Amanda on Safari Part II: Singita Sweni

The second leg of our South African safari saw us reluctantly saying goodbye to the Tswalu Kalahari (if you missed my first post, read it here) and heading north-east to Singita Sweni

Singita Sweni South Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park bedroom

The Singita brand is perhaps the most well-known and highly regarded in African luxury safari accommodation, so we had high expectations. The Lebombo concession is a 33,000 acre private reserve within the Kruger National Park, close to the Mozambique border, and we were immediately struck by the stark contrast in colour of the landscape - the rains marking the end of the dry season and start of the wet season have not come, and browns and purplish grey hues dominate the terrain. 
Singita Sweni South Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park

In order to get here, we had to take a light aircraft flight from the Oppenheimer-owned Fireblade Aviation facility to Johannesburg, from which we would transfer to another light aircraft flight operated by Federal Air. The Fireblade Aviation "airport" is truly exceptional and a delight for the aviation enthusiast - but its routes are limited to ferrying Tswalu guests either to/from Johannesburg or Cape Town (unless you are looking to charter your own private plane). Federal Air is the most common mode of transport, with shuttle services across Southern Africa, so if you are planning to hop between safari lodges, chances are you will fly Federal Air.

Our arrival at the Singita airstrip was marred by some missing baggage by Federal Air, and the hubby was less than impressed that we had to wait with other guests before being transported by group, depending on whether you were staying at Singita Lebombo or Singita Sweni (both properties are located within the Lebombo private concession). Having just come from Tswalu, it was difficult not to compare the experience - in Tswalu, each travelling party is met at the airstrip by their dedicated guide and ranger and transported by open-air safari vehicle to check-in (this is possible because the hangar is right next to the reserve); in contrast, there is a short car ride from the Singita airstrip to the Lebombo reserve. 

Singita Sweni South Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park bedroom
Singita Sweni South Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park living room
Singita Sweni South Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park bathroom

After checking-in and getting assurances from the Singita Sweni staff that they would follow up with Federal Air for our missing bag (which we did recover), we had some time to relax in our room before our first afternoon game drive. Each room is free-standing and in the style of a tree house overlooking the river, connected to the reception and common areas by wooden walkways. The rooms are incredibly photogenic, and a charming mix of modern luxury with rustic chic. The room has two ensuites (a definite plus), a sleep-out deck and a gorgeous soaking tub positioned to soak in the natural surroundings.

While the suites were lovely, the hubby and I both felt that the service at Sweni was more stiff and less genuine than the warmth we had experienced at Tswalu. The clientele at Sweni also seemed more superficial, perhaps drawn more to the brand name of Singita rather than an appreciation of the wildlife. But without further ado, here's the breakdown of our trip and what we saw:

Day 1

Gathering at the reception area for afternoon snacks before the drive, we are introduced to our guide, Yani, and tracker, Sulli, who would be with us for the duration of our stay. We are also introduced to the couple whom we would be sharing a safari vehicle with - honeymooners from Mexico. On check-in, we had inquired about the availability of a private guided safari (having been spoiled by this at Tswalu) but the staff never got back to us, so off we go. 

Singita Sweni South Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park giraffe
Singita Sweni South Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park deer

The first thing that strikes me is the heat and humidity - it is almost as hot and sticky as Singapore! - in complete contrast to the cool temperatures in the Kalahari. The safari vehicle has a top over it to combat the sun but I wonder whether this makes us more visible to animals and if we will see less. 


Singita Sweni South Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park birds


As we drive, we can see that the lack of water has had a devastating impact on the habitat. Bare trees filled with vultures and a hippo carcass is a harsh reminder of the cycle of life. The water levels of the N'Wanestsi River, which the Lebombo and Sweni lodges overlook, are precariously low for the hippo population, and our guide tells us that many have perished from the oppressive heat.

Singita Sweni South Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park lion lioness

We see some impala, giraffe and zebra before we stumble upon a lioness - immediately we see there is something wrong with her. Her neck and front paw are ensnared in barbed wire and her wide eyes speak of pain and bewilderment. Yani reports our find through the radio; she suspects that the lioness came across a trap along the Mozambique border. 

The girl in front of us whips out her iPhone, checks her hair and make-up in the light, then happily snaps some selfies of herself with the ensnared lioness. Hashtag #whatnottodoonsafari.

Singita Sweni South Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park elephant

The animals are far and few between, however, we do see our first elephant of the trip! We also see a sleeping pride of lions at sunset. I know it's unfair to compare the wildlife experience given the drought in this region, but after Tswalu, I can't help but feel underwhelmed. 

Singita Sweni South Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park wildlife lioness lion
Singita Sweni South Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park

As the sun sets, I hope for better luck tomorrow. After some sun-downers, we head back to the lodge for dinner. We are surprised with a private dinner set-up next to the swimming pool. The hubby and I opt to have a dip while starting on the wine, although I douse myself in mosquito repellent first. The water is refreshingly cool after the heat of the day.

Singita Sweni South Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park swimming pool

We were presented with personalised menus (a nice touch) and I ordered the ostrick fillet with chermoula to start followed by dorado with zucchini and lime sauce, tomatoes and potato as my main. The hubby opted for salt and pepper soft shell crab followed by duck breast with sweet potato, orange and brocolli. I quite liked the starter but the main was average. The hubby's orders were not quite up to scratch either. When the chef came to inquire, we told him the duck breast was tough and overcooked. Somewhat bizarrely, the chef later came back to confirm that he agreed that the way in which the duck breast was cooked made it tough to eat, but proceeded to explain that they would take this up with their supplier (rather than adjust their cooking method).

