Watch wildlife from a private hot tub at Lion Sands Game Reserve hotel in the wilderness of South Africa in Kruger National Park. Choose your lodge to suit your safari style; go barefoot in the bush in River Lodge, soak in breathtaking views at Ivory, bring the outdoors in at Narina, or enjoy a few more contemporary comforts in Tinga. In this back-to-nature escape, stargaze from your private deck or peer through the telescope to view exotic animals. Both game drives and safari strolls are available to bring you up close to wildlife in an unspoiled habitat. Like what you see? Stay here while on one of our South African adventures…
Get this when you book through us:
A romantic turn-down and private in-suite dining experience with butler service
11am. Earliest check-in, 3pm; both flexible subject to availability.
Double rooms from $2615.28 (ZAR37,930), excluding tax at 15 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional government tax of ZAR115.00 per person per night on check-out.
Rates include all meals and most drinks, transfers to and from Skukuza airport, two game drives every day and other wildlife activities such as escorted bush walks.
At the hotel
A team of local experts and safari guides, public lounges with open fireplaces, outdoor decks with telescopes, and free WiFi in all public areas. Ivory Lodge has an art gallery. In rooms: a private plunge pool, air-conditioning, black-out curtains, a minibar with free bottled water, and tea- and coffee-making facilities.
Our favourite rooms
The villa nearest the river has the best views and a little bit of extra privacy – it's often given to honeymooning couples.
Each villa has a private pool. There is a telescope for viewing animals from deck.
Each of the Lodges has an Africology spa where you can enjoy facials, massages and manicures in between game drives. Africology is one of South Africa’s leading eco-friendly and holistic spa brands and uses all natural ingredients that are kind to the skin. Some treatments are performed outside, so if you can keep your eyes open while having a relaxing massages, there are beautiful surroundings to gaze at.
Bring sturdy, ankle-length thick-soled boots for bush walking. Sun cream and a hat are recommended. Bring a warm fleece in winter for night safaris.
Park entrance fees are not included; guests on self drives will have to pay R110–R120 for their vehicle and R20–R30 a person. Tinga and River Lodge are suitable for disabled travellers.
Children aged 10 and older are welcome in all of the lodges. Babysitting is available in Tinga and River Lodge, and both have family rooms; River Lodge also has two interconnecting rooms. Tinga, River and Narina all offer kids’ activities for bush babies.
Each booking is subject to a Conservation Contribution fee of ZAR115 a person, each night, which will be used for protecting endangered species and upkeep of the park.
Relaxed and comfortable. Practical clothing for safaris (preferably not in neon colours).
Breakfast and lunch are normally served on the lower wooden viewing deck, but lunch can also be served in your villa. Dinner options are fine dining indoors or a buffet in the outdoor boma under the stars. Meals are also be served in the bush.
All drinks are included in the room rate, except premium brands and champagne.
Lunch is served 1pm–3.30pm; afternoon tea from 4pm; dinner from 7.30pm. The bar closes when the last guest leaves.
Airlink (www.saairlink.co.za) flies once daily from Johannesburg to Mala Mala Airstrip, a 45-minute drive from the hotel. Federal Air (www.fedair.com) flies to Skukuza Airport (25 minutes away), and there are flights from both Johannesburg and Cape Town to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport. You can also arrange a private charter to Skukuza airport.
Take the romantic Rovos Rail Safari (www.rovos.com) from Pretoria to Komatipoort, with transfers to Skukuza by bus. From Skukuza, a free transfer in an open Land Rover can be arranged.
The nearest town is Hazyview, an hour away. The hotel is roughly five hours (520km) from Johannesburg; take the N12/N4 to Nelspruit, the R40 to Hazyview and then the R536 toward Paul Kruger Gate. After 38km, turn left on the gravel road which is signposted to Lion Sands; at the junction, turn right toward Sabi Sand Gate. Pay to enter, and then follow signs to Lion Sands.
Worth getting out of bed for
The Kruger National Park has spectacular scenery, with abundant wildlife to match. The south-western section of the park, around the Crocodile and Olifants rivers, is thickly wooded and home to white rhinos and buffalo. The plains in the eastern section of the park are favoured by giraffes, wildebeests, impala and zebras, which also makes the area popular with lions. After a few days in the park you would be unlucky not to have spotted the Big Five: lions, leopards, elephants, Cape buffalo and black rhino.
