An important part of the magic of going on safari is the experience of intimacy with nature. Nothing can prepare you for the innate sense of peace that arises after only a few hours spent in the wild, in the company of some of the most beautiful and exotic creatures on earth, and in a spectacular, untamed landscape. This feeling of closeness with the natural world is never more apparent than during an evening spent under the stars, listening to the wind rustling in the trees and the distant call of a cackling hyena.
Each one of Singita Sweni Lodge‘s six private suites features a large wooden deck suspended over the river below, and surrounded by knobthorn and marula woodland. Nestled in the corner of each deck is a luxurious outdoor bed, draped in a delicate layer of mosquito netting and a cosy goose-down duvet. At this time of year, which is cooler in South Africa, soft blankets and hot water bottles are slipped between the sheets for extra comfort. It is a wonderful spot to spend a quiet afternoon with a good book, and also provides an opportunity for guests to enjoy an entire night outside. The beds receive a special turndown after dark and are equipped with a handy kit of overnight essentials, including a flashlight and insect repellant.
Sleeping on the deck in the cool night air is an almost indescribable sensation; there is an element of vulnerability certainly, but more than that, it brings a humbling awareness of one’s place in the world and harmony with the Earth. The smells and sounds of the bush soon become a rhythmic lullaby that sends guests into a long and restful slumber.
The twittering of birds is usually the first thing one hears upon waking – rollers, drongos, kingfishers and even the haunting cry of the fish eagle echoing across the stillness. Come morning, it’s easy to catch a flash of feathers as they dart along the river bank looking for breakfast. The chill of dawn is thawed by a steaming cup of freshly-brewed coffee, best enjoyed from the comfort and warmth of the bed. A grunting hippo in the rockpool nearby is the only other sound one is likely to hear as the sun rises on another glorious winter’s day in the African bush.
Read part one of this blog mini-series from Singita Sweni Lodge which is a real hit with the foodies – a recipe for homemade pasta puttanesca, the perfect winter lunch! You can also find out more about the lodge in this short film on our Vimeo channel.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
What do you think of when you imagine the smell of the holiday season? For many of us, it’s the rich aroma of Christmas baking; cinnamon-dusted cookie dough, spiced fruits and freshly baked gingerbread. It’s not much different in the kitchen at Singita during December, as the chefs prepare to welcome visitors and families from all over the world to our uniquely African Christmas table.
Fruit & nut tart
Hazelnut and Coffee Christmas Cake
Here Singita Kruger National Park‘s Chef de Partie, Christien Schrecker, shares her recipe for Christmas cake with a delicious nutty twist:
Ingredients – what you will need:
250g dried cranberries
250g chopped dried peaches
50g glace cherries
250g pistachio nuts
1 cup sherry
1 cup brandy
1 cup Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur)
1 cup strong black coffee
½ cup brown sugar
1 tbsp instant coffee powder
½ cup warm water
½ cup plum jam
1 cup cake flour
¾ cup self-raising flour
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Method – what to do:
1. In a large mixing bowl, soak the dried fruit and nuts with the alcohol and cup of coffee for 24 hours.
2. After the 24 hours, strain the fruits and nuts and keep the liquid for later.
3. Mix the tablespoon of coffee powder with the jam and water and keep aside.
4. Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer with the paddle attachment until white and fluffy.
5. Add the eggs, mix thoroughly, then add the jam and coffee mixture.
6. Add the fruits and nuts and all the dry ingredients.
7. Press into a greased tin and cover with foil.
8. Bake the cake at 140˚C for 2 hours, then brush the cake with the leftover alcohol mixture when it comes out of the oven.
9. The cake can get basted with liquid until all of it is absorbed, this can be done at 12 to 24 hour intervals over a couple of days.
Singita Ebony Lodge
We would love to hear what your favourite Christmas recipes are – please share with us in the comments! If you need any assistance with metric measurements, try this handy online conversion calculator.
There is one word that appears over and over again in the guest book at Singita Sweni Lodge, and it is “family”. It’s not only the visitors to this tranquil, intimate hideaway who feel like part of our family, but also our staff; the men and women who make up the Super Sweni Team! This group of experienced professionals care for our guests with humility and good humour, while sharing the bond of enduring friendship with one another.
Angelique Helmchen, Lodge Manager
Lucky Legong, Amukeri
It is a close-knit group whose passion and positivity manifests in every aspect of their work, making a trip to Singita Sweni Lodge a truly magical experience. Lucky Legong is the lodge amukeri, someone who welcomes and looks after the guests, which she does with her warm smile and trademark enthusiasm. “Behind the scenes there is a lot of singing, a lot of laughter. It’s a very nice, loving, supportive environment.”
