Girl Gone Wild

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With a milestone birthday looming, Louise Furniss’ husband wanted to treat her to the trip of a lifetime. And having seen much of the world on her travels for work, Louise knew exactly where she wanted to celebrate…​

When it comes to our own holidays, it’s pretty much down to me to organise all of our extra-curricular trips (no rest for the wicked!), so when I hit Stu with the option of a South African safari at Singita, I was fully prepared for the Spanish inquisition…

“Is South Africa safe?” “Yes… and we’re flying straight into the bush which is two hours north of Johannesburg on the border with Mozambique.” “It’s too far – we’ve only got five days including travel time” (as long as we could get away with leaving the kids… the dog… life etc!). “Don’t worry. South Africa is just an hour ahead, so there’s no jet lag and we’ll have 11 hours each way to sleep on the flight.” “I don’t want to get up in the middle of the night – well, 5am – just to see animals!” To which I replied “Well then, we’ll book our own ranger so we can choose when we want to head off into the bush.” “But don’t we want to relax?” (Honestly – anyone would think it was his birthday treat!). “Yes I do want to relax… don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of time for that too.” (How I hoped I was right!).

​So we (I!) got everything booked. Cut to a few months later and after a really great flight (yes we did sleep), we arrived into Johannesburg and were met straight away in arrivals and transferred to the Federal Air terminal (10 minutes away) for our onward flight to Singita.

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This is the moment it dawns on you you’re actually going on safari. People are dressed head-to-toe in khaki while we’re sat in our jeans… had we had packed appropriately?! But the fully stocked departure lounge helped us relax, and in an hour we were off, having swiftly nabbed the seats behind our pilots (at this point our child-like awe and excitement was palpable).

The flight to Kruger was jaw-dropping… flying over local towns, across varying landscapes… and because we flew relatively low, we caught our first glimpse of a herd of elephants and giraffes – a pretty special sight that almost sent our anticipation into overdrive!​

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Landing on what looked like just a dusty strip of nothing in the middle of nowhere, we glanced to the left and saw the smallest of arrivals lounges – Singita really do think of everything – and within moments we were greeted by our rangers, on the jeep, and away on our 30-minute transfer to the lodge (one of the more enthralling transfers I’ve ever experienced) – more like a mini game drive really, as just two minutes into the journey, we had our first up-close elephant encounter. “Look look look!” I poked Stu (who still had a slight look of bewilderment on his face… which instantly changed into the biggest of smiles)... he’d finally realised that, as always I was right, and this was going to be the most magical few days for us both!

And then we got to Singita Lebombo. Wow. What they’ve managed to build in the middle of the bush is quite frankly absolutely awe-inspiring: the views, the feeling of openness and space, and an unexpected feast of creative design features that take their cue from the dramatic landscape. For me, the brilliant blend of bleached and ebonised local woods, glazed earthenware, stonewashed linens, and soft, gauzy drapes; sparkling lap pool; and bar with one of the largest gin collections I’ve come across (and believe me, I’ve seen many a gin bar!) was kind of reminiscent of Miami, but bizarrely, it works equally well here.

Our eyes were everywhere, taking everything in all at once, and we were both over the moon to see guests lazing by the pool after their morning game drive and bountiful breakfast, with absolutely nothing to do (other than gym or spa) until later that afternoon. “You see…” I smugly said to Stu “didn’t I say there’d be plenty of time to relax too?”

After heading to our loft suite (nothing had quite prepared me for how incredible it would be) – wrapped in wall-to-wall glass, with a sweeping deck, and a colour palette that connects it beautifully to the outside – we headed straight to lunch. I’d heard Singita was as much about the food as it was game-viewing, and I wasn’t disappointed – the tapas-style menu blending South African and Asian flavours worked so well, particularly when washed down with a Sommelier-recommended South African Sauvignon Blanc (when in Rome and all that)!​ 

And the service. What can I say? Some of the best I’ve ever experienced – from the housekeeping (same-day laundry is included and highly recommended if yo​u’re staying a while); to the fantastic guys behind the bar – they’re so excited when you ask​​ for beer or cocktail recommendations; and the incredible restaurant team who effortlessly make every meal a remarkable occasion.

Our ranger Solomon had said to just tell him when we wanted to meet for our afternoon game drive, and, conscious that sunset was around 5:30pm, we chose to set off at 4pm. I’d also asked about appropriate attire, as having taken a sneaky peek at what everyone else was wearing, I hadn’t seen the head-to-toe khaki-wearers I’d expected. But we were all good, he said, “just wear something comfortable (no red or bright neon) but pretty much anything else goes”.

So off we went. The beauty of Lebombo is that it shares a privately-leased 33,000-acre concession (an area reserved solely for lodge guests, off-limits to the general public) exclusively with sister property Sweni. Covering four different eco-zones, there’s a diverse selection of fauna and flora, and in turn a high density of wildlife. 

The highly-skilled trackers and rangers know the area like the backs of their hands, and work closely together to track the Big Five, so you’re guaranteed the most rewarding, private safari experience, with off-road game and night drives to track or view animals from an even closer perspective – impossible in the National Park’s public areas.


