Open grassland, blue skies, running antelope and the “Big Five” attract tourists from around the world to the South African bushveld – and there’s no better way to experience it than to spend some time in one of the many private game lodges around the country.
Safari game lodges offer an unbeatable combination of game drives, walks with skilled trackers, and exclusive accommodation in pristine natural surroundings.
South Africa’s game lodges regularly win world travel awards and are renowned for a sophisticated elegance imbued with the spirit of the wilderness.
Guests can see Africa’s “Big Five” – lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard – while driving in an open vehicle, or simply enjoy the sounds of wildlife from a deck outside a luxurious camp.
Lodges are also an excellent way to experience the latest in African earthy interior design. And many have a commitment to environmental upliftment and social responsibility programmes.
The Tourism Grading Council of South Africa is responsible for the quality control of lodges in the country. It employs a five star grading system and, to ensure credibility and independence, a feedback mechanism to monitor customer expectations. Star gradings are displayed on most advertising material and at hotel entrances.
AA Travel Guides offers another quality check for visitors to South Africa. The AA stamp of approval badge on promotional material indicates that a venue is highly recommended.
The organisation also runs an annual awards programme based on consumer feedback on some 1 200 AA quality-assured establishments. High-scoring establishments are visited by qualified assessors to verify their scores.
16 OF SOUTH AFRICA’S FINEST LODGES
Please note: this is not an official or definitive list.
Thanda Private Game Reserve
This five-star lodge promises “exclusivity, romance and Zulu culture in the heart of the untamed African bush”. Situated in northern Zululand, it boasts over 400 bird species and several travel awards. It has been named Africa’s leading luxury lodge in the World Travel Awards, and is also the only private game reserve in the world to hold exclusive membership with The Leading Hotels of the World. Thanda offers a main lodge perched on a hillside overlooking the bushveld and a safari-style tented camp. Its award-winning wellness centre has a unique Zulu feel, and there are hot and cold outdoor kniepp therapy pools, a reflexology pool, outdoor sala treatment area, steam room and hydrotherapy bath.
Singita Private Game Reserve
Situated in the southeast section of the Kruger National Park, on the border with Mozambique, the locale is a pristine, unexplored expanse of surreal flora, sweeping valleys and breathtaking splendour in the Sabi Sands’ acacia thornveld and riverine forest. The health spa offers conventional European massages, reflexology, manicures, facials and aromatherapy, while the modern gym overlooks the rugged African bush. Two of its lodges, the Ebony and Boulders Lodges, have together been rated the second best resort in the world in the Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice survey. Two other Singita lodges, the Lebombo and Sweni Lodges, have been rated the eighth best resort in Africa.
This is the ultimate African adventure and conservation effort coupled with responsible tourism. The reserve has been voted Africa’s leading safari in the World Travel awards, and has worldwide recognition for its conservation efforts. It is situated in verdant bush along the Bushmans River, halfway between Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. The 20 000 hectare reserve boasts five eco-systems and a diversity of plant, animal and bird life. Its Bushman’s River lodge has been named the world’s leading sustainable tourism project in the World Travel awards. There are a variety of luxury lodges on offer, ranging from colonial manor houses to tented camps along river courses.
MalaMala Game Reserve
This legendary safari destination shares a common border of 19 kilometres (12 miles) with the Kruger National Park, with habitats ranging from savannah to riverine thicket. Over two hundred different species occur in abundance. The buildings in the main camp have traditional thatching, spectacular views and are equipped with all the necessary luxuries, while retaining an authentic camp atmosphere. Dinner is served in a reed enclosed boma, while the Buffalo lounge features many artworks. In accordance with conservation policies, only 36 guests at a time are catered for in the 18 luxury rooms. The Sable Camp is an ideal retreat for the more reclusive traveller. It accommodates 14 guests in five luxury suites and has a colonial feel enhanced with modern comforts, including a library with satellite television and internet connectivity.
Sabi Sabi Private Game Lodge
Sabi Sabi lies within the 65 000 hectare Sabi Sand Reserve, located in the southern section of the Kruger National Park, with the opportunity to see the Big Five as well as smaller creatures that come to drink at the watering holes. This luxury private game lodge is one of the most established, with over 100 years of safari experience. There is a choice of five-star accommodation, from Selati Camp’s colonial era replete with lantern-lit suites, to its Bush lodges that offer a more contemporary feel. The courtyards are artistically designed with spectacular wooden carvings by renowned local sculptors. The Earth Lodge has won international awards for its architecture and decor.
Londolozi Private Game Reserve
Famous for its leopards, this established lodge dates back to 1926. Four exclusive camps and the private Granite Suites are secluded amongst towering trees on the banks of the Sand River. This area has one of the highest concentrations of wildlife. There is an ambience of tranquillity and meditative luxury in the design of the camps that ensure an authentic bush experience. The Londolozi Life wellness centre offers yoga, massage and fitness activities. There are game drives, interpretive walks, a library, and a cinematography centre screening films related to the environment and emerging global trends daily.
