Top 5 Luxury Lodges in Southern AfricaNovember 24, 2020
From the wondrous thrill of observing the Big Five going about their business, to the frisson of a night game drive in the company of rare nocturnal beasts, the Kruger region is universally fabled. Staying in one, two – or indeed all – these magnificently luxurious lodges is to experience safari’s deepest dazzle and the spiritual serenity of Africa all at once.
The arc of the mighty Monwana River meanders just past Saseka, an alluring lodge that features precisely the correct amount of those aah moments a true luxury safari should. Privacy is built-in: only eight elegant two-person tents whose interior canvasses are dappled with pretty herbarium prints, bedrooms and en-suite bathrooms are bright and spacious, and tall glass doors open onto a deliciously decadent outdoor showers, plunge pools, and uninterrupted prospects onto the endless savannah. This romantic setting is an African classic: 14,000 hectares on a private nature reserve sharing a fenceless border with Kruger National Park—plump with lions and leopards and a mesmerising cast of animals who, like us, can’t get enough of the infinite skies of Africa and the grand lodge living at Saseka.
Insider Tip: Ideal for families and groups, the new Leadwood Villa accommodates six adults and three children in complete privacy amidst four suites, a spacious lounge and dining area, gardens and large pool.
The locale—sublime. Sabi Private Game Reserve, the foundation of the oldest private game reserve in South Africa, is also credited as birthplace of sustainable wildlife tourism in Southern Africa. The accommodation—the peerless, well-imagined luxury of Cheetah Plains, just three exclusive-use houses that are temples of elegance as well as of solar-powered sustainability. Designed from the personal passions of owner Japie van Niekerk, Cheetah Plains shimmers with the pure patina of Africa: accommodating four to eight guests per house, a heated swimming pool is surrounded by sleek day beds that overlook the watering hole; muted palettes and cool polished stone throughout. Games drives set out in prototype, zero-emission electric Land Cruiser safari vehicles, a sustainable, much-lauded innovation pioneered by Japie van Niekerk. Each seriously comfortable vehicle features binoculars and a professional-grade Nikon D850 camera fitted with a 200-500mm telephoto lens and memory card. Thoughtful extras abound at Cheetah Plains, such as iPhone X preloaded with the Roberts’ bird app, Stuart’s mammal app, and an astronomy app for those big starry African nights. And, in Micato’s preferred world, it goes without saying each graciously appointed house comes with its own staff and top-drawer chef, formal lounge, living room, sun deck, lap pool, loggia, wine gallery, and dining room. Bathrooms feature double rain showers and baths overlooking the bushveld. On fine evenings, which are the happy norm, outdoor fireside dining is an atmospheric delight.
Insiders tip: The Plains Houses each include a destination-worthy contemporary gallery space, showcasing the owner’s personal collection of some of Africa’s most celebrated artists.
A luxurious and luminescent home in the wilderness— one’s very own slice of safari sanctum that is Kubili House. Set serenely amidst the animal-blessed wilds of Thornybush Game Reserve, this grand and glorious house, built by a South-African born New Yorker, is now available for exclusive use. A triumph of modern design (elegantly designed with original art and every modern convenience and luxury such as three swimming pools, a spa and steam room), its cascading windows, panoramic decks, five large bedrooms, and relaxful fire pits ensure intimate connection with the immediate environment—adjacent, the exceptionally large waterhole is frequented by a full complement of inimitable African creatures. Game drives from this prestigious locale serve up memorable, enduring memories of the iconic Big Five as well as an extraordinary cast of colourful creatures great and small.
Insiders tip: For a bit of roughing it in style, Kubili has three specially equipped camping vehicles for overnight safaris into the little-touristed Thornybush Reserve. Too, the possibility of a private helicopter zoom over the yawning Blyde River Canyon, perhaps pausing for a mountaintop picnic en route. Back at Kubili, a chef, sous chef, and a large, amiable staff remain in alert attendance.
Tengile River Lodge
Refined, sophisticated, ever serene, Tengile River Lodge is among our steadfast favourites—and not merely due to its sleek luxurious villas, elevated cuisine, and dean’s list attention to detail. (Among the aspects we most adore: in each villa, there’s a long-length private pool, grand living space, and blush-makingly well-stocked bar.) This is safari-ing as civilised as it comes: Kruger’s tarmac roads are baby-bottom smooth, the boutique airport gives the impression of a stylish private hangar. Founded in 1926, South Africa’s largest national park is home to more than 140 awe-inspiring species, including the iconic Big Five in all their fearsome, hairy, horny, tantalisingly toothsome numbers. Located in the fenceless adjoining Sabi Sand Reserve, these gorgeous creatures roam free across these varied terrains. Of particular joy, the splendidly mottled, big-eared packs of African wild dogs that are regularly seen and heard—their joyful howls and yips will make all dog lovers’ hearts swell.
Insider Tip: Night game drives are a special treat at Tengile where, following a bracing bush sundowner, spotlights are carefully trained on the track and here, presto, perhaps a hyena, a leopard or even a lion pops into view…
Experience safari living just as Richard Branson does, at Cliff Lodge. Sir Richard’s personal lodge is made available for hire, one of two lodges at exclusive Ulusaba. Meaning “place of little fear”, its lair-like perch once provided Shangaan warriors a revered lookout. Today, Ulusaba has 20 rooms and suites over two lodges: the splendid eight-room Rock Lodge, including the beautiful Cliff Lodge, and Safari Lodge. Just a short walk from the main house is Cliff Lodge, a private two-bedroom suite. From the moment you alight at the private airstrip and take in the glorious expanse of Sabi Sands reserve, from a lion’s roar and the frolicking baboons, to a game of afternoon tennis followed by cocktails at your private plunge pool atop the silent kopje… we’re certain you’ll find Ulusaba is also a place of limitless wonder.
Insider Tip: Ulusaba is ideally suited to hire exclusively—for a best-ever birthday or simply, privately, and rather perfectly, for a magical getaway with friends and family.