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The Safari Of A Lifetime

Travel connoisseur and safari-mad Dr Iroshini Chua takes on a trip of a lifetime.

It was a weekday in October of 2019 and I was seated besides one of the most influential figures of African wildlife conservation and eco-tourism, Luke Bailes, the founder and executive chairman of Singita - the uber-luxe Safari lodges and camps located in South Africa, Tanzania, Rwanda, Zimbabwe and soon to be launched Botswana.

It’s hard not to be star-struck when you meet Luke Bailes. I am a self-professed safari-holic and fully-fledged Singita-addict that very much admires his incredible philanthropical effort to safeguard the future of the planet. As a mother of two I know it’s impossible pick a favourite child, but I had to ask what his pick of the Singita properties was. Singita means “Place of Miracles” in the Shangaan language. It is a conservation brand that had its humble beginnings at a plot of land in Sabi Sand Reserve that Luke Bailes bought from his family to build Singita Ebony Lodge nearly 30 years ago. It has now expanded to over 2 million hectares throughout the African continent under his watch.

Belying the luxuries that Singita has on offer for its wealthy safari-goers is a real purpose - The 100-year purpose, an unwavering commitment to preserve and protect Africa’s wilderness for future generations. The revenue from the sustainable and environmentally conscious hospitality of Singita’s lodges is directly funnelled to bring about real change that involves protecting the wildlife with anti-poaching programmes, local community development projects and rehabilitating the land which addresses the dwindling wildlife and habitat destruction and eventually climate change.

Fast forward 3 years, post-pandemic and a 1-hour flight from Johannesburg, we were about to land at Buffalo Range International Airport in the remote southeast of Zimbabwe. Yes, Luke Bailes did whisper to me that day about his special affinity towards Malilangwe House and I had listened attentively!

Upon landing, we were driven 45 minutes to the newly redesigned Malilangwe House. For the private jetsetters, the approach is via Lone Star airstrip located just a few minutes game vehicle ride away from the camp. Malilangwe House is a 5-bedroom private villa for exclusive use perched high on a sandstone ridge alongside Pamushana lodge in the pristine Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve. My family and friends were warmly welcomed to our home for the next few days by its dedicated host of staff that included field guide, butler, private chef and our very own bartender.

At the entrance of our restorative retreat was a gigantic wooden door that swivelled to reveal a foyer decorated with beautiful African art, sculptures and tribal drums. A few steps down and we were in an expansive glass-clad circular living room that offered a peak into an enviable panoramic view of the landscape beyond the rim-flow infinity pool. Below the pool was Malilangwe Dam where we could view hippo antics from the comfort of our remote hideaway. Lounge chairs, relaxing corners, private decks, an interactive kitchen and a circular study - it was a contemporary African home of dreams designed to offer family and friends an intimate shared space. A welcome note addressed to Drs Chua greeted us in the massive Master bedroom that boasted a walk-in wardrobe, living area and fireplace and an equally impressive bathroom with enormous shower and bath areas. Singita’s graciousness is contagious. Much to our friend’s delight, we offered the master room to her family and settled into our beautiful Junior suite.

Our long awaited, post-covid luxury safari was worth the wait! We had 130,000 acres of untouched wilderness at our feet with exclusive access to the protected reserve and its abundant wildlife which is managed by the Malilangwe Trust. Twice a day, we shared the experience as a family of being immersed in the raw beauty of nature, rolling grasslands, rocky outcrops and riverine woodlands. Each game drive proved to be exciting and soothing in equal measure. With the expert field guidance and knowledge of Tengwe and intuitive tracking skills of Memezani, we discovered Africa’s iconic “Big Five” that included leopard, lion, elephant, buffalo, white rhinoceros, and the rare and endangered black rhinoceros. A guided safari walk presented us with an opportunity for a close encounter a crash of rhinoceros back-to-back in a defensive formation. Tengwe explained that the reserve has successfully reintroduced 28 black rhinos and 15 white rhinos in 1998 and was a source of restocking rhinos in the continent.

As our days unfolded, we were not just limited to a safari jeep to discover our surroundings. A cruise on the waters below the lodge with sundowners at hand gave us a different perspective. It was perfect for bird watching with the native birds to the area being kingfishers, herons and fish eagles. It was also an ideal way to get up and close to the hippo’s and crocodiles. A fishing expedition had us reeling in the lure with excitement and releasing the catch back into the tranquil waters. The area is prolific for game fishing of tiger fish, tilapia, and catfish. Contrary to the usual safari, should you prefer the animals to come to you, you could stay in the shade of a fully stocked hide away and watch the herds of animals quench their thirst at the waterhole.

A friend once said to me, “To see the world is one thing, but to see it through your eyes and your experiences is something else!” I think she must have been talking about my Singita moments. One of my favourites was our time at the Chilojo Cliffs in the heart of the magnificent Gonarezhou national park. A 2-hour drive brought us to the ancient red sandstone cliffs formed through erosions while the scenic Runde River Valley was before us beckoning us to walk its banks.  A large carpet with oversized cushions under the canopy welcomed us to enjoy the scene with a fresh juice at hand. In true Singita style- a lunch table and chairs lay complete with linen, cutlery and wine glasses in the midst of a beautiful national park whilst our chef cooked our favourite flavours of pasta, salads and meat for a surreal mid-day feast with a view!

Mealtimes was a main event at Singita and every sunset was a celebration. David, our master cocktail maker presented us the most delightful concoctions from a stylish bar set up in the wild, be it on a helipad or riverbank. We lay by the pool while uniformed staff held trays of canapés before us, we tucked into a bush-dinner under the stars with pretty lanterns strung on tree branches, we fine-dined in pyjamas at the comfort of Malilangwe house, singing and making merry because it was all very private.  Every Singita moment was curated for us and we certainly felt like special guests.  

It was 15 minutes before our chartered flight departure out of Lonestar air strip, and I was still at the Singita Pamushana boutique, sweeping up all of the memorabilia I possibly could. I remembered that a few days before we got to Zimbabwe, my husband said his soul had already checked into Malilange house. So here we were at the only difficult part of our Singita safari - checking out!

For bookings: https://singita.com/lodge/singita-malilangwe-house


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