The bush is always appealing to me, but my all-time favourite spot is the lush veld lining the Sabie River in Mpumalanga. Here, where the vegetation is pristine and the trees huge, I feel as though I have a glimpse down the eons of time that have formed its beauty. Hugging a curve of this perennial river is the ultra-elegant Ivory Lodge in Lion Sands.
I am excited to be flying into Skukuza airport in the Kruger Park for the first time, in a comfortable Cessna Caravan with Bateleur Air. The pilot spoils me and flies low over the Sabie River, circling around the site of Ivory Lodge and its sister River Lodge. Location! Location! Location! The lodges have a sublime position on the edge of the river, beneath a canopy of ancient trees.
The journey from the small neat airport is a mere 30 minutes, during which time I see a kaleidoscope of giraffe, a stately kudu bull, rutting impala and glorious specimens of Maroela trees, a dead Leadwood – carbon dated over a thousand years old – and many trees whose names I hope to learn.
The six suites at Ivory Lodge are tucked away in the vegetation. I stroll down the low wooden walkway, towards the impressive carved mahogany doors. As I enter my suite, I am completely overwhelmed by its size and striking design as well as the splendour of the view - over the infinity pool - down the flowing river. I hear sunbirds calling and see clouds of butterflies, like autumn leaves in a breeze.
My bed is a vast space covered in white textured fabric, decorated with black and white scatter cushions, canopied by an ivory mosquito net. Floor to ceiling glass ensures that the sun illuminates the suite and I may gaze at the stars by night. Behind the bedroom area is a raised area with an oval bath that looks out onto twin outdoor showers in a Zen garden. An impala lily in bloom adds a dash of colour.
Next to the bedroom area, an open courtyard with wooden deck leads to a lounge tastefully decorated in the ebony and ivory theme. The effect is roomy and chic. I take pleasure in the carefully chosen furniture and bowls of candle wax with multiple wicks. How will I tear myself from this pleasant ambience for meals or game drives?
Lunch is served al fresco on a deck overlooking the vast, sandy floodplain adjacent to the river, beneath a sprawling Natal Mahogany.
Everything tastes better in the bush, but this is another level of excellence. I choose Saxenberg Grand Vin Blanc 2010 from the extensive wine cellar to go with my Carrot and Coriander soup. The meze platter that follows includes tuna kebabs and grilled pear salad with mustard dressing.
Finding the Big Five
The grey game vehicles are brand new, with perfect upholstery and only six seats, with a spacious console between each pair of seats. This is luxury. I fill the console with my layers of warm clothing, my bird and tree books and my binoculars. There are only two other people on the Landrover, a delightful couple from the USA.
Our guide, Kenneth, and tracker Levi, work seamlessly together and proceed to find us the Big Five. Here, leopards can’t be called elusive as spotting one is highly likely. We are all thrilled at each sighting and enthusiastically take photos to trap the memories. Strict vehicle limits ensure exclusivity at animal sightings.
I am awed at the birds we spot, which include bateleurs, circling vultures, a giant kingfisher and the majestic fish eagle. Kenneth patiently teaches me the names of some of the trees and ensures that I know the difference between a Bushveld Saffron, Gardenia and Jacket plum, all of which have pale bark.
A highlight is our stop in an open area in the savanna, where we alight from the vehicle for a sunset drink. We chat about our sightings and revel in the privilege of being in this exquisite setting. Friendly staff meets us as we arrive back at Ivory Lodge, proffering heated hand towels and a shot of Marula and Frangelico liqueur.
Escorted to my suite, I am entranced to find a table set for me in my lounge, with a fire flickering in the grate. Outside, next to the infinity pool, are lanterns emitting a romantic glow. Magic! Excellent wine complements the succulent fillet that is presented rare in a heavy-bottomed casserole dish. Again, a gourmet meal is offered.
This exceptionally well-run and exclusive lodge - sited in a tree-lover’s paradise - is owned by the More family, who have decades of experience in hospitality. No setting could be more perfect and the memory of a young female leopard draped across a branch of an antiquated tree, will be etched in my mind forever.
For reservations visit www.lionsands.com or call (011) 880 9992. Federal Air offers direct flights from Johannesburg to Skukuza, which is a 30min drive from Lion Sands. Visit www.fedair.com or phone 011 395 9000.