The sheer magic of exploring Singita’s Kruger concession on foot
Of all the safari destinations I’ve been lucky enough to visit, Singita Sweni Lodge, perched on the banks of the Sweni River in the Kruger National Park, is among my absolute favourites.
Life unfolds here with a sumptuously slower rhythm — as you’ll discover when you wallow in the infinity pool watching hippos in the muddy waters below you, a fish eagle serenading you with its melancholy calls.
Sweni’s soaring windows frame views of bush and river, letting light and birdsong flood inside. The interiors are imbued with an African modernism that hints at Pancho Guedes’s mid-century Mozambican masterpieces. Minimalist furniture and geometric accents are combined with a lush array of contrasting textures: wood and clay, fabric and metal. Rounding it off are gem-inspired pops of colour, timeworn artefacts and plants. The effect is warm and embracing — exquisitely stylish without being overbearing.
This is the kind of place I arrive at and don’t want to leave. But to stay ensconced in its earthy opulence would be a great pity — because the Singita Kruger concession that surrounds the lodge is one of the most beautiful places on earth, home to rippling mountain ridges, languorously flowing rivers, and seemingly endless plains.
While game drives will give you a pretty good overview of this 33,000-acre patch of paradise (which Singita’s handsome khaki Land Cruisers have exclusive traversing rights to), the best way of unlocking its magic is to hop off the vehicle and head out on foot.
Walking in the wild is very different to being on a game drive. You become a part of the environment rather than a passive observer of it. To stay safe, the bush has to be decoded in real-time —to take note of the sounds, sights and smells of possible danger.
A bush walk is not about box-ticking the Big Five: it’s about becoming immersed in a landscape’s ecology and gaining an appreciation for the wealth of indigenous knowledge that the cultures who have lived here for centuries hold. The quieter and slower pace of being on foot enables you to explore, inquire, investigate — using your senses more powerfully.
Another perk is that you’re able to get to places that are impassable for a vehicle. A perfect example of sublimely impenetrable terrain (to Land Cruisers, at least!) — are the wondrous ridges of the Lebombo mountain range in the eastern part of Singita’s Kruger concession. One morning during a recent visit to Sweni, we went strolling along these gentle undulations which feature smooth, spherical boulders balancing precariously on top of each other like avant garde artworks.
Rifle in hand, our hugely knowledgable guide Evidence Nkuna (who spent his childhood on the edge of Kruger) pointed out a host of things we would’ve missed had we remained in the vehicle. This included the sweet-smelling coconut sage, the dainty blue commelina flower (which has a liquid inside that can be used as eye drops) and the bracket fungi which — because it is slow and reliably burning — can be used to transfer fire from one set of embers to another. We spotted a muddy elephant track; I placed my foot in it, freshly awed at the gargantuan size of these majestic animals. Evidence recalled how his ancestors used to hide biltong in the long-tailed cassia tree (“mulumanyama”) because the drying meat looked eerily similar to the tree’s drooping pods. Chewing its bark, he mentioned, soothes the stomach if you have a tummy upset.
Our ramble along the ridges meant I could get up close and personal with two of my favourite Lowveld trees — the mountain mahogany and the pod mahogany — as well as the exquisitely quirky Lebombo euphorbia.
Slowly and carefully, we made our way down to the N’wanetsi river, monitored by a fish eagle on the opposite bank. Daniel, our tracker, spotted lion spoor once we’d descended and it wasn’t too long before we spotted two young males about 50 metres away. For over 10 minutes, we watched the brothers dozing under a tree before continuing onwards to the vehicle. It was an exhilarating conclusion to our magical mountain walk.