Phinda Forest Lodge
CC Africa’s Phinda Private Game Reserve is situated in the lush Maputaland region in northern KwaZulu-Natal. Bordering the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park – a World Heritage Site – Phinda comprises 22 000 hectares of prime conservation land. Seven distinct habitats shelter an abundance of wildlife including Africa’s Big Five and over 380 bird species, while the marine diversity off the nearby coast is spectacular. Phinda’s seven splendid safari lodges range from glass-encased suites on stilts, to private decks with plunge pools to sumptuous suites among the treetops. The Phinda Getty Lodge is an intimate family lodge overlooking an extinct volcano.
Ngala Private Game Reserve
Ngala lodge is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels in the World. Ngala (“Lion” in Shangaan) is located Kruger National Park, with exclusive traversing rights over 14 700 hectares of this game-rich wilderness. Ngala Lodge has 20 classic, thatched chalets overlooking a busy waterhole, and Ngala Tented Safari Camp has six luxurious and romantic tented suites on raised platforms. Activities include walking safaris, interpretive Big Five game viewing, and there is a commitment to conserving African wildlife.
Ulusaba Private Game Reserve
Owned by Sir Richard Branson, Ulusaba Private Game Reserve is set in the heart of the Sabi Sands Game Reserve that borders the sprawling Kruger National Park. There are over 13 500 hectares of unspoilt, game-rich bush in near solitude. Activities include early morning game drives in open vehicles, a gym, a selection of treatments offered in the Aroma Boma, or the option of a walking safari with an armed ranger and tracker. Sundowners can be enjoyed during evening game drives, followed by a spotlight night drive, searching for those elusive nocturnal animals. Dinner is served under the African skies around a blazing log fire, with tribal dancers and singers to entertain guests.
Wooded Peaks Game Lodge
This five-star establishment is situated in the Tshwene valley in the Welgevonden Private Game Reserve. A teak suspended bridge leading to the main lodge sets the atmosphere from the minute you arrive. There are five luxurious log cabin style bush suites which accommodate two guests each. The en-suite bathroom provides magical bush views, but an outdoor shower an arm’s stretch from the bush is a must. All game drives and walks are led by fully-accredited guides.
Leopard Mountain Game Lodge
This award winning 4-star lodge is located high up in the wild secluded hills of the 23 000 hectares Zululand Black Rhino Reserve, overlooking a vast stretch of unspoiled bushland and riverine forests. From the Umsunduze River below to the distant Lebombo Mountains, the lodge has one of the most spectacular views in Zululand. Other attractions of the lodge include an abundance of game, a wide diversity of flora and prolific birdlife. Guests can also enjoy a variety of nearby activities including scuba diving, Big Five game viewing, rhino tracking, cultural village visits and tiger fishing. There is also a fabulous rock pool offering fantastic views, and the unspoilt wilderness surrounding it is home to rhino, leopard and giraffe. The luxurious stone and thatch chalets provide a haven of peace and tranquillity and from the deck you can lie in a hammock and watch the eagles soar.
Nedile Game Lodge
Situated in the Welgevonden Private Game Reserve this lodge has five exclusive suites with awesome views of the Waterberg Mountains. Welgevonden Reserve is a declared South African Heritage Site of 33 000 hectares and borders the Marekele National Park. The main building has an African theme and consists of a lounge/bar and dining area, all leading out onto seligna decks emphasising the natural environment. A rock boma provides an outside dining area where you can enjoy a traditional campfire. You can see the largest collection of white rhino on private land, as well as the big five, giraffe and antelope.
Hongonyi Private Game Lodge
Ideal for the wildlife enthusiast, this private game lodge and wildlife reserve is a safe haven to many of the African antelope species. There are sunrise safaris on foot where you can see the “Little Five” – the Ant Lion, Elephant Shrew, Leopard Tortois, Redbilled Buffalo Weaver Bird and Rhinoceros Beetle. At night you may see the elusive Bush Baby, Serval, Civet and Aardvark. There are 14 en-suite, twin bedrooms, and a cosy honeymoon suite, surrounded by tropical gardens.
Plumari Game Lodge
Set on 4 000 hectares, with over 1&nbps;000 head of game that include rhino, leopard, hippo, buffalo and giraffe, this lodge has 18 luxury suites that overlook a tranquil lake and the majestic Magaliesberg Mountains. Relaxation options include onsite Bella Donna health and beauty professionals specialising in massages, facials, reflexology, aromatherapy and make-up. It has a 4-star grading.
White Elephant Safari Lodge
Located in the Pongola Game Reserve, overlooking the western escarpment of the Lebombo Mountains, Lake Jozini and the savannah woodland of Northern Zululand, the lodge combines an ambience of a bygone era with a rustic, bush lodge charm. Originally built in the 1920s, this 16-bedded lodge has eight luxurious safari-style tents, each with en-suite bathroom, outdoor canvas shower and private veranda. There is a strong eco-tourism tradition with elephant walks, rhino trails, game drives, tiger fishing, sunset lake cruises and bird watching activities.
Forever Resorts Blue Mountain Lodge
This luxury lodge blends nature and fantasy, trading on an “Out of Africa” charm. Set on 200 hectares of indigenous bush, forestry and farmland, the ochre-washed lodge with its deep-set verandas and white fans, has a range of suites to choose from, as well as a chapel. Its manor houses are situated in verdant surroundings and have marbled bathrooms, a mahogany study, kitchen, lounge and dinning room, and a personal chef and maitr’d.
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