape beyond. Keep cool with overhead fans and air conditioning, and enjoy a spacious thatched veranda and private plunge pool with terrace in every suite.