Category Archives: Did You Know?

Cooking Up a Storm at Singita Kruger National Park

May 14, 2015 - Community Development,Cuisine,Did You Know?,Kruger National Park,Singita Lebombo Lodge

From the outside, it’s not much to look at: a nondescript building in the heart of the Singita Kruger National Park staff village. Take a step closer and the sound of pots clattering on iron stovetops breaks the bushveld silence. A babble of chatter and laughter wafts out across the dusty courtyard, as a flash of chef’s whites whips past the screen door. Welcome, to the Singita School of Cooking (SSC).

Singita School of Cooking

Students at the SSC with Chef Skills Developer, Louis Vandewalle

A cooking school in the wilderness may seem something of an anomaly, but there’s a good reason the stockpots are boiling furiously out here in the Kruger bushveld. “Communities and conservation can’t function independently, they have to co-exist,” explains Louis Vandewalle, Chef Skills Developer at SSC. “The idea behind the Singita School of Cooking was two-fold: to increase the skill level in our lodge kitchens, but also to provide opportunities for the surrounding communities.”

Singita Lebombo Lodge Dining Area

The dining area at Singita Lebombo Lodge

The SSC opened its doors in 2007, and today offers an intensive 12-month curriculum that sees nine students drawn from local communities untying their brand-new knife-rolls in March each year. A multi-faceted training program combines theory components completed in the classroom and online, alongside intensive practical training in the dedicated SSC kitchens.

Singita School of Cooking

If the course is testing, making it through the selection process is even tougher. In 2014 the School had 85 applicants for just nine places. After interviews by Singita lodge staff and chefs, 30 hopefuls were shortlisted and put through their paces in a series of theory and practical tests. “It’s not about their skills in the kitchen,” says Vandewalle. “We focus on character and attitude. We want to make sure that they have the right foundation for us to build their kitchen skills on. And, most importantly, we want to ensure that those who join the programme will stay the course.”

Singita School of Cooking

Aside from occasional government grants the School is funded entirely by Singita: an investment of $7500-$8000 per student that covers uniforms, equipment, ingredients and a monthly stipend. After months of training, real-world experience is gained in the kitchens of Singita Lebombo Lodge with students rotating through pastry, cold section and hot kitchen. At the end of the 12-month course, students emerge as competent commis chefs.

Singita School of Cooking

Singita School of Cooking

“Unlike many chef schools with longer programs, we focus on the fundamentals,” says Vandewalle, as a stockpot bubbles on the central range. “By the time they leave this kitchen our students have a limited set of skills, but they are extremely proficient at what they do. We’re trying to develop work skills and work ethics too.” He goes on to explain how time-management and forward planning are vital skills for the young chefs to learn. “Each day one chef is appointed to be in charge of the kitchen. The responsibility then rests on them to allocate tasks to each of the student chefs, work out portions and run the kitchen.”

Singita School of Cooking

“We have a very high success rate with students finding employment, either with Singita lodges or further afield,” adds Vandewalle. “Because of Singita’s extremely high standards, we find that’s more than sufficient for what other lodges and guesthouses are expecting.” For most students though, a position in one of the Singita kitchens is first prize.

Singita School of Cooking

“I’ve always wanted to be in the kitchen, but just never had the opportunity,” bubbles Unity Mokhomolo (25) from the village of Welverdiend, who says she’s happiest in the pastry section. “After the course I am hoping to be one of the students that Singita takes to work at the lodges. Singita started my career in the kitchen, so I want to work for them. If that happens, I will grab that opportunity with both hands.”

DISCOVER MORE:

The Singita School of Cooking was established to encourage the development of culinary skills and employment opportunities among local youth as part of Singita’s broader objective to assist communities to thrive, both economically and socially. Visit our website to find out how you can help to make a difference in the lives of our students at SSC, or read about some of our star pupils on the blog.

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Rock Art at Singita Pamushana

May 11, 2015 - Conservation,Conservation,Did You Know?,History,Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve,Singita Pamushana Lodge

The forests and sandstone kopjes surrounding Singita Pamushana Lodge are home to more than 80 known rock art sites with more almost certainly yet to be discovered. These range from single figures to large ‘galleries’ containing multiple paintings, sometimes from different time periods.

