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

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