This brand new "bushveld boutique" lodge was dubbed by Tatler Magazine as being "one of the best hotels in the world." Just as its sister property, Lion Sands River Lodge, Ivory Lodge lives on the banks of the Sabi River in the Lion Sands Game Reserve, the only private reserve to have a foot in both the Sabi Sand Game Reserve and Kruger National Park in South Africa.
We arrive on a very hot day in December but we are immediately distracted from the killer heat by our surrounds. Distracted? I meant mesmerized. Hypnotized.
The entrance is astounding. It has a distinct Zen flair with its use of natural materials. The website describes it best: The timeless design incorporates steel, wood, thatch, glass, water and sand. A sophisticated mid-century architectural contemporary theme defines the interiors, with bold furniture and edgy décor, ambient lighting, inferences of tribal design and highly textured finishes - all of which combine to make Lion Sands Ivory Lodge an utterly sensory experience.
I could not have put it better if I tried. Our host and manager Patricia greets us personally and then our friendly butler - yes, you get your own butler - accompanies us to our suite.
Again, please pass the smelling salts.
The suite is spectacular. In fact the only thing they don’t’ supply here is a GPS tracker in case you get lost in its capacious interior.
It has the most unique design of any bush lodge I have ever seen.
Ivory and black colors lead the design frenzy, resulting in just six luxury suites with a combination of Zen, Scandinavian and almost industrial design without for a moment compromising on opulence and character. It is a work of art, almost like an elegant mathematical equation where every piece of furniture, rug, choice of wallpaper, light fittings and fabric textures and colors have been poured over for eons.
Of course it has all the usual amenities - as well as a gazillion extras to make you feel like royalty. Touches like a SMEG bar fridge in addition to the normal bar fridge, ice cold cranberry cocktail concoctions made just for us and your own splash pool - lit at night - make you understand the not inconsiderable price tag. Each villa consists of a large living area connected via a sun deck to a beautiful bedroom. The living area has a modern interior and is furnished with a large, comfortable sofa facing the open fireplace.
The light and airy bedrooms feature king-sized beds that can be converted into twins. The floor-to-ceiling glass walls make the most of the spectacular surroundings. Each bathroom features an indoor shower and large free-standing bathtub, as well as an outdoor shower in the private courtyard.
The view of the river is mind-blowing and the villas feel like they are miles apart, ensuring utter privacy.
Tsepo shows us the carcass of a buffalo across the river and says he saw said buffalo being killed by lions only a week ago.
Lunch at the restaurant on the river is accompanied by elephants cavorting in the background. The deck is built under a massive mahogany tree which must be hundreds of years old and the food follows the elegant sophistication of the rest of the place and Chef Xavier is a magician and alchemist. His salmon is simply superb. The lemon merengue he brings me resides in the same suburb of heaven me thinks.
After lunch we stop in at the property’s art gallery - oh yes! - and its utterly serene and magnificent spa as well.
We join the late afternoon game drive with Philip, easily one of the most knowledgeable guides I have ever met.
Lion Sands is home to the Big-Five and sightings of leopard happen almost daily. I say almost since nothing you see - or don’t see - in the bush is guaranteed.
We spot a myriad of bird species which Philip describes in detail as well as very rare animal - a lowveld girdled lizard.
Impala, zebra, giraffe, water buck and wildebeest also come our way.
Then something extraordinary happens. We also see a white rhino with calf just meters away but they trot off into the bush. Philip wants to take us closer so we all get off and track the rhino into the dense bush. After a heart-stopping and silent ten minutes or so, we come across them and Philip motions silently for us to slowly get down.
Watching them peacefully graze in their natural environment so close is a privilege I hardly have words for.
Night time glory
Later on the way home a lazy puff adder crosses the road in front of us and the stars come out in all their magnificent glory.
Philip describes the star constellations in great detail and this certainly explains my somewhat achy neck the next morning.
Back at the lodge, a gastronomic banquet is served because to call it dinner will simply not do. An extremely romantic ambience is created by the lanterns and candles on the table and we are first served prawn bisque with wild mushrooms and for the main course we are spoilt to within an inch of our lives with the best ostrich fillet in the world. Other options are oxtail pie and chicken galantine.
Back in our suite we further revel at the blanket of stars while sitting in our splash pool, wine in hand like ladies Muck.
Breakfast the next morning I scrumptious - smoked haddock with a creamy cheese sauce with your choice of egg is my favorite breakfast and simply superbly prepared. Of course you can basically order any breakfast your heart desires here.
It is with sad hearts that we have to wave farewell to this gem of a lodge and its amazing staff. Well actually, not farewell since this place will call you back to it with a soft whisper like a siren. And I dare you to resist.
Double rooms from $2,833 excluding tax at 14 percent. Please note the hotel charges an additional government tax of $7.5 per person per night on check-out.
Rates include all meals and most drinks, transfers to and from Skukuza Airport, two game drives every day and other wildlife activities such as escorted bush walks.
Air China outbound flights to Johannesburg in South Africa operate on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, with return services from Johannesburg offered on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Flights will departs from Beijing at 23:15 Beijing time, and arrive in Johannesburg at 7:35 local time on the following day. The inbound flight departs from Johannesburg at 11:50 local time and arrives in Beijing at 7:30 Beijing time.