Rock art at Singita Pamushana Lodge, Zimbabwe

Carbon dating from pieces of charcoal found in sediments at two of the sites suggest that the paintings range from 700 to 2,000 years-old and fall into three main traditions. The oldest are those painted by San Bushmen hunter gatherers who used porcupine quills and bird feathers as brushes, and ochre mixed with blood and dyes from tree-bark as paint.

Rock art at Singita Pamushana Lodge, Zimbabwe

The more geometric spot paintings found in the reserve were painted by Khoi San herders, while finger-paintings, often white in colour, were made by the Bantu-speaking people using ground egg shells as paint.

Rock art at Singita Pamushana Lodge, Zimbabwe

Many of the earliest paintings are figurative and illustrate everyday scenes from the lives of the hunter gatherers who made them. These include hunting scenes and animals like elephant, rhino, zebra and many other creatures of the bush including, most significantly, eland which were sacred to the San and represented rain and fertility.

Rock art at Singita Pamushana Lodge, Zimbabwe

Many rock art experts now believe, however, that the original interpretations of these paintings by the early colonialists were too simplistic. Scenes which looked easy to interpret missed complex underlying meanings, including metaphors for aspects of the San’s strong spiritual traditions that included trance, rain and initiation dances among other rituals. Many scenes on closer inspection show creatures that are half-animal and half-human, for example, and probably depict shamans in a trance state.

Rock art at Singita Pamushana Lodge, Zimbabwe

The study of rock art is open to interpretation and the full meanings of these paintings will probably never be known for sure. “The San Bushmen were intensely spiritual people,” says Dr. Bruce Clegg, Resident Ecologist at the Malilangwe Trust. “At the Lisililija Spring site, for example, on one panel there’s a row of people in a trance dance which is connected by a spiritual line to a rainfall event pouring down on a female figure which is a sign of fertility in San belief. It’s one big celebration connecting human people to their spiritual counterparts.”

WATCH THE VIDEO:

The San Bushmen are the original hunter-gatherers and one of the earth’s oldest continuous cultures. Guests at Singita Pamushana Lodge can take an educational tour of the best rock art sites in the reserve, including those shown in the accompanying film, and learn about their remarkable way of life.

Rock art at Singita Pamushana Lodge, Zimbabwe

Singita Pamushana Lodge, Zimbabwe

Richard and Sarah Madden are freelance travel writers and filmmakers currently based at in the Malilangwe Reserve at Singita Pamushana Lodge in Zimbabwe. Their series of short films from the region is entitled “Bush Tales” and explores Singita’s community development, ecotourism and conservation work in Southern Africa. Richard and Sarah met while producing documentaries for the Discovery Channel and are now freelance and, prior to working with Singita, spent two years in Africa writing and filming the multi-media Bush Telegraph column for the Daily Telegraph.

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Ross Couper: Field Guide and Wildlife Photographer

May 04, 2015 - Did You Know?,General,People of Singita

Singita Field Guide Ross Couper

Field Guide Ross Couper and his stunning wildlife photographs will be no stranger to regular readers of this blog. His keen eye for animals in interesting situations and the gorgeous landscapes surrounding our lodges have produced some of the finest photos we’ve ever had the privilege of publishing.

Copyright Ross Couper

Born in Zimbabwe, Ross grew up at Matopos National Park, where his father was Park Warden, and developed a deep love for capturing nature through painting and sculpture. The impracticalities of these art forms for an enthusiastic traveller like Ross brought forth an interest in photography as a way of documenting his surroundings. In this excerpt from his interview with the South African Tourism blog, he explains more about his passion for photography:

Copyright Ross Couper

Q: When did your passion for wildlife photography begin?
A: Photography happened because of a “don’t know what to get you for Christmas” situation with my wife. As a result she purchased my first camera with the hope of getting on top of my ‘Best Ever Christmas Gift’ list. In short, she has been up there ever since 2009. I had a great interest in art, however due to travelling the globe it limited my scope to take my art further, so receiving a camera was an outlet to capture my artistic view on life during my travels.

