Monday, August 13, 2012

Singita Private Game Reserve – Jeremy Williamson

The road to
Singita Boulders Lodge from Newington Gate, travels through the western sector of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, dry, dusty and bumpy – but surely not this bumpy ? – Oh dear, a punctured tyre !
Lana, keeping an eye out for any over inquisitive animals, the offending tyre was speedily changed and we were back to a smooth ride. Well it turned out to be an exceptionally ‘smooth ride ‘ - so embraced by Singita’s natural charm, friendliness and non invasive professionalism, they certainly do look after their guests well.

Winding through open bushveld with an impala herd here, some warthog scrubbing for roots and tubers there, a giraffe in the distance and then a huge igneous outcrop, enormous granite Boulders and we had arrived at our destination on the
Sand River, the superb Singita Boulders Lodge. After the frustration of the deflated tyre, all became so professionally smooth and uncomplicated. I started to see just what it is that Singita has. The welcome and introduction by our hosts, a glass of iced tea with the Sand River below, some Kudu on the bank and hippo grumbling and hooting upstream, initiated the relaxation and enjoyment that we experienced whilst at Singita.

The main reception area is where guests meet for drinks and a snack before departure on the game drives. It is also a welcoming relaxation area

but who would want to move from ones suite?

Panoramic views over the Sand River from the large deck and pool or from our ample suite. Vast expanses of glass afford uninterrupted views. The lounge has an exceptional sound system, comfortable couches and chairs and the lighting throughout the suite is infinitely adjustable to suit any mood, sophisticated but simple, even for me. Every comfort to hand, even an Nespresso machine for the Coffee connoisseur. We were very relaxed here. But it’s not all about the bathroom,… or is it?

The game drives were really outstanding. All the furnishing, fitments and equipment at Singita is of the highest order and here too, on the game drives, we were to enjoy the comfort of Land Rover Safari vehicles. Our delightful ranger Lisa Thomas, added so to the wildlife experience. I learn so much on these outings and here we had some really exceptional game viewing and photographic opportunities and loads of fun as well. Happy days. The wildlife, like Lana and I had become, is so relaxed here – our Ranger, careful not to invade their ‘space’ still afforded us close interaction with so many of Africa’s big and small game. The elephant were amazing,

I could be close to a breeding herd of elephant as one of my favorite times in the bush - one gets to appreciate their intelligence, almost feel it.. then there was this Leopard inquisitive ? shy? of her possible mate. Following him at a discreet distance, but right on his track and reaffirming this with constant smelling of his trail and scent marks.

When we did come upon her prospective mate, this magnificent male seemed not too interested, maybe a bit later. What a sighting of leopard and right up close right next to our Land Rover. We watched that little window of their lives and then they slipped away into the dark, would they meet tonight?

Dawn, cold, yes, but Singita Boulders Lodge add the extra touch by providing a fleece poncho with hood for those who don’t quite realize that the advantages of being guided through the bush in an ‘open’ safari Land Rover does also create some wind chill, and early mornings in winter in the Sabi Sands, can be a bit frosty. To the deck, coffee or hot chocolate or ? with the sky brightening, the birds in chorus, to the vehicles. Oh “you seem to enjoy your coffee Jeremy, would you like a hot Cappuccino take-away ? and a hot water bottle for your lap under that blanket?” With thermo insulated caffeine recharge in one hand, hot water bottle in the other and my trusty Nikon gear in the other hand, I was ready !

Another thoughtful touch, a basket, there for you to carry all the katunda (stuff) that you would like to take on the vehicle and it fits perfectly out of the way on the floor between the two Safari seats. The middle seat is for my camera bag.

What will today bring? As we crawled through the wakening bushveld, early light catching the dew bejeweled tent spider webs, strung in profusion on the trackside like lanterns leading the way. Well at Singita, as in most of the
Sabi Sand Game Reserve, the game viewing is at a higher plane in comparison to even the Kruger Park, it could pretty well be sightings of any of the Big 5, cheetah and wild dog too! Not many places where one is able to enjoy really close sightings of all the Magnificent 7 and some, on a regular basis. This locale has to be the finest wide open area where leopard are seen on a daily basis. On numerous game drives this past week Lana and I enjoyed seeing leopard on virtually every game drive, probably not every drive, primarily because seeing leopard was not a priority for us. That is an incredible over 80% success rate. Our Ranger at Singita Boulders did not forget to also let us leisurely appreciate the dainty antelope, the quizzical young giraffe with afro hair styled ‘horns’

or the numerous zebra, so black with shadow and white, seemingly so stark, but then melting away in the thickets.

