LION SANDS RIVER LODGE
SOUTH AFRICAN SAFARI.
A bucket list destination, an experience, a dream…
…became our reality. After a few mishaps leaving France, 27 hours later we landed in Johannesburg with a connecting flight to Nelspruit airport and then a 2 hour drive to our first accomodation, Lion Sands River Lodge. Lion Sands is in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve area of Kruger Park. If our first flight hadn’t been delayed, we would’ve caught our original connecting flight that would land at a different airport, only a 10minute drive to Lion Sands [so there is an airport closer]. As we drove through the Kruger Park gates, we spotted zebras and giraffes and wow that got us jazzed for the week ahead! As we pulled up to the lodge I could tell we were going to be very comfortable here, certainly not roughing it in the bush! Theres a lot of personalisation, which I love, like a welcome sign written out in leafs on our bed, a named drink bottle each and every night we came back to a note for us that varied from the schedule for the next day to a few words to learn in the native language and sadly, a goodbye note on our final night. After our welcome drink and run down of the daily activities, we had a moment to refresh from the long travel in our room before dinner around 8pm. During the night a guide must escort us around the lodge due to safety as its an open area and animals are free to roam, but during the day we’re able to move around on our own. The dinner menu had many delicious options that all looked so good but we both ended up choosing the braised pork belly with veggies and for dessert we got apple crumble with blueberry yoghurt [I really shouldn’t have started this blog on an empty stomach as all the food during this trip was insane]. After being escorted back from dinner, we indulged with a drink in the bath in our room *adding floating bath to future house design*. Hi – we live here now.
DINGDINGDING WAKE UP ITS TIME FOR OUR FIRST GAME DRIVE! A wake up call to our room rings at 5am and all the guests and rangers meet at 5.15am for a coffee and snack of fruit skewers and pastries to make your own granola bowl and there’s always a vegan option too. By 5.30am, we’re heading out on the drive. Our ranger, Raymond, was always so kind and informative. Any questions we asked – he had the answer! He’s been on the job for 14 years and his knowledge is incredible. Not only about the animals but the trees, birds, land, his senses in the way he gets clues on where the animals are and have been… the list goes on. In future conversations we had with him, we found out that most the staff work for 6 weeks straight and then get 2 weeks off. He says that although 6 weeks on is hard to be away from home, his wife and kids, he appreciates the 2 weeks off to spend uninterrupted with them and they occasionally stay over in his work provided accomodation. Before we hit the road, Raymond let us know to stay sitting in the vehicle and to keep arms and legs inside. He explained that the animals see the car as another animal and as soon as we stand, it breaks the shape and we then become humans. We also had a tracker, Evans, who was the eyes of the road and sky. Sat at the front of the vehicle bonnet, checking for animal prints, listening to bird calls and looking in the trees and bushes further than my eye can certainly see! On our first game drive we were very lucky to be the only two in the vehicle and got a really personalised experience so we made the most of it by asking lots of questions and getting lots of photos without others in the way [no shade but for the rest of our drives we had a woman with bright green hair who sat in front of us so I’ve got flashes of green in many of my other photos :):)]. We first saw 2 hyenas which are much cuter in real life that what they’ve been portrayed to be! Along with many many impalas and then… we then came across a herd of elephants! Now I was reaaaaally looking forward to seeing wild elephants this trip and the fact we got a herd of them within the first hour of our first game drive honestly was breathtaking. We got super close to them and they didn’t mind. It was a group of females, males and a couple of babies and at that time, the males were after the females and wanting to mate. Driving on, we saw some more zebras and giraffes and we tried to follow some lion prints that Evans spotted but with no luck. Both Raymond and Evans even got out the car once to take a walk in the bush to try and keep following the tracks, meanwhile Ihaia and I were just hoping the lion didn’t find us alone first! After we lost the tracks of the lion, we zoomed across to the other side of the reserve to try and get to a leopard spotting as another safari had called in on the walkie talkie to announce its whereabouts but we missed that