Copyright Ross Couper

Q: What inspires your images?
A: Finding an artistic view of capturing a unique moment. Capturing an image where the viewer will be in awe of how the image was captured and evoke a feeling of being in the moment when it occurred. As a wildlife artist, I always had an idea in my head before putting it onto canvas and I find that I have the same inclination when it comes to my photography. I am a photographer that prefers to take time to really study my subjects. I like to effectively capture moments that showcase the beauty of the wildlife in Africa and the scenery that embraces in every inch of the content.

Copyright Ross Couper

Copyright Ross Couper

Q: How would you describe your style of photography?
A: I have a strong drive to acquire uniqueness in my images, by capturing the beauty of the African surroundings and its wildlife, with the hope that my photography will inspire people around the world to travel and visit the wild areas of Africa and experience the imagery that has been captured first hand. I’d describe my style of photography as artistic. I enjoy portraying a wildlife subject as if it were stepping out of the frame and engulfing the viewer to feel as though they were in the moment. Captivating an audience to view an image and wonder, just how was this photograph was captured. A profound quote by Anne Geddes that inspires me: “The best images are the ones that retain their strength and impact over the years, regardless of the number of times they are viewed”.

Copyright Ross Couper

Copyright Ross Couper

Q: What are the challenges regarding wildlife photography, and what attributes should a wildlife photographer have?
A: Patience, timing, light, subject availability are all just a few requirements that come to mind. There are always challenges but I believe it’s how you overcome a challenge that makes you a great photographer. For instance if the light is fading and you don’t get the shot you are looking for, keep persistent to attaining that image, go out again, focus on the goal and keep trying. I can recall an event where I was due to service my car and on route out of the National Park during a day off, I was informed that there was a leopard and two cubs sitting on a rocky outcrop within an hour’s detour to my route out of the park. I called the car dealership and mentioned I was running late. Finding the leopard on the rock and getting a glimpse of the leopard cubs resulted in me sitting in the back of the car with my eye glued to my cameras view finder for 5 hours waiting for a perfect view. After calling the car dealership for the third time I knew it would be better just to cancel as this was an opportunity of a lifetime.

Copyright Ross Couper

Copyright Ross Couper

Q: What would you say to foreigners wanting to come and visit South Africa’s wild spaces?
A; What are you waiting for? There is no place like Africa. It’s place where you cry when you arrive due its beauty and you will cry when you leave because of it’s beautiful people. It will engulf you and sink deep into heart as a special place that you will always return to. It’s a soul enriching visit.

Copyright Ross Couper

Copyright Ross Couper

Read the full interview on the South African Tourism blog and follow us on Instagram to see more of his beautiful photos from the bush.

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Neighbour Outreach Programme at Singita Pamushana Lodge

March 13, 2015 - Community Development,Did You Know?,Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve,Singita Pamushana Lodge

As part of its ongoing commitment to the local community, Singita Pamushana Lodge provides support across a broad spectrum of projects through the Malilangwe Trust, its non-profit development and conservation partner.

Neighbour Outreach Programme | Singita Pamushana Lodge

The Neighbour Outreach Programme (NOP) includes a Supplementary Feeding Programme for children up to school age, support for local primary schools and cultural projects which include the fostering of traditional tribal dance at a young age.

Neighbour Outreach Programme | Singita Pamushana Lodge

The Supplementary Feeding Programme began in February 2003 when, after two years of severe drought, Singita responded to the government’s call for assistance. “At that time, many local children were severely malnourished,” says Shepherd Mawire, NOP Project Co-ordinator. “But the programme has since provided additional food and nourishment to thousands of children in the local communities.”

Neighbour Outreach Programme | Singita Pamushana Lodge

Every day 19 000 children (mostly aged 5 years and younger) are provided with a nutrient rich soya-corn blend. The ingredients are delivered to 436 feeding points and 11 primary schools which are managed by volunteers appointed by the local communities to oversee this core village activity.

Neighbour Outreach Programme | Singita Pamushana Lodge

The programme not only provides much needed nutrition, but also helps the children realise their educational and developmental potential by ensuring that hunger does not get in the way of their ability to concentrate and learn during the school day.

Neighbour Outreach Programme | Singita Pamushana Lodge

The NOP also supports the local primary schools in the form of much-needed extra stationery and books while working with the community on other projects agreed with them. A pilot scheme that will provide honey from bee-hives has been launched and there are five kitchen garden irrigation schemes growing nutritious, fresh vegetables which are otherwise in short supply.