There were quite a few Buffalo, also visiting Singita when we were there. 100’s milling around our safari vehicle, so placid they seem in this context, but I would rather not be out there on foot close to the defenders of the herd, or to encounter a belligerent “Dagga Boy” - the most dangerous of all of Africa’s

big 5.

The rich avifauna, monitor lizards, the trees, flowers and grasses, an all embracing experience and our Ranger brought them all to the fore. Nope, here it wasn’t about just getting out there to tick them off – this was enjoyable, interesting and very special – what a privilege to be party to sharing Africa this way.

Then there were the three white rhino gathering for sundowners? Or were they? When two males started vocalizing and facing off with squeaks and whistles (all started with quite eerie sounds) the agility of these massive animals amazed us, their drinkies forgotten, as protocol had to be followed and dominance, territory and ones rights by strength of force rules. Their horns so needed here, so poachers let them be, no medicine these.

The dust settled and we enjoyed our sundowners without altercation, as that great (now) red orb slowly sank into the thorny nest of acacia.

Sundown, spotlights out and the nocturnal species are about. Scrub hare, more leopard, genet, jackal, owl and nightjar. The diurnal species safe from the tracker’s spotlight, as this could disadvantage them to those predators with eyes properly adapted to hunting in the dark. Maybe a red filter on the light ? this making both the viewer and viewee happy.

What makes Singita Game Reserve arguably the finest luxury lodge in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve area? Which just happens in my opinion, to be the finest African Big Game viewing destination…. (wait for it)……in the World – as my namesake Jeremy Clarkson would have it said!. Singita really does look after guests like no other Lodge I have visited, so unobtrusively, but so well. Nobody near you, but should you need something, yip there is someone amazingly to hand to assist! Then the game viewing - conducted on their own property and without sharing the traversing with a load of other Lodges.

Food is an important part of how the ‘trophic triangle’ interprets what dictates the number of herbivore species supported in an environment, which in turn determines the number of key predators there are. Well Singita’s lands must be providing sufficient food for the antelope and other preyed upon species, as the density of tertiary predators is substantial. A corollary, I suppose the success of the fine dining at the Singita Lodges helps too, to maximise the enjoyment and number of guests at the Lodges? Or is it the wildlife ? And fine dining it is indeed !

Breakfasts and Lunches are generally enjoyed alfresco – with the most delightful view over the perennial river and beyond. (I must add that this view of the Sand River from
Singita Boulders and Ebony Lodges has to be the most stunning of all river fronting Lodges in the Sabi Sand area.)

The offerings are so enticing, that a staff member has to be permanently vigilant with a long cane to keep the Vervet Monkeys from the buffet. They seem to prefer the fresh croissants and Norwegian salmon, or was it the delicately sliced pancetta and quail eggs. Another seemed to prefer samples from the delectable cheese board and yet another would test expertise in securing a taste of something exotic. But hey, maybe the fruit from this sycamore fig is not really all that bad vs that swishing cane !

Dinner and dress is always a bit of an enigma for Lana and I when visiting luxury game Lodges, do we rush to our rooms to freshen up? Or casually make it from the game drive vehicle in our ‘bush attire’, stop in at the bar and then to dinner at 8:00pm in the Boma or…?

At Singita one feels the romance of the occasion. On such a special holiday, there must be time to look beautiful and be romantic. Well here, there was no rush, ample opportunity to change, pretty-up a bit and yes, open the safe and put on something special, this would be as appropriate in Singita’s delightful dining room, as arriving there snuggled up in warm bush attire straight from the vehicles - both work so well at Singita. Fine dining, with a flickering fire in the hearth, convivial chatter from neighboring tables, soft music and THAT service, life doesn’t get much better. Tonight’s menu read like that of one of Europe’s top restaurants – Madame would have the Salmon and chive risotto with poached duck egg with herb dressing to start, and for Sir, the Oxtail ravioli with pak choi and spiced port sauce. Then to follow Lana would have the Beef fillet (medium rare) with polenta chips, tomato fondue and rosemary red wine sauce. Well I was in a quandary, would it be the Beef fillet, the Crab and fennel fettuccini with lime sauce ? or what about the slow roast pork belly with apple compote, creamed potatoes and cider sauce – would they make this latter dish better than I at home, a variant of my favourite dish -? or what about one of the other main dishes on the menu, maybe rather just have two of the Main courses ? No problem here.

