Stretching some 350-kilometres from north to south, the Kruger National Park is vast and offers seemingly limitless places to stay. If you're on a budget the self-catering accommodation run by SANParks is the best way to stretch your Rands, but if you've got a little cash to burn the bushveld is your oyster.
Ngala Tented Camp
"You slept in a tent?" someone with little love for the great outdoors asked on my return home from Ngala Tented Camp. "I thought you were staying in style!"
But when Ngala 'does' a tent it's a masterpiece. The tent to end all tents. A tent with lofty canvas ceilings, elephantine bed, wicker armchairs, flickering paraffin lamps and an outdoor shower simply made for watching heavenly bodies. Stars… I mean.
The main lodge is chock-full of old world charm, with a deft style that's missing from so many other safari-spots. Stuffed animals on the walls are replaced with a bright African headdress. No zebra skin couch here, just chic retro chairs in green corduroy; rough stone walls in place of tacky prints of Africa’s Big Five.
The Ngala (which means 'lion' in Shangaan) reserve itself is a modest 14 000ha, but with fences dropped with the Timbavati to the West and Kruger to the East it’s as good as being in the Park itself. And, after your guided game drive, you have that lovely lodge to come back to, not some poorly-pitched tent at the rest camp. Ah yes... if I was going to go camping in the bushveld, Ngala Tented Camp would be my wigwam of choice.
Jock Safari Lodge
Sir Percy Fitzpatrick's bushveld tale about his faithful hound Jock is one of South Africa's best-loved children's stories, and the lodge named in his honour is one of my favourite places to stay in the park.
The lodge boasts 12 luxury air-conditioned suites (each with a private plunge pool) which combine the wilderness with a touch of elegance. Throw in romantic mozzie nets, a bottle of chardonnay in the fridge and stylish décor and you've got the perfect honeymoon getaway.
But don't spend all your time at the pool. With just 24 guests enjoying the 6000ha private concession this is the Kruger you've always dreamed of; without the traffic jams, 'no entry' signs and crowded picnic sites. Sir Percy, and Jock, would be proud.
The jewel in the Singita group's safari crown, each of the 15 suites at Singita Lebombo has been designed to resemble an eagle's nest. A five-star eagle with impeccable taste who likes their home comforts in beak-dropping style, that is.
Raised boardwalks (the lodge is unfenced) lead to your private eyrie where natural textures are perfectly offset by modern touches – a hanging lamp of intricately moulded glass here, a deliciously modern chair there, an iPod on the wall playing the über-cool 'Singita mix' – to make this easily the most stylish safari escape the world has to offer.
Singita Lebombo has exclusive traversing rights to a large chunk of the Kruger National Park and, as you'd expect, the game viewing is excellent with plains game and rhino in abundance. Spotting the famous 26-strong pride of lions that claim the Lebombo Mountain as their own is also a highlight.
At Singita though, enjoying a taste of the good life is every bit as important as finding game. Back at the lodge every meal from Head Chef Clinton Drake's kitchen is a masterpiece, and made all the better accompanied by a fine vintage from the Lodge's 3000-bottle wine cellar.
A stay at Singita Lebombo isn't cheap by any means, but it is certainly worth every cent… this is one of those 'before-I-die' places to add to your list.
Set in a 10 000 hectare private concession of Kruger, Hoyo Hoyo Tsonga Lodge offers a fascinating cultural safari experience, with intriguing suites in the form of six traditional Tsonga 'beehive' huts. The lodge is proud of the area's Tsonga heritage, and all fabrics, décor and objet d’art have been sourced from the local Tsonga community.
Staff at the lodge are happy to share the Tsonga way of life with guests, and fireside tribal tales over dinner are a regular highlight. In addition to the guided walks, bush picnics and traditional game drives in 'Big Five' country, the Nomadic Spa Experience allows you to experience relaxing spa treatments in the privacy of your beehive suite.
If you're looking for something more rewarding than furry creatures and fine food in the wilderness, this cultural experience is for you.
Sabi Sand may not officially be part of Kruger, but no other private reserve has done quite so much to establish the region as one of the world's wildlife hotspots. Renowned for its big cat sightings, the reserve has over two dozen lodges, but you couldn't ask for a better base to spot feisty felines than Kirkman's Camp.
Harking back to a time when visitors hunted big game with carbines, not Canons, the lodge's 1920s colonial atmosphere has a charm all of its own, and an evening G&T on the lawns is simply compulsory. Dinner is similarly al fresco, served by candlelight on the grass (with curious warthogs in attendance) or in the outdoor boma.
The 18 rooms are spread out a little way from the lodge, and with no fences keeping the animals out you'll need an escort back to your room in case you bump into some grumpy bachelor buffalo. Although not as grand as many other lodges, the rooms are more than comfortable with a cosy yester-year charm and private verandas offering sweeping views over the Sand River.
Pestana Kruger Lodge
Just outside Kruger's southern Malelane gate you'll find the four-star Pestana Kruger Lodge, a great option for an affordable Kruger getaway.
Each of the lodge's 74 rooms offer views of the indigenous gardens or the Crocodile River, which forms the border between the Lodge and the park. With hippos a-splashin' and game coming down to drink you hardly need leave the hotel to go game-spotting!
Unlike most other lodges you also have a choice of restaurants at Pestana; from Buhlebethu and Crocofellas overlooking the river to the outdoor Boma braai experience there's something to suit most pockets.
Money matters aside, this is also a great spot for families – there's a health spa for mum, supertube and games for the kids and a selection of golf courses nearby for dad. The lodge is less than a kilometre from the gate, but don't forget you will need to pay entrance fees each time you enter the Park.