The Great Fire of London in 1666, the burning down of the White House in the War of 1812 – history is full of examples of significant buildings that burned down and were rebuilt. While it may not be in a major city, nor does it house bishops or American presidents (not that we know of), Lions Sands River Lodge has always been a significant building in the context of Sabi Sands and the famed Kruger National Park. After a fire destroyed parts of the lodge last year, this original jewel in the Sabi Sands crown underwent a fantastic renovation. It has now reopened and we can confidently say, it’s better than ever before.If you want to talk about originals, River Lodge really fits the bill. From a small family camp, established on the Sabie River in 1933 by the Chalkley clan, to when the Chalkleys and their family by marriage, the Mores, erected the first formal iteration of River Lodge in 1978, this was the first proper lodge in Sabi Sands. It’s seen plenty of good times, welcoming families from all over the world to enjoy some of the finest game viewing on the planet in luxury, but it’s had its fair share of tough times too. In 2000, it was washed away by massive floods, rebuilt in 2001 and right up until it burned down in 2017 it continued to welcome guests seeking not just a safari, but a sense of place and escape.If you live and work in the bush, you have to be resilient and while the fire was a setback, it was also an excellent opportunity for renewal.
The newly revamped lodge is now even more special. Using natural tones and materials like wood and wool, the lodge décor is both modern and luxurious, complementing the bush environment rather than challenging it. Shared spaces include the Boma, the Riverbed Safari Lounge and Bar (great for drinks and mid-afternoon relaxing), a Barista’s Station kitted with a range of artisanal coffees (essential if you opt in for those early morning game drives), a gallery with a range of works by local artists, a boutique for those wanting bush kit and souvenirs, a spa, dining options both in the Boma, on the deck and in the riverbed.
With eight luxury rooms, six superior luxury rooms all with indoor and outdoor showers and four river suites (each boasting its own plunge pool), the lodge caters for everyone from honeymoon couples to family groups. Every room has a private viewing deck so if you want some quiet time you can still take in the area’s game viewing from the privacy of your suite.
Between game drives, you have plenty of options, from reading a book or game viewing on your own viewing deck or the communal areas, pampering yourself at the Lalamuka Spa and, for those wanting to take a dip regardless of the season…there are two heated swimming pools. There’s something pretty special about sitting in a warm pool at night, sipping on a glass of wine and listening to everything from a howling hyena pack to randy leopards (Sabis Sands is renowned for its leopard sightings).
On that note, whether you are a birder, a casual game watcher or a complete bush nut, there’s something for everyone at River Lodge. But for those really keen on big game, the odds of you seeing the Big 5 are exceptionally high in the Sabi Sands area. And, in our opinion, there’s nowhere better to stay than River Lodge while working through your tick list.
On a personal note, my (PG) experience with this lodge dates back over 13 years. I have been back a few times, and it has always wowed me- whether it wat the world class egg benedict while we watched the Elephants feed in the morning in the river, or having to wait for the elephants (and leopard) to clear out of the road outside of the lodge before we could get going to the airport… special memories every time. Happy they have rebuilt it, but in a way that adds something special and still maintains the legacy feeling.