Game Changer

Writer Stephanie Shiu | March 3, 2017

As the plane descends onto the expanse of Kruger National Park, it’s like a scene from a film with flapping elephant ears already in view, and giraffes peering out over the trees. As the wheels nearly graze the landing strip, we find ourselves swiftly, and somewhat bewilderingly, on the ascent once again. “Sorry I couldn’t risk landing with a wildebeest in the middle of the landing strip,” explains our pilot. Because these are actual problems encountered in one of Africa’s most iconic landscapes teeming with spectacular wildlife.

The 45-minute drive to Singita Lebombo Lodge continues in much the same vein, spotting zebras, impalas and a lone dawdling tortoise before we even arrive at our final destination. The Park authority makes three per cent of the remote areas available as private concessions for a period of 25 years, which Singita was awarded. And what an incredible one it is, having been recently refurbished. Our lodge is suspended above the crocodile-infested N’Wanetsi River with its clean, minimalist design blending seamlessly into the dramatic surrounds, to the extent it’s hard to tell where the room ends, and the wild begins.

Wild Thing

Of course wilderness is everywhere, and we waste no time diving in. Fuelled by John’s famous ice coffee spiked with Amarula Cream and giraffe-shaped caramel doughnuts, our guide Brian and tracker Charles bundle us into the four-wheel drive and head to one of the world’s oldest and largest national parks, at 4.8 million acres, for the afternoon. Literally within five minutes of leaving camp, we are lucky enough to come across three lions from the Shish pride, lying belly up under a bush, catching respite from the sun. So close in fact that an iPhone was more than adequate to do justice to the magnificent cats lying in mind-bogglingly close proximity.

With 25 years of guiding experience, Brian is described by colleagues as a ‘walking wildlife Wikipedia’ and for good reason, and teamed with tracker Charles, known for his laser vision, together they form the safari dream team. We also have Sean, guide in training, accompany us while learning on the job, demonstrating immense passion that will make him a success in the field. Each session is roughly five hours, and the time zips by, as we keep our eyes peeled for everything, from the most delicate of flowers to colourful European rollers and the more obviously impressive elephants, giraffes, hippos and lions, which Kruger is famous for.

Communication between vehicles plays an integral role in sightings and when Brian is alerted of a male lion and three females by another Singita vehicle, it’s an exhilarating race against time as the sun begins to retreat. At a moment’s notice we find ourselves in the heart of the action, pulling up to the big cats digesting the last of lunch after a radio alert, or standing watch as the guides traverse tall grass to investigate a spot surrounded by vultures, rifles at the ready. There’s no telling what the day will bring, which is what makes safari the ideal blend of relaxation and adrenaline.

On the way back, after sundowners at a different picturesque setting, Charles uses a spotlight to introduce us to the park’s nocturnal inhabitants, including hyenas, scrub hares, jackal, deadly scorpions and a family of porcupines. The beauty is that all guides demonstrate the same enthusiasm as us, as if seeing these creatures for the first time. Brian in particular displays the same degree of glee when spotting a snail or cuckoo as any of the ‘Big Five’.

Minimalist design blending seamlessly into the dramatic surrounds, to the extent it’s hard to tell where the room ends, and the wild begins