What a meal! What a sommelier! Suggested wines to suite the meal, so added to the flavours, even to the dessert wines with what ? – the dessert of course, we both enjoyed the Passion fruit crème caramel with gooseberry compote, melon sorbet and coconut water, the Mulderbosch Noble Late Harvest 2007 was the perfect compliment – who could resist.

Imagine returning to our room to find a steaming tub, candle lit, rose petals and a bottle of the finest bubbly on ice – romance is in the air – I could fall in love with the Bush !

Mid winter – we had just spent a number of nights in the area with varied success at getting the slumber-time temperatures right. Too cold - close everything, too hot - open open, turn on the fan, too noisy, aircond in winter – really ? – won’t go off High Heat, Oh! off, on, have another glass of wine! Zzzzz.. So a legacy of a bit of a nightmare was solved with the nights at Singita, here they had the temperature , the fresh air feel? just right. Still haven’t quite worked out how though, must have something to do with the voluminous sized suite.? Nah! Stress gone, just enjoy it. When one travels to such remote destinations as the Sabi Sand area is, what a pleasure it is, to not have to consider the how’s and wherefores and just relax and have it all. It happens right here.

The next day whilst chatting on the game drive Lana extolled her appreciation of the last evening’s dessert. Ranger Lisa, reverted with the comment, “I must get you the recipe”, this is another way that Singita is different - we have the recipe.

From fine dining in the delightful restaurant, the next night would be alfresco, lantern lit and together with our ranger and fellow passengers of the game drives. Romance and intimacy giving way to laughter, chatter and the raconteur in all, coming to the fore. What fun! and how lovely for the mix in dinner venues. Had we not wanted the social gathering, a call to our hosts and dinner in the room or other wonderful locale would be only a pleasure for them to arrange.

Singita has some of South Africa’s finest wines – their cellar has the noblest of collections and if you are a bit of a wine connoisseur, wine tastings in the cellar with the vintner, makes for quite an evening. I am sure I could nestle in there somewhere on permanent tasting duty. Then there is such an easy way to take some of this fine wine, lovely artifacts and memories home. Visit their rather interesting old bushveld house, now a place where one can peruse and purchase local crafts, good South African wine or get the latest or more comfortable Safari gear.

The day is full – early morning and evening game drives in the open Land Rover Safari vehicles, a walk in the bush, quiet time at the Lodge and then for those who would like to experience the Africa of today, are able to partake in Singita’s local community visits. Our days were so rewarding. I am an early bird and love that transition from night to dawn. Always awake before the ranger’s call, but with that early start, the excitement of the most interesting of game drives, back for meals and more, I find the days so full, that any desire for extra activities belies me – it’s all here. A library and media centre, with boulders – there is no password for the wi-fi, it just works – then a Spa – the best, I can really recommend this, from steam rooms to treatment, to a gym that has amazing equipment, love it. Swimming pools, own plunge pool and the therapy of being in the Bush in Africa.

Worth a visit, I would Say!

So eventuuuallly we had to leave.

Still reeling from the really professional service and hospitality we said or good-byes.

As we arrived at our sparkling clean vehicle, Kobus, the Lodge Anchor, turned to me and let me know that the puncture, cause of my stress and concern on arrival, had been repaired - it had been a big concern as to how I could get it repaired before attempting our 700 odd km drive back to Durban without having to spend a night en route – another big thank you. Well, it seems that is what Singita seems to do. Just be there when you need them, I like this Lodge and all that one is able to experience there. Thank you.

Singita has four luxury five star Lodges in the
Greater Kruger National Park area.

Singita Boulders and Ebony Lodges, set in the heart of the game rich
Sabi Sand Game Reserve and with Singita Lebombo and Sweni Lodges to the east, in a private concession area within the Kruger National Park. All different, all stunning and all with their unique hospitality trait! And all offer the most outstanding game viewing.

Singita Ebony Lodge

The original Singita Lodge, note the family memoribilia.