Thabela Mashile, Banakeli
Oriel Mbowane, Sous Chef
Each team member, while responsible for a key part of the operation of the lodge, also complements the others by stepping in to help whenever necessary. As sous chef Oriel Mbowane says, “Sweni angels are always smiling, hard working, always going that extra mile”. Together, this dedicated and spirited group ensure that every visit to Singita Sweni Lodge feels like coming home.
Beauty Mashego, Banakeli
This year we are telling the extraordinary stories of our staff members, the people of Singita who make a visit to our lodges and camps completely unforgettable. Please share these stories via our social media channels and follow the hashtag #singitastories for more.
The lodges at Singita Kruger National Park recently received a visit from Ross Borden and Scott Sporleder of Matador Network, an independent online travel community. They documented their stay in this article on the site, accompanied by some gorgeous photographs we wanted to share with you:
The rooms at the Lebombo lodge are spread across a ridge that runs right down to a major river in the park. We stayed at one of the suites pictured here, which looks out directly over the river. Although it’s a longer walk to and from reception, the sights and sounds of wildlife at the river made it feel like we were out on a game drive even during downtime at the room.
One of the many dozens of elephants we saw in our four days at Singita Kruger National Park.
Although every guide at Singita carries a rifle in each Land Rover and wears a belt full of bullets, they’re never used. Each guide brings a wealth of knowledge to the table regarding animal behaviour and how to stay safe in the bush.
A roof of one of the suites at Singita Lebombo Lodge looking out on the river below.
Like the common spaces at every Singita property, the suites are all super stylish, but the real genius of these rooms is their isolation from each other and the privacy guests enjoy.
Somehow they’ve spaced each room out from the next so that each guest room has complete privacy from other guests and staff, as well as an individual and intimate connection to the surrounding nature.
Singita guests wait for a female cheetah to show them the speed and grace of an evening hunt.
Between each game drive you’ll be treated to an amazing lunch, and if you get too hot by the pool you can read a book in the shade or take a dip.
And just when you thought the luxury service couldn’t get any better, your guide and tracker will stop the vehicle during each evening game drive and set up a cocktail bar right there in the middle of the bush. Snacks and cocktails surrounded by wildlife… magic.
Did you know a large group of zebras is called a “dazzle”?
Making eye contact with one of the young, hungry-looking male lions only a few feet away from your open-top vehicle can be quite a moment.
Scott and Ross with Field Guide, Enos, and tracker, Sunday
Matador is an independent media company that launched in 2006 with the vision for a travel site and community based on the the real cultures, people, and places they encounter. You can see their photos from Singita Sabi Sand on the site and watch a beautiful video of their experience on their YouTube channel.
Archie Maclean is Head Chef at Singita Kruger National Park and is responsible for managing the kitchen team that produces edible delights for our guests on a daily basis. As with all Singita’s lodges and camps, the food and plating style at Singita Lebombo Lodge is designed to reflect the ambience and décor of the fifteen loft-style suites in this boldly dramatic lodge.
The main focus at Singita Lebombo Lodge is always on fresh food, interesting flavour combinations and a “contemporary informal” visual element. The ingredients of each dish are also considered in terms of their environmental sustainability, with a strong preference for incorporating local produce. The composition of each dish is a little more modern to reflect the style of the lodge, and this is carried through to the cooking methods employed, such as sous-vide, smoking and curing. These also happen to be very healthy ways to prepare food, and lend an elemental feeling to the menu; sous-vide being water, smoking being fire and curing being earth. This modernity is balanced out with open fire and spit cooking which takes things back to basics, while being quintessentially African.
Meal times at Singita Lebombo Lodge should be relaxed and guests are encouraged to eat what they like, to avoid the kitchen being too prescriptive. Formal dinners with suit and tie are not the norm – guests can choose when they eat and what they wear to dinner. The menu is full of healthy options and portions are generous but never excessive. The chef is also very happy to provide plenty of choices for those with special dietary requirements or preferences.
The strategy for plating each dish is to remain innovative without being over-the-top, and avoid crowding the plate so that the eye has space in which to rest. This is a classic example of negative space theory which is key to aesthetic composition.
The contemporary style of the lodge serves as inspiration for alternative dining experiences, like sharing meals “family style”, where large dishes are placed on the table and passed around by the guests to serve themselves. Tapas and tasting plates are also a popular way for guests to enjoy their food, allowing them to sample a greater variety of menu options.