One of the NOP’s most important cultural initiatives is in providing musical instruments, costumes and regalia for the primary school children who compete in the national tribal dance competitions held annually in August.

Sarah Madden | Singita Pamushana Lodge

Sarah Madden asked more about the motives behind the programme – “We want the children to learn about their Shangaan cultural roots,” says Shepherd. “We want the cultural soul to survive into the next generation and to do that we need to start at the grass-roots primary school level. We want the children to know that despite our modern technological world, this was how it was done in the past. It’s all part of our mission to empower and support the local community.”

WATCH THE VIDEO

Richard and Sarah Madden are freelance travel writers and filmmakers. Richard has written for the Daily Telegraph (UK) for more then 20 years and met Sarah while presenting documentaries for the Discovery Channel which were produced by Sarah. Prior to working with Singita, the couple spent two years in Africa writing and filming the multi-media Bush Telegraph column for the Daily Telegraph. The column includes reports on safaris, wildlife conservation and community stories from all over southern and eastern Africa.

You can read their previous report from Singita Malilangwe here.

This film was shot on a Leica V-Lux (www.leica-camera.com)

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Fascinating Flora: The Leadwood Tree

February 25, 2015 - Did You Know?,Environment,Kruger National Park,Singita Lebombo Lodge,Singita Sweni Lodge

There is a classic, if slightly ominous, African image with which you’re probably familiar; it’s the scene of a colony of vultures huddled on the branches of a leafless leadwood tree, black rain clouds looming overhead. It is, in fact, a fairly common sight at Singita’s South African properties (albeit with more blue sky!), where the bush is studded with tall leadwoods that live up to their scientific name; combretum imberbe, meaning “hairless climber”.

Leaded trees at Singita Kruger National Park

The leadwood is one of the largest trees in Africa, and is so called because of the wood which is extremely dense and heavy. As such, it is impermeable to termites and is one of the only wood species that sinks when thrown into water. It’s hardiness also explains why, up to 80 years after a leadwood tree has died, its imposing skeleton will remain intact, and why it used to be the material of choice for railway sleepers. The species is protected in South Africa, although fallen branches and those left behind by marauding elephants are allowed to be used for furniture or ornamental work.

Leaded trees at Singita Kruger National Park

Although slow-growing, they can live to be thousands of years old and flourish in alluvial soil along river beds, like the Sweni and N’wanetsi Rivers that run through Singita Kruger National Park. The leaves are popular with herbivores and you will regularly see elephant, giraffe, kudu and impala munching on them during a game drive.

Leopard in a leadwood tree | All Dolled Up

Singita’s 33,000-acre private concession in the Kruger National Park is home to two of our lodges; Singita Lebombo Lodge and Singita Sweni Lodge. This area is especially well-known for the remarkable concentration of the ‘Big 5’ and four particularly formidable prides of lions. Discover more on our website.

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Experience the Serengeti: Setting up Singita Explore

February 19, 2015 - Did You Know?,Experience,Lodges and Camps,Safari,Singita Explore,Singita Grumeti

“Endless” is a word that is often used to describe the Serengeti. The apparent infinity of its grassy plains, acacia woodlands and riverine forests is a stunning sight, the memory of which never leaves those who have seen it in person. These boundless landscapes are the first thing to greet guests every morning at Singita Explore, as the rising sun casts light on 350,000 acres of untouched wilderness.

Singita Explore, Serengeti, Tanzania

Each camp is strategically located and moved throughout the year in order to give guests the best opportunity of experiencing this vast and unique ecosystem. Visitors to the region are treated to unrivalled sightings of high concentrations of game at any time of year, including the renowned annual wildebeest migration which passes right through the concession.

Singita Explore, Serengeti, Tanzania

This delightful video gives the viewer an authentic sense of the experience, and takes you behind the scenes to see how the camp at Singita Explore comes to life, narrated by some of the special people who make it all happen:

Singita Explore is a private use camp in northern Tanzania. It is particularly appealing to those in search of an opportunity to connect up-close with the earth and wildlife in a way they have never done before. With a private guide, chef, camp host and camp staff, activities can be arranged on a whim, game drives may be as long or as short as you choose and intimate experiences await. Please explore our website or contact our Reservations team to find out more.

