* This article first appeared here in The Citizen
From Dullstroom, it’s a much easier three-hour drive to Kruger. I’d been watching the reports about the extraordinary amount of rain that Kruger had been receiving – reports that proved to be prophetic. The moment we entered the Paul Kruger Gate the rain began to fall, only relenting now and then.
After a short drive to Skukuza – Kruger’s central hub it’s stone’s throw into Lion Sands Private Game Reserve. The Western flank of Kruger is synonymous with chic lodges, and in Lion Sands, the MORE Family Collection has four lodges: two in Kruger, two in Sabi Sand, and two exclusive-use villas. After an extraordinary experience at their sister property Marataba, I was hoping to experience the same MORE hospitality here.
Before the Sabi River, a magnificently large Jackleberry tree stands charge over the lodge. At an estimated 300-year-old, the tree has witnessed not only centuries of natural drama, but also South African history as legend has it Mandela and de Klerk signed a memorandum of agreement under the tree. The deck spreads around the tree and the retreats from the riverside up to the main lodge, offering several places for enjoying river-side views and al fresco bush-dining.
Tinga Lodge possesses a distinctively classic and utterly luxurious safari feel. With only nine suites, it often feels as though you have the lodge to yourself. The property closely hugs the Sabi River, with unobstructed views out over the bush where the wildlife is the daily entertainment. The suites are supremely spacious, providing perfect views from the bed, bathtub, deck, and your private splash pool.
Suite one – my home for my stay – was the furthest from the lodge and the five-minute walk along the boardwalk was a reminder of the wild surroundings. I could hear the snorts of a nearby hippo and moments later a trumpeting elephant, both either unhappily protesting something or perhaps welcoming me to the bush. Naturally, I took it as the latter.
When asked if we were comfortable going out on a game drive, the four of us that been assigned a vehicle together responded with an immediate yes; the rain had hardly dampened our spirits. The canvas roof provided sufficient cover and off we went. Our first sighting was a journey of giraffe grazing some low hanging acacia branches, and in the foreground, the rain had caused a cloud of flying ants to rise.
Around two hours later the rain paused long enough for us to safely climb off the vehicle enjoy a sundowner on the raised river bank. With spirits lifted by the age-old tradition of a bush G&T, we set off back to the lodge. Just before arriving back, we stumbled on what was for all of us, including the three guides, a once-in-a-lifetime wildlife spectacle.
A cackle of hyenas had commandeered a little stream that had sprung up from all the rain, and the scene before us resembled a teenage pool party; they were diving in and out of the water, swimming about, even taking turns pulling each other out the water… and this went on for minutes. With the rain pouring around us we sat transfixed at this rare sighting of some serious hyena hysteria.
Back at the lodge, it was time for a luxurious bath in the sanctuary of my suite before returning for supper. One of the novelties at Tinga Lodge is that every time I’d return to my suite, my housekeeper Ntomby would leave a message on the little chalkboard. I’d then leave her a message in return. One of the many marks of the completely personable service of not only a luxury lodge but the MORE Family Collection.
One of the most exclusive ways to enjoy the park is of course by staying at a private lodge. Not only do you benefit from having a guide drive you about, but you also have access to private roads. Tinga Lodge is no exception and guests can enjoy exclusive traversing rights in Lion Sands Private Game Reserve with kilometers of wilderness – where trumpeting elephants and swimming hyenas are waiting to welcome you. more.co.za/lionsands