Food will always be an important part of the Singita experience, with guests having seven “official” opportunities to eat throughout the day. We of course encourage them to take advantage of all of these, so main meals are kept at a reasonable size and snacks are fresh and light; just enough to whet your appetite!
The first photo in this post is from the Matador Network, an independent online travel community, whose founders recently visited Singita Kruger National Park. You can see more of their gorgeous photos here and watch a wonderful video of their trip.
The people who work at Singita have always been a point of pride for us; we are extremely blessed to have a dedicated and hard-working team that works together to create unforgettable experiences for our guests. Singita is the trusted guardian of over half a million acres of pristine land in Africa and employs a large number of people from nearby communities, helping to support the local economy. One such person is Irene Makhabane, the Lodge Manager at Singita Sweni Lodge in the Kruger National Park:
How did you get started at Singita and what inspired you to become a lodge manager?
I was appointed through a recruitment agency and chose hospitality because I love meeting people from all over the world. As a woman who grew up in Africa, it is interesting for me to run the lodge while learning about other people’s homes and cultures.
What would be the highlight of your career so far?
My appointment as lodge manager has definitely been a highlight, as well as the support of my colleagues at Singita who give me so many opportunities to grow.
What do you love about Singita?
Singita is a great company to work for and what I love the most is how the staff are constantly given the opportunity to improve and learn the business. I also love how Singita supports the local community with projects like the Singita School of Cooking which provides training and job opportunities for young people from the neighbouring villages.
What is a memorable guest experience?
One of my favourite experiences occurred while one particular family was staying at the lodge for a few nights. We got on extremely well and on the second night of their stay, they invited me for dinner. They insisted on serving me drinks, fetching food from the kitchen and clearing the plates. They were so kind and made me feel like a special guest at Singita.
What is the greatest challenge you have overcome?
One evening while our guests were in the middle of dinner, a transformer blew, leaving us with no electricity. I had to quickly assess the situation, explain the problem to the guests and tell them how it would be resolved. It was the middle of summer and guests had to go to sleep without any fans or air conditioning so it was quite a challenge but I managed to keep them happy and comfortable despite this setback.
Who is your favourite person and inspiration in the world?
Nelson Mandela. He is truly a great man, filled with grace and humility.
You can read the previous articles in this series; an interview with chef Michael Matera from Singita Grumeti and the story of tracker at Singita Sabi Sand, George Nkuna. Visit the website to learn more about working at Singita.
Singita Lebombo and Sweni Lodges lie in the southeastern reaches of the Kruger National Park, on South Africa’s border with Mozambique. Situated on 33 000 acres, Singita’s private concession is an isolated piece of pristine wilderness where a unique wildlife population thrives across four distinct ecological-zones. This area is especially well-known for the remarkable concentration of the ‘Big 5’ and a number of particularly formidable prides of lion.
Daily game drives with professional guides and trackers provide the perfect opportunity to get up close to Africa’s incredible animals, and the late afternoon bush stops in particular are a wonderful opportunity to spot a great variety of wildlife while sipping a sundowner. To accompany a cold drink or crisp glass of wine, our kitchen teams prepare a delicious snack-time spread. Items on the menu can include crisp fried tortilla with sundried tomato and peppadew dip and creamy guacamole, a selection of local and international cheeses, fruit and preserves, smoked crocodile and springbok carpaccio, homemade breads, watercress salad and smoked salmon trout from the Franschhoek Valley.
If the sound of that makes you hungry, here is the recipe for the wonderful sundried tomato and peppadew dip for you to make at home, from head chef at Singita Kruger National Park, Archie Maclean:
SUNDRIED TOMATO AND PEPPADEW DIP RECIPE
Ingredients – you will need:
400g sundried tomato, chopped
100g peppadews, chopped (if you can’t find peppadews, substitute with any pickled peppers or capsicum)
1 small onion, chopped
150ml vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
Method – what to do:
Put a deep frying pan on a medium heat and add a little olive oil
Sweat off the onion in the olive oil until it begins to soften
Add the tomato and peppadew, and cook gently for 2-3 minutes
Add the stock and boil until it is reduced by half
Remove from the heat and then blend together until smooth (use a stick blender or food processor)
Season with salt and pepper, then allow to cool and serve
We’re giving you a taste of the eating al fresco in the African bush in our current blog series – read the first article from Singita Sabora Tented Camp! If you need to adjust the metric measurements, here’s a handy online volume converter.