The Library too

The suites are super comfortable, cosy and wonderful views over the Sand River

even the bathrooms have a view

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve - Jeremy Williamson

Lana and I met Ben and Zulu at Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge. What an amazing Ranger / Tracker team who were to host us for the next few days in possibly one of the finest big game viewing areas in the World, the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, located in the south eastern sector of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve.

Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge, the largest of their four Lodges, has 25 spacious thatched Chalets set on either side of the central main lodge area, all in indigenous gardens which seemingly dissolve into the riparian bush of the now (winter) dry watercourse and open plains beyond. The ‘obligatory’ bougainvillea hangs tenuously to a huge Greenthorn presenting its magnificent cerise flowers to brighten Africa’s somber winter attire. Thatched roofs, king sized beds, private courtyards, private comfortable lounge, private bush view patio, opulent bathrooms with indoor and outdoor showers, Charlotte Rhys soaps, lotions and conditioners, bath robes and slippers, a stocked bar fridge, a crystal decanter with sherry and all necessary refinements to make ones stay comfortable. Exquisite ethnic décor, the epitome of a Bushveld Chalet retreat.

To the Main Lodge – decks, lounges with Wi-Fi, entertainment centre, bar - this room with its flickering fire and cold drinks, proved very popular on our return from the evening game drive, before the Boma dinner, this heralded by the trumpeting of a Kudu horn. In the Boma strategically placed fires kept away the night chill and did so add to the ambience under that canopy of stars - plated starters and then the most magnificent buffet. Seafood, venison and more traditional fare – indulgent.
One evenings meal
Vegetable rice paper roll with green coconut cream, crushed wasabi peas, baby leaves and sweet soya.
Carrot and ginger soup
Springbok shank potjie.
Ostrich skewers with chilli and cumin
Beef sirloin with herbs and garlic with mustard sauce
Biltong crusted chicken breast with blue cheese sauce
Kingklip with lemon and basil, salsa and lemon butter
Hassel back potatoes
Yellow rice with rasins
Glazed carrots and parsnips
Broccoli and cauliflower
Pak choi mushrooms
Desserts - cheeses
 Wines to suit, the house wine is from the Stellenrust Estate in the Cape and quite delicious. Followed by dessert , cheese and biscuits and possibly a night-cap. I always wondered why we needed to be escorted back to our chalets?
On one of the evenings we had Calamari Tubes with.. and then imagine, a Kudu Wellington as the venison option! Divine

The Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge main deck has a warm northerly aspect overlooking open savanna with conveniently located water-hole, at which the passing parade come to slake their thirst. My favorite spot to sit and observe, between the meals, game drives, meals, teas and slumber time. Meals, yes, such an important aspect at any fully catered for establishment ,were exceptional with hot and cold buffet for breakfasts and lunch, the tilapia fish one luncheon was seriously good, but so were the mini Quiches, the parma ham platter, Tortilla Station, and.. what a choice, then the afternoon ‘teas’ just prior to the game drive, simply decadent fare to die for !. “No more".. .."well could I have another of your brownies, maybe rather an éclair?  oh dear!” these were something else.

Great attention to detail, friendly and unobtrusive staff, there when needed with guests requirements a priority, is what all the Sabi Sabi Lodges quietly accomplish. Guests are kept informed as to the Lodge program and even the following days’ weather with possible temperatures, beautifully printed on a card, there at your bedside on return from dinner.

All the Sabi Sabi Lodges traverse on approximately 6,000 ha of their own prime Sabi Sand Game Reserve with no fences between Sabi Sabi, the Sabi Sands or the Kruger National Park. All Sabi Sabi vehicles maintain radio contact to assist with finding the animals during the 4 odd hours of being out there, amongst the Big Game. And Big game there certainly is, along with a host of other animal and birdlife. Ben brought the wildlife encounters to a heightened level with insights as to the various animals’ behavior or some other relevant interesting snippet of information. Zulu had an amazing ability to locate and interpret the myriad of tracks and to find that prize sighting. We had a number of those. A miniscule reflection from the spotlight and leopard on the hunt discovered. Being prediminatly nocturnal most photographic opportunities were in poor light, so rather sit back and enjoy the sighting!

Leopard on a steenbuck kill, leopard on the prowl, leopard on a kudu kill (she seems to have been responsible for the cows demise - quite a large animal for a youngish female leopard to succumb), leopard marking his territory, leopard seeking out warthog in their underground retreats, leopard…..