Day 2:

The day starts slightly later here, although I'm not sure why given the heat. We are meant to leave the lodge at 9.00am but the honeymooners are no where to be seen. One of the downsides of having to share a vehicle is the waiting, and it's luck of the draw whether your companions are considerate. While we wait, we glimpse a hippo in the river. The Singita staff do not attempt to call the other couple until we make some noise, and they eventually arrive at the lobby at 9:30am. 

Singita Sweni South Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park restaurant lobby
Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park hippopotamus

We head off for our morning game drive and it is not long before we come across a young elephant bull. He stops, as if surprised to see us, then proceeds to parade himself in a show of projected dominance. It was a special scene to watch, and one of the highlights of our stay at Singita.

Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park elephant
Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park elephant
Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park elephant
Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park elephant

The dry landscape means the animals are sparse, having likely moved elsewhere in the Kruger. However, the hardy impala remains a constant sight. We see some wildebeest and zebra, and we also spot a black-bearded jackal. He stares at us briefly before darting off before I can take another picture.

Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park zebra
Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park coyote
Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park deer
Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park deer

Our morning drive finishes with lions. We pass two young males napping under the shade of a tree, before being called in by radio to see a rarity: a white lion. He is a another young male, his mane barely there but a promise of beauty to come. He is accompanied by two lionesses. They engage for a short while before deciding it is time to snooze.

Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park lion lioness pride
Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park lion lioness pride
Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park lion lioness pride

As our jeep makes its way back to the lodge, the other couple hop onto bicycles with Yani. Another downside of sharing a vehicle and guide: we had the option to cycle too or sit in the jeep while it followed the cyclists back to Sweni. We opted for the latter, and were feeling rather smug about it when the girl called it quits after a kilometre and the guy was drenched in sweat on arrival. Needless to say, we saw no wildlife on the way.

Breakfast (or really, brunch) consists of a choice of cold or hot menu items, with western staples such as homemade granola, fresh fruits, eggs benedict and omelette. We watch the river while we eat, hoping to see some movement. We then unwind back at the lodge, where some antelope are making use of the shade by the river, and cheeky monkeys mock us by clambering unabashed onto the outdoor daybed.

Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park monkey

The remainder of our time in between game drives is dedicated to the spa and browsing the onsite curio shop. I had read online before coming to Africa that Singita carries an enviable range of African furniture, clothing and accessories, and this was one aspect of our stay that did not disappoint. The spa and shop are housed in the same complex at the larger Lebombo lodge, a short walk from Sweni.

Singita Sweni South Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park spa

The spa treatments here are excellent and the perfect way to relax during the midday heat. Singita uses the Healing Earth holistic and locally sourced range of wellness products, and both the hubby and I chose African body butters for our massage. We browse the shops when we finish and I pick out a gorgeous springbok handbag, while the hubby selects some painted ostrich eggs suspended on warthog tusks.

Singita Sweni South Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park living room

We arrange for our game drive this afternoon to include a walking safari. The other couple are instructed to purchase some earthy/tan coloured clothing from the shop so they can come too. As we set off, we see some giraffe, and a crocodile by the river, but then there are no animals to be found.

Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park giraffe
Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park crocodile alligator

When we disembark the jeep to commence the walking safari, Yani tells us to walk single file and not to speak. We see a herd of elephants across the river bank and follow them from a distance. A baby elephant brings up the rear and we watch him scurry to catch up to the rest of the herd.

Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park

Walking safari successfully completed, we continue driving for a short while but no further luck. As if to compensate, the sunset and moon this evening are stunning.

Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park
Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park
Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park
Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park
Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park

The hubby suddenly feels ill. The plan is for all guests to join a bush dinner this evening, but the jeep drops us back to our lodge. The staff up their game and are extremely attentive; they arrange for the on-site medic and for dinner to be brought to the room. Kudos to the chef for attempting fried rice as requested by the hubby. Diagnosis is dehydration brought on by the heat and not drinking enough water. It's a quiet night in.

Day 3:

This morning the hubby decides to recuperate in the room, and I am treated to a private morning game drive. I am greeted by giraffe and impala, before seeing a yellow billed hornbill. Then we see a baby giraffe followed by two gangly youths.

Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park giraffe
Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park bird
Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park giraffe

The next sighting is that of a male lion, and the morning light is just right for capturing the moment. He poses for the camera, snarling and yawning and making funny faces.

Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park lion
Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park lion
Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park lion

Then we see a lioness and another giraffe. Suddenly Yani points out the cutest little antelope: the klipspringer. They travel in pairs but I only managed to capture the female who was perched atop a rock. Her partner was behind her, partly obscured by the shrubs.

Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park giraffe
Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park deer
Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park deer

We pass a drinking hole and a group of lionesses have come for water. We sit and watch them for a while before it is time to head back for breakfast.

Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park lion lioness pride

It seems as though the giraffes have come to say farewell! I see one more (particularly handsome) giraffe as the jeep makes its way back to the lodge.

Singita Sweni Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park giraffe

I am buoyed by the more successful game viewing drive and eagerly relay our sightings to the hubby, who has been watching the baboons and crocodiles along the river. We have breakfast and our time at Singita Sweni draws to a close.

Singita Sweni South Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park

The hubby and I have mixed feelings about Singita Sweni. On the one hand, the rooms, the spa and the shop at the property are really lovely. The game viewing and tracking, however, was a bit hit and miss (with more reliance on the radio rather than spoor), and the drives lacked that spark of adventure which we had experienced at Tswalu. But our South African tour is far from over - onwards and upwards!

xx Amanda

amanda@lslookbook

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