too. Thats the trick of these drives, why are the called “game” drives? Well, because its all a “game”. You never know what you’ll get or if you’ll get there in time after a ferrari safari racing to the other side of the reserve! After an exhilarating first game drive of 4 hours, we headed back to the lodge for breakfast. Welcomed back with a cold flannel, that I came to really look forward too, we were sat down with the breakfast menu thats just as impressive as dinner. After a starter of fruit, pastries, cheese and cold meats, Ihaia settled for the salmon eggs benedict and I had the breakfast wrap. We then went back to the room and grabbed our togs for a couple of hours at the lodges pool. The pool looks out over the bush and river at the back of the property and while we were swimming, we heard a hippo in the river below! 2 hours later and both quuuuuite burnt [our sensitive European winter skin] and we retreated back to our room for a nap, shower and to get ready for the afternoon game drive. We also packed an overnight bag and dropped it at reception on our way out as tonight…. we’re staying in A FRICKIN TREEHOUSE! Anyway, more about that later. Afternoon tea is served before the game drive and its impressive! Cakes, tarts, meat skewers, fritters etc, iced coffee, juice, tea, water *still or sparkling?*. Honestly, I’m having a shit time so far, lol! Off on our second safari and this time we’re joined by 2 more guests [que green hair]. We see more elephants, zebras and giraffes. We also saw our first rhino who was laying down in the grass so could really just see his cute ears and also 4 big buffalos cooling down in a mud pool. So cool that we got to tick another 2 off the Big 5 today that takes it to 3 in total on our first day [elephants, rhino and buffalo]. About half way through the drive Ihaia and I were picked up by another car to take us to our treehouse for the night. Lion Sands River Lodge has the option of staying in one of their two treehouses for the night during your stay there for an extra price which was a no brainer for us! We chose the Kingston Treehouse and holy heck it did not disappoint! The guide showed us around and explained what to do in case of an emergency, which included a burner phone and walkie talkie that I was tempted to use just because 😀 the treehouse also came with binoculars and an iPad that had a star gazing app on it. As the guide left, he lifted up a few planks of wood outside the entrance that made a gap about a metre wide from us and the walkway and that was meant to keep the animals from getting inside. I honestly don’t know how they haven’t had any animal visitors in there yet because it looked easy enough to jump over to me! Earlier in the day we put in our dinner order and it was there waiting for us along with starters, salads and dessert. So spoilt! But there was so much to do and so little time before it got dark! So we took a bunch of photos and videos, popped the champagne, and started on dinner. The treehouse is only lit by lanterns so as the sun started to set beautifully, it really hit us that we were sitting here in the African bush, alone, no wifi, no power, just us! Crazy. We took the champagne to the beanbags on the balcony and star gazed the night away. Before bed I went to the toilet and as I sat down, I looked out to about 100 fireflies around outside and its probably the most scenic toilet trip I’ve ever had. Ok here’s to falling asleep and hoping we make it through the night…
My alarm went off at 4.30am so we could watch the sunrise from the treehouse. I actually didn’t have the best sleep during the night as I kept waking up and checking that we’re still alive and there’s no lions in the treehouse, ha! We had awhile to relax and watch the day lighten while eating some homemade cookies before we were picked up by Raymond at 5.45am for our morning safari. That morning we saw giraffes, elephants, tracked leopard prints without success and then came across 6 female lions having a drink on the other side of the river to us. So Raymond decided that we’d cross the river to get closer for a better view and as soon as we were 4 wheels deep in the river, we got stuck [!!!] with the lions about 20m away on the other side! Another Lion Sands vehicle came to help us and they also got stuck in the sand trying to tow us out. A third vehicle came and got the one stuck in the sand out and we all got into that car to head back to the lodge while Raymond and Evans stayed with our car in the water and a tractor came to pull them out. So after a very eventful 30 minutes, we were all on our way back to the lodge for breakfast. The breakfast menu is the same daily so I worked my way around it, every thing being delicious! Apparently we had just missed the busy rush at the lodge and there weren’t many people there at the