Oh yes and then there were lion too, a pride of some 17, ranging in ages and so awake and mobile. These lion I prefer!

With lion normally choosing to spend the most of their time in repose, to have so many, all active, playing, nursing, fighting, socializing, this was a special treat.

But active animals can sometimes be a negative, especially wild dog on the hunt. They have the incredible ability to sustain the hunt for ages and at such a pace too. We just could not keep up, despite the Land Rover bundu-bashing after them. Sabi Sabi’s new Land Rover Safari vehicles reaffirmed my contention that this has to be the most comfortable Safari vehicle available – good choice guys!

Mind you Sabi Sabi makes many good choices and have refined the archtypical wildlife bush lodge experience to make the most of one’s enjoyment thereof. For those who would want a tad more; expansive accommodation, private pool, in room dining ? easy take the Mandleve Presidential suite, visit the Amani spa at the Lodge, your children to the wonderful child entertainment centre and voila!

Mid winter and it’s pretty chilly out there on an open Land Rover safari vehicle, but amongst the folds of your personal blanket is a piping hot water bottle. Oooh! Makes all the difference. Stop for sundowners, delicious snacks with drinks! Spacious too, with only 6 guests on a vehicle, there was room for all, our camera bags too. Rather necessary on these game drives.

For those wanting a smaller, possibly more intimate camp, Little Bush Lodge is a delightful option. Hosting just 12 guests in 6 luxurious Chalets on the banks of the Msuthlu River, still with water in the river below some of the chalets - this intimate Lodge offers a luxurious relaxed venue where one can really get away from it all. The thatched chalets are super comfortable, with beautiful mosquito net draped beds, air-conditioning, private deck which has a heated Spa bath and the bathrooms are sumptuous, even offering indoor and outdoor showers.

Cross the river and to the delightful nearby swimming-pool retreat, I could relax my time away here! To cosy up of a cold evening, the lounge area is where you would find me. Imagine a candle-lit dinner at tables set on the riverbed just below the Lodge – romantic, I’d say! Or maybe in the Boma the next night. Multiple dinner venues I love.

An old trading store / railway shop on the now defunct Selati Railway Line of old, built to service and carry the spoils of the goldfields to the coast, was the base for Sabi Sabi’s Selati Lodge. Being a bit of a Railway nut I loved the Salati Rail memorabilia in the lounge and bar.

Eight lovely thatched chalets, epitomizing Colonial charm, paraffin lamps and décor, offer a turn of the Century elegance. (There is electricity for the air-conditioning, fans, fridges and lights) Then beautiful bird filled gardens with an outlook into wide open plains beyond – what a view! Are those the wild dog running by?

At Sabi Sabi Lodges there is always an option to relax and join with other guests in the main lounging areas or find a quiet comfortable more isolated and private place.

Meals here are a treat too. Candle lit dinners on the deck overlooking the ephemeral Msuthlu River, or in the Boma, or what about the characterfull “Farmhouse Kitchen” with its single long table making for a really ‘social’ evening!

Selati Camp also has the Ivory Presidential suite, tastefully decorated with original antiques, fireplace and private plunge pool. Here you would have a private Land Rover safari vehicle.

Earth Lodge is quite amazing. The architecture is classic, sculpted out of the sloping hillside with an intriguing unobtrusive hidden sunken entranceway – unique and environmentally sensitive.

There are twelve suites, in addition to the really magnificent Amber Presidential Suite. This attended by a Private Butler and beautifully appointed with specially commissioned furnishings, secluded plunge pool and open air shower. The Amber Suite also boasts its own exercise room, steam room, study and kitchen. The suites’ décor breaks with tradition and these are also most tastefully decorated. Great attention to detail and maximized for guest’s comfort. Each suite has its own plunge pool and the bathrooms are glass fronted with, in and outdoor showers.

The boma, its walls sculpted from roots has a really ethnic look where dinners are enjoyed under a canopy of stars. This is Africa at its best. There is the Earth Nature Spa and exercise centre where one may enjoy massages, natural therapies or a classic spa. A secluded library, art gallery and meditation garden all for your enlightenment and enjoyment. Back to Earth with the game drives though. These are as good as the Sabi Sands Game Reserve and Sabi Sabi can offer! What an experience. Highly recommended.