Recently we embarked on a 2-week, 5000km road trip around South Africa. You may be thinking, why? You live in South Africa. And my answer would be that everyone should experience where they live and especially South Africa!
How many times have you heard people saying that they haven’t been somewhere they would like to go that is so nearby…?
Well for me, when I used to live in the UK a 2 hour drive would be a long distance to travel. On this trip, I definitely got used to much longer drives each day, our longest drive was 9 hours straight.
Not only was I excited about seeing so many different locations on our trip, but we would be staying in a different place each night on our two week adventure. This journey would also include my first real African Safari experience. And that’s where we’re starting.
Our Luxury Hotel of the Month is Lion Sands – Tinga Lodge, located in the Lion Sands Private Game Reserve, which traverses Kruger National Park, Sabie River and Sabi Sands. With four very different and incredible lodges, Tinga Lodge, Narina Lodge, River Lodge and Ivory Lodge (which is currently undergoing a massive refurbishment), Lion Sands have so much to offer guests!
If you stay at a lodge in the Kruger National Park, you are not allowed to drive off-road to observe the animals, meaning that you cannot always get close enough or see some of the most beautiful animals on the planet. But due to the fact that Lion Sands have their own private game reserve, which shares open borders, after the fences came down in 2007, with Sabi Sand and Kruger, rangers can drive off-road in the game vehicles with guests (within the Lion Sands Game Reserve) and track these exceptional mammals for extremely impressive game viewing experiences.
Now, you may also be thinking that driving off-road and tracking these animals seems a bit intrusive, but the guides and trackers are extremely professional, trained to the highest levels and respect these creatures greatly. It goes to show how much passion and appreciation the staff have, when one day we had an extremely lucky sighting of the usually skittish Black Rhino. Our tracker Lukas had his own camera out taking photos, as it’s so rare to get an up close sighting with rhino numbers decreasing dramatically. There’s also clear communication between the vehicles in the reserve, our Ranger Joe was constantly on the radio checking movements of other vehicles so as not to overcrowd and possibly scare/disturb the animals.
We arrived at the Paul Kruger gate at 4pm in the afternoon. As we were crossing the river into the park, we looked to our right where a huge herd of elephants were drinking and playing in the river, we knew then that we had arrived. We sadly thought that we’d missed the afternoon game drive, as it starts at 4pm and we still had a 25 minute drive from the gate to Tinga Lodge. We got our entrance ticket for the reserve and drove onwards to the Lodge spotting animals all over the place (we thought…we’d find out later that it was nothing compared to what we would see). We pulled up at the Tinga and were greeted with big smiles and cold, refreshing hand towels that were very welcome after a long drive. We were told that the game vehicles were already out but they would see if any were nearby. After we had checked in, not 5 minutes later one of the game vehicles was driving back past and picked us up! Lucky, yes but we were so happy! We managed to go on an afternoon game drive, my first wild game drive experience, and the guides were tracking a leopard! Thrown in at the deep end, with one of the more elusive big cats. Sadly, we didn’t find it, but we saw plenty more, the first animals we spotted were giraffe, and we learnt that their collective nouns (yes they have two) are a tower of giraffe when standing in a group and a journey of giraffe when moving in a group. We even stopped for sun downers on the drive, looking over the river, listening to the sounds of the bush and watching the fireflies.
After our first taste of a Kruger game drive we returned to the lodge. We hadn’t had much time to explore previously as we arrived and then left quickly. Lion Sands is stunning, there’s no other way to explain it. The décor, the views from the deck, dinner being set-up underneath the huge Jackal berry tree, massive rooms with their own plunge pools and beautiful bathrooms, the list goes on and on.
A sign that you are in a wild space is that there are antelope hanging around and eating right in front of your plunge pool, just a few metres away. Look a little further beyond the deck and Tinga Lodge stakes its claim for one of the best ever bush views, as you look out over the river and opposite bank, into the bush, the colours, river (although it is extremely dry at the moment due to drought) and wildlife, will take your breath away.
That night we had a delicious dinner, out in the open, underneath a huge tree on the deck, overlooking the Sabie River. Lanterns beautifully placed on the deck and hanging in the tree created such an astonishing atmosphere. And oh, wow the food was good!
