by Jane Broughton, The Telegraph, December 13, 2017
Singita caused a stir again this year with the opening of Singita Sweni lodge in South Africa's Kruger National Park. Complemented by nearby Singita Lebombo lodge - itself renovated last year - it offers what Singita promises is Africa’s most contemporary safari experience. For more on what's on offer you can read our exclusive first review of Singita Sweni and Lebombo lodges, but these two spectacular properties are by no means the only enticing new options available to travellers keen to experience a South African safari holiday. Read on for our guide to the other best new luxury lodges in South Africa.
Rock Lodge, Phinda Private Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal
Twenty years after it first opened in Phinda Private Game Reserve, &Beyond’s Rock Lodge has undergone a glamorous reinvention – but without losing its intimate atmosphere. Its six split-level suites are built into the contours of a hilltop that drops vertiginously into a forested valley where elephants, giraffe and nyala (spiralhorned antelope) often feed.
Checking in feels a bit like taking ownership of a tiny castle, thanks to the contoured stone and rustic adobe-style construction. Earthy, texture-rich interiors in grey and stone are a clever mix of exquisite woven linen, hand-embroidered cotton, pale Persian carpets, polished cement floors and chunky untreated-wood furniture. New additions include outdoor showers, plunge pools and lookout decks for private dining.
Few reserves in Africa have the range of animals Phinda offers, or such a stellar reputation for conservation and community achievements. Traversing rights for an additional 1,620 hectares of community-owned land have just been acquired, upping the reserve’s total size to 28,555 hectares. The terrain incorporates thick bush, riverine forest, rocky outcrops, open plains and the rarely encountered sand forest.
Common sightings here include big elephant herds migrating across the reserve, white and black rhino, buffalo and all the southern African big cats. Guests may also help with rhino conservation measures and elephant-collaring operations, go on bush walks, sleep outdoors and eat elegant three-course dinners under the stars in the middle of the bush or on the brand-new rooftop terrace.
How to book: Andbeyond.com; around £575pp per night inclusive of accommodation, meals, drinks and activities.
Ivory Lodge, Lion Sands Game Reserve, Mpumalanga
The flagship Ivory Lodge was reopened, after a complete overhaul, nine months ago by the More family, who own and have been involved in running Lion Sands for decades. It now features extra suites, a family villa and open-to-the-elements modern, pared-back interiors – the perfect foil for some of the hippest names in South African furniture design.
But the real attraction is its unbeatable location on the edge of the Sabie River, giving guests in the lodge’s eight suites and two-bedroom Fish Eagle Villa an up-close view of the animal and bird life that’s attracted to its banks. The river meanders through the Lion Sands Game Reserve – one of several private concessions within the unfenced 66,000-hectare Sabi Sands Game Reserve, adjacent to the Kruger National Park.
Checking in here is a surefire bet for a big-five safari: leopard sightings are almost guaranteed – along with elephants, lions, buffalo, white rhinos, zebras and numerous antelopes – on the twice daily game drives. And on top of that, there’s superb food, a well-stocked wine cellar, spa, gym and endlessly obliging Shangaan staff who are as adept at interpreting wildlife sightings as they are at mixing heady cocktails. At the family-friendly Fish Eagle Villa, there’s now also a personal chef. And for an adventure-packed night under the stars, the reserve also has three unique treehouses in prime game-spotting locations.
How to book: Lionsands.co.za; villas cost from £1,080pp per night, based on two people sharing. Fish Eagle Villa costs from £6,300 per night for a double room, based on four sharing.
Fort House, Kwandwe Private Game Reserve, Eastern Cape
An Eastern Cape safari is often underrated as an option, despite impressive big-five game viewing potential, dramatic landscapes dotted with euphorbia and aloe trees, and no malaria risk. Opened in July 2017, Fort House brings to three the number of exclusive-use villas in the 22,000-hectare Kwandwe Private Game Reserve.
Whether you fly in directly from Plettenberg Bay or meander up the scenic Garden Route coast, this spacious, modern, four-bedroomed safari home is a great add-on to a beach or golf holiday. Exclusive-use perks include a spa treatment room, guest pantry, wine cellar, large swimming pool, expansive lawns and a boma (a traditional African enclosure) used for outdoor dining or campfire cooking lessons from the resident chef.
For families, the beauty of all this privacy and choice is the flexibility to let days on safari unfold at a pace that suits everyone, including the extent and ambition of game drives. Beyond the expansive views framed by floor-to-ceiling glass doors, thicket-covered hills, open plains and several kilometres of the Great Fish River await exploration. Besides the game drives, activities include walks, picnics, fishing and lessons in rhino conservation. Best of all, Kwandwe has one of the highest land-to-guest ratios in the country, so other vehicles are a much more endangered species than cheetahs.
How to book: Kwandwe.com; from £3,540 per night, based on four adults and four children aged 16 years or younger (plus one infant).