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Creatures Great & Small: Leopard Tortoise

December 22, 2014 - Conservation,Did You Know?,Wildlife

Leopard tortoise at Singita

Leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis)

My partner, a tracker named Johnston, is quick to spot wildlife and fun… With his hand raised to stop the vehicle, we stare at his movements and look in the direction he’s looking. While we are expecting him to point out a predator track in the sand or an animal in the distance, he turns to us and says, “Leopard!” Everyone grabs their cameras and looks frantically around to see where this elusive leopard is. Johnston climbs off the tracker seat and saunters off down the road. By this time our poor guests are all speechless not knowing what’s going to happen. Then he points to the ground, smiles broadly, and announces, “Leopard. Leopard tortoise.” Indeed it was a leopard tortoise, and on this occasion it had retreated into its shell after feeling the vibrations of the vehicle. We all sat quietly and slowly a small head poked out and all four legs were set in motion. It may not be a Big Five species, but it is one of the Little Five and shares this accreditation due to their names being similar to the Big Five.

Field guide and tracker

Field guide and tracker

Leopard tortoises all have unique and beautiful gold and black markings on their shells, hence their name. They generally eat grasses, and this must suit them well because they live up to 100 years. They are great diggers although they only burrow when building a nest for their eggs.

Singita Sabi Sand

Singita Sabi Sand

The leopard tortoise is one of the world’s largest tortoise species as they can grow to 70 cm in length and 12kgs in weight. As with other tortoise species, the leopard tortoise has a large shell which protects its softer body. It is able to retract its limbs back into its shell so that no body part is left vulnerable.

It’s easy to forget that there’s more to Africa’s wildlife than elephants, giraffes, leopards and lions; the continent is home to all sorts of fascinating small creatures too. We shine a spotlight on these more diminutive beasties in our Creatures Great & Small blog series, which has previously showcased the flap-necked chameleon and the Giant African land snail.

You can read more stories like this one in our monthly Wildlife Reports, which are written by our field guides and illustrated with their stunning photography.

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Visual Storytelling: Community Development on Film

November 26, 2014 - Community Development,Did You Know?,Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve,Singita Pamushana Lodge,Sustainable Conservation

Singita - Place of Miracles

Singita truly is a “place of miracles”, with incredible wildlife, elegant design, spectacular food and very special people. It isn’t just about the experience at the lodges however; miracles also happen in the communities around them and in the lives of those living in each concession. The upliftment of these local communities is as important to the success of Singita as the wildlife conservation that drives the core vision to preserve and protect large tracts of wilderness in Africa for future generations.

The highlights of these development programmes were brought to life recently in a series of videos produced by Ginkgo Agency, one of our creative partners. These beautiful and captivating narratives (shown below) perfectly captured the spirit of each project while being informative and interesting to watch.

ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION CENTRE

GROWING TO READ PROGRAMME

SINGITA SCHOOL OF COOKING

For our final video in the series, we approached conservationist and cinematographer Kim Wolhuter, when he was based in the Malilangwe Reserve. Shot in his signature documentary style, this short film follows the story of a young schoolgirl who benefits from the Child Supplementary Feeding Programme at Singita Pamushana. This initiative, facilitated through Singita’s development and conservation partner in Zimbabwe, The Malilangwe Trust, provides additional food and nourishment to 19 000 children in the local communities.

CHILD SUPPLEMENTARY FEEDING PROGRAMME

Our Vimeo channel showcases not only this series but also our #SingitaStories, which highlight some of our exceptional team members, and beautiful snapshots of our lodges. You can find out more about the Malilangwe Child Supplementary Feeding Scheme and other community development projects at Singita on our website.

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Community Projects: Early Childhood Development

November 20, 2014 - Community Development,Did You Know?,People of Singita,Sabi Sand,Singita Boulders Lodge,Singita Ebony Lodge

Community Development: READ programme | Singita Sabi Sand

Community Development: READ programme | Singita Sabi Sand

Modern conservation requires a keen focus on keeping tourism, the community and conservation in a constructive and positively enhancing balance. The health and survival of each of these aspects is crucial to the survival of the whole. This complementary approach is central to Singita’s driving philosophy, in which it is imperative that we assist communities to thrive, both economically and socially.

