It was an extraordinary feeling walking along the wooden boardwalk as I arrived at Singita Lebombo Lodge, set against the majestic Lebombo Mountains in the heart of Kruger National Park. This had been my home for so long and I had not returned in over a year. Singita Kruger National Park is made up of fifteen thousand hectares of pristine wilderness, with a diversity of fauna and flora not matched anywhere. The rolling Lebombo Mountains hug the eastern boundary of the park, giving way to the vast basalt plains and supported by the N’wanetsi River that cuts through the mountains and makes its way to the east into Mozambique. It’s an isolated place, where the animals seem just a little more wild. This is because vehicles and people have only operated in the area for a couple of years as the lodge was only completed in 2003. It is a truly unique landscape bustling with life, renowned for the large concentrations of lion and general game and seldom-seen animals such as the sable antelope – and if you’re really lucky, the elusive and shy black rhino.
After our recent, mind-blowing experience in the Sabi Sand area I was eager to see the contrast that this environment has to offer. We would be spending much more time out of the Land Rover, and exploring vast tracts of land with nothing more than a backpack, rifle, and of course a camera. My aim was to rediscover all the secret gems the concession has to offer, such as walking the N’wanetsi River, traversing the mountain ranges and possibly tracking the Mountain Pride of lion, which was an exercise I had come to miss over the last year.
I was happy to see many familiar faces; the tracking team remained unchanged and Given, the tracker who I worked with, greeted me with a hug and a familiar smile. I listened enthusiastically as they told me all that had changed in the bush since my departure. I discovered the Mountain Pride was still eighteen strong, the resident female leopard’s cubs were healthy and were now fending for themselves, the Shish pride had grown to twenty six members, and one of the males from the Xirombe pride had been killed by a rival and so it went on. I lapped it all up.
So with all the thoughts of what I may encounter over the next couple of days I switched off the light on my first night. I could hardly wait for the next day’s exhilaration to begin.
James Suter, a Field Guide with Singita for several years, is now trekking across Singita’s private reserves in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Tanzania, documenting his time spent in these incredible locations, and the amazing sightings.