For many safari-goers “luxury” is a dirty word. But as much as I love quiet, inconspicuous “comfortable” bush-camps, there is something to be said for going to the top of the market and getting thoroughly pampered in the process….
Which is why, when I feel the need for the finer things in life and a bush break to boot, I usually head off to Singita in South Africa’s Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve, which borders the world-famous Kruger National Park.
Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, it’s 5-star. And yes, it’s fabulously luxurious. But underneath all of this beats the heart of a truly committed and outstandingly generous team of conservation-minded individuals, headed up by Singita’s owner Luke Bailes, who see to it that Singita is SO much more than just another chain of luxury safari destinations.
Take, for example, the amazing community projects that Singita has become involved with wherever it operates – like the feeding program in the stricken communities around Singita Pamushana in southern Zimbabwe, or the trust set up to benefit the impoverished and underprivileged on the borders of Singita Grumeti Reserve in Tanzania, and, indeed, the range of programs currently helping to uplift communities around the Sabi Sands where Singita has two lodges – Ebony and Boulders.
Consider also the vital conservation and environmental work being done at Singita Lebombo inside the Kruger National Park and the way Singita Grumeti Reserves and Singita Pamushana have “saved” regions devastated by poachers with the help of investor and American financier Paul Tudor Jones. All of these projects have been funded primarily with the money raised from Eco-tourism.
My destination for this particular round of pampering is Singita Boulders lodge, which is perched on the banks of the Sand River deep in the heart of the Sabi Sands.
As lodges go, it’s pretty much standard in that the main communal areas are laid out in a breathtaking position overlooking the river. Breakfast and lunch are served on a deck with views of forever under a canopy of jackalberry trees, with a similarly positioned lounge and raised pool area both enjoying amazing views.
Dinners are served either inside, beside an open fire on cold winter nights, or outside by the pool, and occasionally in a beautiful boma with the Singita choir entertaining guests with their beautiful voices and a range of traditional Shangaan songs and dances.
Game drives too are pretty standard, with early wake-up calls for the morning adventure and the afternoon/evening drive following high-tea on the deck.
But that’s pretty much where the “standard” ends, because if there’s one thing Singita isn’t, it’s “standard”! Far from it, in fact.
The team at Boulders lodge went to great lengths to explain that they were there to make sure that every little whim was taken care of, whether it be a hastily prepared cheese and tomato sandwich for your hungry scribe to take on the afternoon drive with her, or adjustments being made to the heating in the sumptuous private villas.
“Would you like us to prepare a fire in your room for you on your return from dinner?” Indeed!
“Would you like some Amarula in your morning coffee on the game drive?” Spot-on! “Would you like us to prepare morning coffee and muffins in your room before your early game drive?” Sounds great!
“Would you like us to prepare you a breakfast pizza without tomato?” Perfect! Nothing, but NOTHING is too much trouble and the staff’s powers of observation are near legendary, to boot!
The same can be said for tracker Solomon and guide James, who seem to find game which has been conveniently placed by some mysterious force intent on overwhelming the passengers on every drive into the gorgeous, but often chilly winter bush.
Lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo and elephant all get ticked off the checklist with amazing speed, which has my fellow guests from the US all chuffed as they can be and leaves us time to focus on the more unusual and in some case rare sightings like buffalo browsing instead of grazing, hyaena denning, dwarf mongooses sunning themselves on a termite mound and a white rhino with a small calf sleeping in the middle of the road!
And then there are the “surprises” – like turning a corner on the morning game drive to find a grassy clearing where a bush breakfast buffet has been set up, complete with champagne and even a Bloody Mary should your heart so desire!
Or going back to your room after dinner to find a chocolate fondu with fresh fruit on the table and bubble baths with rose petals lovingly prepared with a bottle of bubbly on ice!
I haven’t mentioned the rooms, which of course are palatial, because it seems almost like overkill to go on and on about how amazing Boulders is.
It’s heavenly at every level, whether it’s the incredible service, the wide smiles of the staff, the soft humming of the housekeepers as they go about their business, the nyala that interrupt your walk along the boardwalk to lunch….
At the end of the day, as safaris go, it’s difficult to find anywhere else in South Africa that does it better. That, of course, is a matter of opinion, but in mine Singita really is a wonderful champion of the ultimate safari experience.