same time as us so that made it a nice intimate stay with meal times being not so busy and yesterday we had the pool to ourselves the whole time too. After breakfast Ihaia and I accidentally had a 4 hour nap! We woke up at like 2.30pm and got a fright, we’d missed lunch and had I had to shower and get ready for the 4pm afternoon safari. After afternoon tea, we were on the road again. Sighting zebras, giraffes [are you getting the pattern that these 2 are always mentioned? They’re super common] and came across a rare group of 8 white rhinos! A mix of male, females and a couple of adorable babies. We sat and watched them graze on the grass and interact with each other for awhile. Even Raymond got out his phone and took some videos and when the ranger starts recording the viewing, you know its a rare one! We then drove by a group of hippos swimming in the river so we all got out the car and took a short walk down to their swimming spot to get a closer look, it was incredible. The sun was setting so up where the car was parked, we had some snacks and sundowners while hearing the hippos swim in the background. One of those “what is life” moments out of the hundreds on this trip! As it got dark we started to head back to the lodge and on the way Evans spotted a chameleon. He gently took it off the branch and brought it over to show us, what a cool lil dude he was. After a quick refresh in our room, we were picked up and walked to dinner and enjoyed yet another tasty meal. I had read in the lodge information book that toasting marshmallows on the fire is available to do so earlier I asked reception about it and after dinner, we were presented with a plate of large and small marshmallows and chocolate dipping sauce to take down to the fire pit. Ihaia and I toasted marshmallows and hung out there for about an hour, enjoying our last night at Lion Sands.
Our last morning safari with Raymond and Evans. We saw lots of giraffes and elephants and were so lucky to see a mother lion and her cub getting some shade under the trees! We pulled up in 3 different places next to them to get some good viewing angles and watched them for awhile. The first big cats we’ve properly seen and been close too and it was amazing. Its unfair how fluffy and cute they look and I can’t even cuddle them 😦 Back to the lodge for some breakfast and I’d just like to say here that the South African coffee is sooo good! I’m still new to coffee but really enjoy this stuff. The lodge has a “creative lab” where you can get photos that you’ve taken on game drives printed onto canvas so of course I took that opportunity up! I choose the photo of Ihaia with the herd of elephants we saw on our first morning in a A2 size and they printed it and put it in a tube for us to take home and it actually fit in my suitcase which was handy. We’ve framed it and have it hung up in our lounge, such a good memory to have on the wall. At 11am we were picked up by a private transfer and we had a 2.5hr drive ahead of us to our next accommodation, Jabulani Safari in the Kapama Reserve.
A FEW WORDS
A safari seems to be on everyones bucket list and I can’t stress you to GO and DO IT enough! But remember, you’re visiting the animals home, not the other way around. Follow the rules and be respectful as you’re no bigger or more important than whats around you.
[We booked our trip through EverseenSA. After scrolling the internet not knowing what area to book accommodation, how to get transfers around Kruger Park or even the best way to get from Johannesburg to Kruger, I contacted these guys. Charlie and Serena are the faces behind Everseen and are great at making your dream safari trip a reality. I was hesitant at first because I take pride in booking our holidays and planning our itinerary so letting go a bit was tricky but definitely for the best. They booked us our flights out of Joburg to Kruger, gave us lots of accomodation choices, booked our accomodation and sorted transfers between the two we booked. Our first flight from Paris to Joburg got delayed making us miss the flight from Joburg to Kruger and while we were in the air, they booked us on a new flight and another transfer that we didn’t have to settle until we got back to France and honestly just not having to worry and sort that was a lot less stressful than it could’ve been. They can help from anywhere in the world, we did it all through email and WhatsApp and its as easy as flicking them a quick message over any questions too like to ask about tipping during the trip. Just the ease of knowing someones there. We were also surprised with little extras from them like a bubble bath, chocolates and champagne. I get that a “South African Safari” may sound daunting to plan but these two make it as fun as it should be. Would highly recommend EverseenSA – they’re also on Instagram].