Community Development: READ programme | Singita Sabi Sand

Community Development: READ programme | Singita Sabi Sand

One such example of this commitment to the empowerment of local communities can be seen in action at Singita Sabi Sand, where an early childhood development programme is in place. Growing to Read ensures that 10 pre-schools in local villages are provided with professional training and guidance by a dedicated trainer from The READ Educational Trust, a long-standing, non-profit organisation and recognised child development leader.

Community Development: READ programme | Singita Sabi Sand

Community Development: READ programme | Singita Sabi Sand

The teachers from these pre-schools learn the most efficient and effective ways of developing the cognitive, physical and social skills of the young children in their care. Carefully chosen educational toys and books are also supplied to the pre-schools, along with stationary “tool-kits”. Teachers are thereby further enabled to implement the modern and effective methodologies that are shared with them.

Community Development: READ programme | Singita Sabi Sand

Community Development: READ programme | Singita Sabi Sand

Children who develop in structured and stimulating environments such as these are better able to form the foundation they need to succeed in their later schooling, and in life. Central to the programme is the importance of literacy, and the need for teachers to nurture and develop these skills in their young charges. In addition, Teach with Africa, a USA-based organisation, sends a team of experienced lecturers to work closely with these schools on an annual basis, in support of the overall Growing to Read programme.

Community Development: READ programme | Singita Sabi Sand

Community Development: READ programme | Singita Sabi Sand

The success of this project prompted the Community Development team to partner with Singita Kruger National Park, where the children of the Welverdiend and Hluvukani staff villages are now also involved.  This means that 1700 young learners are now benefitting from the programme and Singita’s commitment to providing continuing support to these pre-schools.

Mandla Mathonsi, Community Development Officer

Mandla Mathonsi, Community Development Officer

WANT TO HELP?
The teaching and facilities in the local pre-primary and primary schools benefit greatly from support and enhancement, and any contributions will be put to sound use. For more information about becoming a funding partner to the Singita Community Development Trust, please contact HR and Community Development Manager, Pam Richardson, at +27 21 683 3424 or pam.r@singita.com.

You can find out more about Singita’s community development projects on our website.

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Fascinating Flora: The Sickle Bush

October 28, 2014 - Did You Know?,Environment,Kruger National Park

Sickle Bush | Singita

The sickle bush (dichrostachys cinerea)

Sickle Bush | Singita

Singita Kruger National Park, South Africa

The sickle bush (dichrostachys cinerea) is one of the many splashes of colour that our field guides associate with this time of year, as it generally flowers from October to February. It goes by many names; bell mimosa, Chinese lantern tree, Kalahari Christmas tree and, perhaps most curiously, ‘acacia puncture tyre’. While not in the acacia family at all, it happens to have extremely hard spines capable of puncturing a tyre. The spines are modified stems rather than modified leaves (which you would find in an acacia) and this makes them even harder to break.

Sickle Bush | Singita

Singita Kruger National Park, South Africa

The name “sickle bush” stems from the seedpods which are packed close together and each single pod curves in the shape of a sickle. It is a tree that has a preference for brackish soils, and is a highly aggressive encroachment species. In Cuba, where it is known as ‘Marabou weed’, it has become a serious invasive species problem, occupying close to five million acres of agricultural land. It can, if not managed correctly, grow to the point of impenetrable thickets.

Sickle Bush | Singita

Singita Sweni Lodge, Singita Kruger National Park, South Africa

The sickle bush is one of the most widely used medicinal trees throughout Africa. Abdominal pains, eye ailments and snake bites can be treated using parts of a sickle bush. In fact, some of our guides have first-hand knowledge of this powerful natural anaesthetic! One of them reported chewing the leaves to help kill the pain of a toothache, for which it worked brilliantly. The only problem? Within minutes your tongue turns numb as well and then you can’t talk – not ideal for narrating a game drive!

Follow our monthly Wildlife Reports to learn more about the beautiful flora and fauna to be found at our 12 lodges and camps.

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