Four creepy, cackling spotted hyenas are looking up at us in our open-to-the-skies treehouse. We’re on our first safari drive, and the feeling of being in the middle of all this nothingness is incredible. There’s an incomparable sense of space – the South African plains stretching hundreds of miles into the distance – and real silence. We breathe unpolluted air. There’s no TV, no music, just healing for the soul. For the first time in months, I feel completely at peace. All this (plus the spotted hyenas that we’ve only previously seen on Planet Earth) makes home seem a thousand time zones away.
A 20-minute drive from the warmth of our lodge at Lion Sands Game Reserve, and complete with four-poster bed, lanterns and table set for dinner, the roof-less treehouse has been prepared for a brave twosome to stay the night. Camping doesn't get much posher. But, much to Mr Smith’s disappointment, we’re not staying over. We’re here for the ritual sundowners with our ranger and new-found safari pals, to drink wine, chew biltong and watch the sunset. Once the sky has turned a stunning blood-red, and darkness has fallen, we descend the three flights of stairs, jump into the Land Rover, and make our way back towards the comfort of our animal-proof room at Ivory Lodge, the more grown-up, private and exclusive of the two lodges at Lion Sands, with River Lodge a less luxurious, earthier neighbour for families or groups of friends.
We chat about the evening drive, and our sightings of black rhinos with their young, a herd of 100 Cape buffalos, a family of elephants, hippos snoozing in the water, and birds of all colours: reds, blues, oranges. Just as we’re settling in for a Land Rover doze (we’re not the only ones…), the radio crackles to life. A change of direction, and we enter a clearing to see a leopard leaning over its recent kill – an impala. The big cat looks up at us with panicked eyes, protective and bloody-mouthed. Feline and elegant even as it tries to drag the impala up a tree, it is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. We leave it to feast alone and return in contemplative silence.
The rooms at Lion Sands are fabulously roomy and luxurious. Neutral colours and a simple but sleekly designed interior contrast strikingly with the backdrop of the bush, visible through the all-glass exterior. A huge, raised bathroom is sumptuous and sensual, with freestanding bath and alfresco shower. As soon as we'd arrived, we jumped into our own private infinity pool, watching thrilled as Cape buffalo came to drink and hippos bobbed about in the water. Now, with half an hour till dinner, Mr Smith attacks the fully stocked super-size bar in our separate sitting room, furnished with deep, comfy sofas, a ready-to-light open fireplace and lots of games. I lie on our bed with the binoculars, staring out at the happenings of the animal kingdom; a fish eagle is circling above, ready to pounce.
In the candlelit dining room, its doors open to the stilted terrace and the river lurking below, purple furniture looks modern and chic against the dark wood. Our charming ranger, Diana, joins us for dinner and fills us in on the lodge gossip. We drink fine South African wine and, encouraged by Mr Smith, we feast on impala and wildebeest, the most common of game – lion-feed, so to speak. We’re told how, a week earlier, a young leopard was spotted at night by some merry guests on the wooden walkway that lead to the rooms. Exhausted, we trundle off to bed, squeezing the security guard.
The wooden gong sounds outside our room at 5am, when hot coffee and biscuits are pushed through the hatch. We enjoy another perfect moment on our deck as the sun rises, watching the buffalo drinking at the river’s edge – until we are rudely interrupted by some cheeky monkeys. ‘Close all the doors,’ shouts Mr Smith in mid-laughter as he claps them away. We leave them to finish our breakfast on the deck, and embark on our morning’s nature drive.
We soon catch up with our leopard from the night before; they never wander far from the scene, and it can take them up to four days to devour their kill. There he was, perfectly poised, having a wash on top of a rock – a giant version of our Tigger back home. I experience an urge to reach out five foot and touch him. We certainly don’t need the binoculars or the giant lens. We quietly follow him back to his kill and see more of the impala than we perhaps need to just before tucking into the lodge’s hearty breakfast.
Home-made muesli and jams, fresh juice, bacon, eggs, sausages… ‘I never want to go home,’ says a pensive Mr Smith. It is now 10am, but I’m secretly looking forward to climbing back into that huge bed, lover in tow. In the guestbook in our room, one guest has written that she saw a lion kill a wildebeest on the banks of the river as she was having a massage. When the masseurs come and set up side-by-side beds on our private deck, next to the infinity pool, I promise myself I’ll keep my eyes open as long as possible.
Not a chance. My mind wanders off among thoughts of endless wilderness and a life of wholesome activity with this incredible backdrop of savage beauty. Lion Sands manages its share of the beauty sensitively: in the More family since the 1930s, the lodge is the only reserve in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve to employ a full-time ecologist. You can tell when you’re staying at an owner-run property – rather like eating in a family-run restaurant, it tends to be an environment with heart. Lion Sands is just such a destination, and its ethos of elegance and respect for its location will stay with you after you leave.
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