Singita Safari Resort: A Room With a Gnu - TheStreet

It's the most famous safari lodge in the world. Its address within South Africa's Sabi Sands National Park dominates almost every travel survey, regularly ranking as the world's No. 1 luxury resort. For the international jet set, Singita is one of the world's hotel wonders, in the company of Venice's Cipriani, Manchu Picchu's Orient Express and Paris' Ritz.

We dropped in to the legendary resort during its winter season (June to August) for an investigative look at why the lodge is so beloved by the world's most-sophisticated travelers and magazine editors.

Getting to the Lodge

Direct flights from New York City include a refueling stop in Senegal or another Central African nation. If not flying privately, opt for an airline with a larger fleet of 777s or 747s, such as South African Airways, in lieu of the smaller 767s flown by Delta and many other U.S. carriers.

Most visitors arrive via Johannesburg before connecting to a smaller regional carrier, such as Federal Air, for a short 90-minute flight servicing the individual lodges of the Sabi Sands. A quick spiral decent reveals Singita's private airstrip with bungalow lounge, which appears as if out of nowhere, dotted by a game driver and trekker who await your arrival.

Checking In at Singita

An articulate staff of guides and trekkers commandeer open-air Land Rovers, telling you more than you ever wanted to know about flora and fauna, along a dirt road connecting the lodges to the main airfield. Singita is more formal than the other 20-or-so Sabi Sands resorts, and a staff lineup welcomes you along a stacked-stone porte-cochere and redwood deck with a koi pond that lead to the main reception.

Those visiting Singita Sabi Sands choose between the Ebony and Boulders Lodge. Ebony is the older of the two, a collection of 12 luxury suites in an

Out of Africa

mix of safari-chic decor. Those with a modern aesthetic will want to make every attempt to get into the coveted Boulders Lodge. Its open-air lobby overlooks the Sand River with one-of-a-kind furnishings, native artwork and a collection of giraffe and elephant skulls discovered during construction.

The Room: First Impressions

A small staircase leads to a lacquered wooden door with a ceremonial gong as doorbell. An architectural hello reveals an airy space of polished cement floors tossed with natural skin rugs and a built-in sofa fluffed with oversize pillows. A gentle hum of tribal lounge music can be heard from ceiling speakers connected to a wall-mounted iPod. Walls of glass frame the surrounding bush, uninterrupted by anything manmade other than a massive private deck with a plunge pool, which separates you from 45 grazing elephants on the horizon.

A tabletop mini bar overflows with gourmet goodies, and the refrigerator is stocked with champagne and premium alcohols. A floating fireplace swivels from the living room to the bedroom, which has a domed ceiling and a canopy bed. A small dressing area with horn-encrusted wardrobes leads to a tumbled granite bathroom, also surrounded in glass, with a freestanding soaking tub and an oversized rain shower that opens to the pool terrace, where you'll find an additional, outdoor shower.

Safari Game Drives

A wake-up call prompts everyone to meet in the lobby for coffee and snacks prior to the 6 a.m. game drive. A selection of personal fleeces are provided in all the rooms, and guests in coordinated outwear crowd into the well-filled Land Rovers.

While most guests never venture to the other lodges for comparison, we did, and we found the Singita safari drives a bit tamer than those of other area resorts, such as Ulusaba. This is due to the fact that Singita trekkers only detour from the road once animals have been spotted, in order to minimize erosion of the local land and natural habitat of animals.

Midway through the game drives, the trekker stops to set up morning coffee and snacks at various bush points. You quickly learn that a stop of the Land Rover means that a martini or hot chocolate is never far behind. Our group included a mostly American clientele of still-overwhelmed newlyweds and families looking for that once-in-a-lifetime Singita vacation. Paparazzi-size cameras and video contraptions yet to be programmed to mute were an electronic safari all their own.

Singita by Day

Your foodie fantasy begins with a morning breakfast following the early game drive. Enjoyed on an outdoor terrace suspended under a canopy of giant trees, guests nibble from a daily breakfast buffet or a menu of eggs and traditional American breakfast staples. After breakfast, guests can return to rooms or hit the in-house spa, with its locally derived skin treatments utilizing bush traditions and organic products. There is also an extremely well-equipped gym with upgraded cardio equipment and LCD TV for a quick fix of CNN, MTV and

CNBC

.

Back in the room, you can relish the true beauty of Singita. No detail is overlooked, including a complimentary laundry service that picks up your soggy socks in the morning and delivers them in a gift-wrapped package in the evening. Rooms are stocked with a collection of books to pass the time as well as watercolors for any burgeoning Renoirs.

An on-site boutique, Singita Trading Post, offers a kitsch-free freestanding shop of African goods, ranging from skeletal heads to natural skins to decorative arts.

You can enjoy lunch in your room or back on the terrace at any time, before you making your way back to the main lodge at around 3 p.m. for the evening game drive.

Nightlife in the Bush

Evening brings out the wild side of the bush, as predators such as lions and hyenas go in search of their evening kill. On our outing, a group of nomadic lions had invaded the area, conquering the local prides and ridding them of most of their male lions and cubs.

The pursuit of these hunters is a thrilling and at times terrifying interaction that puts you within feet of these seductive beasts. At moments you're so close that you can feel the vibrations of growls and grunts as the animals devour their kill with incomparable ferociousness.

From Darwin to decadence, you're speeded away in the silence of night to secret cocktail camps for candlelight martinis in the middle of the bush.

Once back at the lodge, guests choose their desired dinnertime and scurry off to quick costume changes. Some choose an evening wine tasting with the Singita sommelier in the basement cellar to pair bottles with the evening meal. Dinner is served in a thatched dining room with well-spaced tables to ensure the privacy of guests while they dine on a menu of Nala fillet, wildebeest carpaccio and local seafood from coastal fish markets.

After dinner, guests mingle near the lobby fireplace and enjoy South African ports before making their way back to their private lodges, where a stoked fire and candlelight bath await.

The Final Figures

The best safari in the world doesn't come cheap. Visitors can expect to pay around $1,150 per person based on double occupancy, not including flights to the lodge or various staff gratuities. The price does include all meals and game drives, most alcoholic beverages and unlimited vacation bragging rights.

Michael Martin is the managing editor of JetSetReport.com -- a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in In Style, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine, ITV and BBC.