Forget about ‘roughing it’… These luxurious five-star lodges and safari camps are tailored for the wild at heart yet gentle in nature


The Kruger National Park is incredible – 350 km long by 60 km wide, it’s home to a massive array of fauna and flora. From Malelane in the south to Pafuri in the north, the vegetation ranges from grassy plains to mopane thickets to forests of towering baobabs.

Little wonder this safari paradise is high on the list for travellers from home and abroad. And there’s the problem: it gets busy.

Visit in the summer holidays and the roads are sure to be jammed with rental cars and travellers. If there’s a good sighting – a leopard lazing in the boughs of a marula, perhaps – the traffic resembles Rivonia road on a Friday afternoon. Minus the helpful pointsmen, of course. Strict national park rules also mean you’re herded along well-trodden routes, despite the potential of a lion pride glimpsed through the bush. But there is a solution.

Guarding Kruger’s western boundary is a series of private reserves in the area, each with five-star safari camps that know just how to combine the best of the bushveld with luxury lodgings. Many share an open border with the Kruger, so excellent game viewing is guaranteed. Throw exclusivity, off-road access and highly trained guides into the mix and you have the ingredients for an unforgettable safari.

AndBeyond Ngala Private Game Reserve
AndBeyond has long been one of the leading lights of high-end safaris in Southern Africa. Though it’s since spread its eco-sensitive tourism ethos as far afield as India and Chile, the essence of the brand is still best enjoyed in the bushveld of Africa. And nowhere is that more evident than Ngala, the 14 700 ha reserve an hour south of Hoedspruit. Ngala means ‘lion’ in the local Shangaan, and big cats are a highlight here. But then so are the other plentiful members of the big five.

The reserve is home to two lodges, each with its own distinct personality. Families will love Ngala Safari Lodge, a classic bushveld camp that combines modern comforts with the timeless charm of African safari. Guest areas overlook the lodge’s private waterhole, while a forest of mopane and tamboti trees shelters the cottages and suites. The inclusion of family cottages and an exclusive family suite makes this a great choice for inter-generational travellers, and the WILDchild children’s programme will keep young ones entertained.

Ngala Tented Camp, on the other hand, is all about romance. Pitched on the banks of the Timbavati river, these five-star lodgings offer lofty canvas ceilings and no shortage of creature comforts. A rim-flow pool overlooks the riverbed, while spacious decks are ideal for sundowners and nightcaps beneath the stars.

If you’re looking for romance and luxury in the wilderness, this is the camp for you.

Royal Malewane
This iconic lodge in the Thornybush Game Reserve underwent a major revamp in 2018, with upgrades to its suites, spa and common areas. It remains one of the more intimate safari experiences in the region, with six luxury suites and a pair of two-bedroomed royal suites. All offer private plunge pools, expansive private decks and luxurious bedrooms opening out onto panoramic bushveld views.

For small groups looking for privacy, the exclusive-use Africa House sleeps up to 12 guests in six bedrooms. With a dedicated chef, housekeeper and ranger on hand, flexibility is the watch-word here, allowing guests to tailor their safari holiday to suit their mood. Royal Malewane will add an additional layer of exclusivity to the property in mid-2019, with the opening of a second private villa, the Farmstead at Royal Malewane.

Tintswalo Safari Lodge
Another property that’s enjoyed a nip and tuck this year is the family-friendly Manor House at Tintswalo Safari Lodge.

This charming five-bedroom property was once the home of the Corbett family, owners of the Tintswalo portfolio, but today makes for a wonderful low-key safari escape. Situated in the 23 000 ha Manyeleti Game Reserve, which shares an open border with the Kruger National Park, it’s a relaxed sole-use property. It’s less opulent than other private villas but has bundles of charm.

Fully fenced from the surrounding bushveld, there’s a large pool and spacious lawns for young ones to burn off energy between game drives. And as it overlooks a large waterhole, guests are treated to a constant procession of game wandering right past the private boma. Of course, twice-daily game drives are a highlight, and Manor House guests have a dedicated guide and vehicle at their disposal. While you’re out on sunset drive, the butler, chef and housekeeping team will whip up a memorable dinner to be enjoyed beneath the stars.

For couples, the eight romantic suites at the Tintswalo Safari Lodge tick all the right boxes. Set apart from the main lodge by meandering wooden walkways, each suite – named after great explorers in African history – is decorated in a classic safari style, with four-poster beds and billowing mosquito nets. For sheer safari romance, it’s hard to beat.

Singita Boulders
In the realm of luxury safari camps, Singita Boulders sets the bar high. For starters, its location in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve places it squarely in some of the finest game-viewing territory SA has to offer.

This is a landscape renowned for its big cat sightings, although the rest of the big five and a menagerie of other game are in no short supply. Singita’s guides are some of the best in the business, and daily game drives, walks and interpretive experiences will keep you entertained.

Back at the lodge, the dozen suites are nothing short of remarkable. Most overlook the Sand river, while some gaze onto pristine bush and a waterhole. All offer spacious bedrooms, private sitting rooms and large decks overlooking the bushveld. Plunge pools come standard, of course. The food and wine offering is exemplary too. Singita – ‘place of miracles’ in Shangaan – is renowned for having one of the finest wine collections in African hospitality, with thousands of bottles in its cellars at any one time. The cellar is curated by wine director Francois Rautenbach, who is often on hand to deliver tutored wine tastings in the Boulders cellar. If he’s not at the lodge, one of his well-trained sommeliers will be quick to step in. It’s not a cheap safari by any means but for an utterly miraculous few days in the wilderness, it’s worth every dollar.

Ivory Lodge
Adding a distinctly contemporary touch to a luxe lowveld safari is Ivory Lodge in the Lion Sands Game Reserve, a private concession within the game-rich 66 000 ha of the Sabi Sands. The nine villas all occupy an enviable position overlooking the Sabie river, with spacious master bedrooms giving onto separate lounge and outdoor deck with private plunge pools.

Yet perhaps the most memorable bed in the Lion Sands has no roof at all. A highlight of the reserve, booked in conjunction with your lodge stay, is a night in one of the three Lion Sands tree houses. These multi-level tree houses offer an unforgettable night under the stars, with four-poster beds ensuring you’ll have only the Milky Way and the cacophony of night sounds for company. Though the tree houses are marooned in the bushveld, there’s a ranger on call via radio if needed.

Tanda Tula Safari Camp
Since its establishment in 1956, the Timbavati Game Reserve has become an icon in its own right, almost as famous as the neighbouring Kruger Park to the east.

In the heart of the reserve is Tanda Tula Safari Camp – a charming tented camp that will appeal to those who believe ‘less is more’. While there’s no shortage of creature comforts, the 12 tented suites along the banks of the Nharalumi river favour comfortable charm over unashamed opulence.

Each suite boasts a free-standing bath and outdoor shower in the en suite, but forget about modern decor and private plunge pools: they’re replaced here by a simple wooden deck (to yourself, of course) and an armchair with an unobstructed view of the wilderness. What more could you ask for?

Well, perhaps a G&T – and the staff are certainly superb at mixing those. They’re also unfailingly hospitable, treating guests like long-lost friends rather than transient tourists. Less of a luxury escape than a comfortable bolthole in the bush, Tanda Tula is the perfect place to indulge in its namesake and ‘love the quiet’.

By Richard Holmes
Images: Singita, Ivory Lodge, Andbeyond