 

Having booked our own jeep meant we could soak up as much of Solomon’s knowledge that time allowed, so we asked him all those burning questions, like “Are there snakes?”... “Have you seen any?”... “Have you ever had to use your gun?”... You get the gist – I felt like I was five years old again! But he was super-patient, and answered every one as if it was the very first time he’d been asked them. 

The viewings themselves didn’t let us down either. We saw baboons shouting, impalas leaping, herds of elephants (including a day-old calf who looked just like Dumbo!), and the icing on the cake, two huge male lions making their way through the park in search of romance… nothing – and I mean nothing – beats the thrill of meeting their gaze for just a second. It completely takes your breath away. And as the sun sank beneath the horizon, we sank a couple of celebratory G&Ts, high on a hill with the bush stretching out in front of us for miles, before heading back to the lodge for dinner.

Now this is where my idea of safari really evolved. With Lebombo having such an informal, chilled-out feel to it, I’d expected everyone to head to dinner still wearing their safari gear, but after freshening up, a number of guests returned from their rooms in a more stylish (yet still-casual) look. 

Now this is where my idea of safari really evolved. With Lebombo having such an informal, chilled-out feel to it, I’d expected everyone to head to dinner still wearing their safari gear, but after freshening up, a number of guests returned from their rooms in a more stylish (yet still-casual) look.

The evening meal is an informal affair too, where à la carte options are accompanied by romantic lighting, and a table is set for each individual suite (no sharing tables with other guests here). It’s still super-sociable though, especially in the bar or round the fire-pit, swapping notes on the day’s events with fellow guests. But I loved that you have the option of privacy if you prefer it. And most people head off to bed around 10pm so they’re bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed for their morning game drive the following day.​

Though we weren’t planning any morning game drives, the one we did take in the end turned out to be my favourite: the Big Cat viewing was amazing as, being nocturnal they had fed through the night, so we found them napping with full tummies. The real highlight though was when, while watching a rhino in the distance, I looked to my right and spotted a lone leopard brushing past the jeep – so close I could make out every amazing marking on its coat.​​​

So to summarise (and I also speak for Stu who wasn’t so enamoured by the prospect of safari) this really is an adventure everyone should do if they can at least once in their life… I can’t think of even one negative, having come home feeling refreshed and relaxed (well, until we picked up the kids!) with a whole new respect for the amazing wildlife we got to see… and best of all? There really is no jet lag!

​​​​4 nights from £4495 per person. Price is based on two adults sharing a Suite at Singita Lebombo on an all-inclusive basis, and includes one free night for travel 1 Sep-18 Dec 18. Excludes flights.​

The Singita Collection

​​​​​​​​The Singita conservation brand has been helping to preserve the African wilderness for the past 25 years, and offers its guests an exceptional safari experience at each of their 12 luxury, award-winning lodges and camps across five regions in Africa. Check out more of our featured Singita experiences here...​

  • Singita Lebombo Lodge Kruger National Park

    Sleep under the South African stars and experience the ultimate safari in the heart of the Kruger National Park, where all the big hitters of the game world regularly stop by for a visit.

    Call us on 01244 567 000 to start planning your next holiday.

    View this property
  • Singita Sweni Lodge Kruger National Park

    Sleep under the South African stars and experience the ultimate safari in the heart of the Kruger National Park, where all the big hitters of the game world regularly stop by for a visit.

    Call us on 01244 567 000 to start planning your next holiday.

    View this property
  • Singita Boulders Lodge Sabi Sand Game Reserve

    Set on the banks of the Sand River, surrounded by open grassland and bush, you’ll find yourself enjoying every creature comfort in the most beautiful of natural environments.

    Call us on 01244 567 000 to start planning your next holiday.

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  • Singita Ebony Lodge Sabi Sand Game Reserve

    Set on the banks of the Sand River, surrounded by open grassland and bush, you’ll find yourself enjoying every creature comfort in the most beautiful of natural environments.

    Call us on 01244 567 000 to start planning your next holiday.

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  • Singita Explore Grumeti Serengeti

    Now for something completely different. Capturing the very essence of safari in true ‘Out of Africa’ style, this exclusive mobile camp is an experience unlike any other, with access to 340,000 acres of private land in the Serengeti.

    Call us on 01244 567 000 to start planning your next holiday.

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  • Singita Faru Faru Lodge Grumeti Serengeti

    This riverside lodge has eight open-style suites, all with thoughtful touches; great game-viewing year-round (not just during the Migration); and the style (we call it ‘Modern Maasai’) is a gorgeous mix of contemporary and traditional.

    Call us on 01244 567 000 to start planning your next holiday.

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  • Singita Sabora Tented Camp Grumeti Serengeti

    With a 1920s feel from its huge desks, antique travel chests, Persian rugs and silk curtains, everything in these stunning tents is top-notch, with modern additions such as air-con.

    Call us on 01244 567 000 to start planning your next holiday.

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