It is dusk; the hour between the butterfly and the moth. I am ensconced in a comfortable chair on the deck of my room at Lion Sands River Lodge. The evocative sound of hyenas calling rents the air, as I stare at the fast-fading light over the flood plain of the Sabie River.
The habituated family of bushbuck which have the freedom of the camp have retired into the thicket. Bats are emerging and I can hear the ‘prrrup’ of an African Scops Owl from one of the ancient trees lining the riverbed.
Lured by the quiet privacy and appealing Feng Shui décor of my room, I have spent the afternoon reveling in my surrounds. While I lay on the crisp, white duvet cover on my bed I watched banded mongoose as they foraged, interacted with one another and sprinted across the sand towards cover – a brave dash to avoid predators. A breeding herd of elephants, including a baby so young it could not yet use its trunk, foraged in the verdant bush. Holding its splendid horns high, a lone kudu bull walked slowly past. One does not have to leave the precincts of River Lodge to see an abundance of game.
I am impressed with the light, spacious feel of my newly refurbished room. The walls are painted barley white and the floor is a pleasing cream, which contrasts with the raw wood of the carved luggage bench and the side tables.
An outside–inside effect is created in the bathroom as large windows open next to the organically shaped bathtub: another good vantage point for watching monkeys in the spreading boughs of the nearby Jackalberry, or the array of birds which decorate the shrubs. Butterflies, including Citrus Swallowtails, Small Orange Tips and Brown-veined Whites add to the splendor of the view.
Tables for dinner are set with white cloths and crockery, on a raised wooden deck beneath the stars. I choose Butternut and Coconut soup, followed by Sea Bass with Lemon Caper Salsa and herb vegetables, which enhances the flavour of the aromatic Sauvignon Blanc. For dessert, I select the Chocolate Pudding. Each course is delicious and artistically presented.
After early morning coffee, where fruit and rusks are available, we set off in the safari vehicle. An experienced tracker sits on a chair on the front to assist the guide to find game – preferably the Big Five – for our viewing pleasure. This area, in the Sabi Sands Private reserve, is famed for its cat sightings so we are expectant.
When we are shown the fresh tracks of a male leopard that has moved off the road into the bush, we are excited. The tracker and guide set off on foot, with a rifle in hand, to try to locate the leopard. Sitting silently, we appreciate the sounds of the bush and we spot a feeding party of blue waxbills, finches and canaries.
The scent of crushed sage
Our heroes return and we drive off-road into the mixed woodland with a sense of exhilaration growing with every metre. Another safari vehicle appears, as our guide has called in the possible sighting and invites help to find the elusive cat. Holding on, as the ride is now bumpy, we drive over Magic Guarri and Raisin shrubs to penetrate into the bush. Crushed sage releases a pleasant aroma. There he is! We are thrilled to see a magnificent leopard with a thick, muscular neck. He strolls further into the dense undergrowth, where we are unable to follow him.
To celebrate, we stop in an open area next to the Sabie River for tea and gourmet snacks, which include mini-quiches, petite fresh muffins, biscuits, fruit and nuts. Hippos eye us suspiciously. A Pied Kingfisher swoops down in a vertical blur and catches a silvery fish. We have seen a kill!
Returning to camp we spot a massive bull elephant with impressive tusks, and a 50-strong herd of buffalo. Warmly greeted by staff at the lodge, we are offered refreshingly cool hand towels to wash off the dust of the drive.
River Lodge has a canopy of tall, very old trees, many of which are labeled to help guests identify the different species. The twenty rooms are spread out alongside the riverbed and joined by a wooden walkway, which I use for a brisk walk each morning after the game drive.
There are two pretty infinity swimming pools with one in the sunshine and one predominantly in shade. I languish in the shady pool, lying on my back, gazing up at the negative shapes behind the leafy crowns.
From the moment I arrive, until I leave, I am treated with personal yet discreet care. Being in this pristine area in Lion Sands River Lodge is idyllic. Memories of big five sightings and my elegant room will remain with me as a glimpse of heaven.
For reservations visit www.lionsands.com or call (011) 880-9992. Federal Air offers direct flights to Skukuza, which is a 30-minute drive from Lion Sands. Visit www.fedair.com or phone 011 395 9000.