Safari’s are not for the feint hearted, a wake up call at 5am might not sound appealing, but it is well worth the early start, I promise! We met our guides on the deck at the lodge for a coffee before we would leave for our 3-hour, morning game drive. A Vervet Monkey was making a huge noise above us in the tree we had dinner under the night before, it had spotted something across the bank. Hyena’s were crossing the river just to the left of us, but only made it half way before they too became wary. We were watching on the deck, eyes wide looking for a dark shape in the distance, nothing…nothing and then all of a sudden a Leopard dropped from a tree after a nights rest and left to go hunting in the bush. Quite a start to the day!
I wanted to spot the Big 5 whilst we were staying at safari lodges on our trip, I never expected to see the Big 5 in one game drive. The Big 5 name originates from the hunting era, when the Leopard, Lion, Elephant, Rhino and Buffalo were considered the most dangerous and difficult to hunt on foot. Today, this name is about spotting the majestic creatures in their natural habitat and trying to promote conservation, with poaching of Rhino horn and Elephant Ivory being a huge problem. Estimates at the moment suggest the Rhino will be extinct in the next 4-6 years! #SaveTheRhino
Our leopard sighting whilst having coffee was exciting, and turned out to be the start of a busy game drive. After we left the lodge in the open game vehicle, a call came through on the radio about a black rhinoceros, more rare than their white counterparts, extremely endangered and normally more aggressive and elusive. However, every now and then a more docile male can be found whilst feeding in the Lion Sands Reserve. Joe, constantly feeding us with amazing details about all of the birds, wildlife and trees.
After this exceptional sighting, that doesn’t often happen, we left to see what else we could find. Before long, we came across a small pride of lions. They came so close to the vehicle, not a care in the world, within a metre of Sarah who was buzzing with adrenalin, as it’s such a strange but incredible feeling to see these wild animals so closely.
Driving again now, we snuck up on a herd of elephants that were very inquisitive. Eating their breakfast so close to us, we could easily have shared a bite with them, only 2 meters away trying to listen to the thoughts of the intelligent animals.
4 of the Big 5 down, only one left to go, and as we were driving back to the lodge, as if by magic, or as though someone had placed them, there were the Buffalo, drinking from the river as we crossed over a wooden bridge. Wow, the Big 5 in the space of a 3-hour game drive.
We got back to the lodge for breakfast, greeted again by the ever-friendly staff, a beaming smile suggested the French toast to Sarah from the breakfast menu, a favourite of hers. It was evidently a good choice, as this meal gained the high acclaim of the “Best French Toast Ever!”
All in all, this blog post could never be long enough for us to share all of our wonderful experiences here. From the small treats, like the metal water bottle gifts, to the amazing people that we met like Joe and Lukas our guides who have such great chemistry and a wonderful dynamic, to the massive efforts like organising for us to go on a game drive even after the vehicles had left! The animals large and small speak for themselves, and it’s such a privilege to have seen what we did, in such a short time.
What an inspiring place!
Rates for Lion Sands start at R8,772 per person sharing per night and includes: accommodation, 3 meals per day, teas and coffees, selected local alcoholic beverages, wines and spirits, soft drinks, 2 game drives daily, game drive snacks and refreshments.
If you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment below, we'd love to hear from you. And if you are planning a safari trip anytime soon email us with any/all your questions and enquiries, it would be our pleasure to assist you in arranging a memorable experience like ours.
Be sure to follow Lion Sands on Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date with what's new and be the first to find out about any specials they may be offering.
Disclaimer: Our stay at Lion Sands Tinga Lodge was complimentary, however all views remain our own and we do not trade off complimentary stays for a positive reflection of any kind. We will only give credit where credit is due.
All opinions within this blog are our own and any hosted stays will be disclosed in the relevant blog posts. We do not trade off complimentary stays for a positive reflection of any kind, and we will only give credit where credit is due. We put in a lot of time and effort researching the properties we visit, we want to build long standing trust with you, our readers, with honesty and integrity being incredibly important to us.
If you would like to submit a guest post please contact us and we will gladly consider any ideas you may have.