It's with a broad smile and much warmth that you will be greeted at Lion Sands as you arrive at the end of the boardwalk which leads to the reception area. After downing a welcome drink and freshening up with a wet towel, you will be introduced to your ranger before a butler arrives on the scene to take care of your luggage. It is one of the most professional, well-orchestrated orientations of any lodge which includes a presentation of the facility and a walk around of the main areas of the lodge. The reception area is a white-walled, thatched structure decorated with wooden carvings and at whose centre is a beautiful wooden table with tall birds of paradise upon it. Through the other side of the welcome area is the main lodge which comprises several communal spaces. One of these is the Safari Lodge, a lounge area which is used for both orientation and for talks given by the rangers. One half of the space is a cosy seating area arranged around an open log fire with plenty of books to flick through as well as carvings and paintings on the walls. There is also a television in the lounge for those who wish to keep up with the outside world during their stay while over the other side of the room is the bar. Another of these spaces is the River Lounge, which, when not being used for meals can be occupied for relaxing under cover. However, if the weather plays ball, then there is no reason not to use the beautiful decks at the lodge, appointed with smart outdoor furniture. There are several other niches where guests can sit and relax with a book or a drink which could easily been featured in a spread in a lifestyle magazine.
In terms of leisure facilities, River Lodge has it pretty well covered. The communal infinity pool, which looks out on to the bushveld (although the view is not stunning), is surrounded by decking and there are loungers as well as parasols to shade from the sun in addition to the towering trees. There is a fitness room for those who want to keep their regime going although it is the spa centre which is the real pull. The Lalamuka Health Spa is a cute little affair with a swish entrance featuring soft white armchairs with matching foot rests and a cabinet displaying the range of quality products used in the treatments. From skin care treatments to body rituals and from massages manicures to pedicures, there is a wide range of relaxing treatments to choose from each given in the well appointed rooms of which one is for couples (packages for couples are available, as well as for birthdays and separate him and her treatments).
One of the unique features of River Lodge is the Chalkley Tree house (named after the gentleman who bought up the land on which the lodge is situated) where, for an extra cost, guests can enjoy the African sunset from atop a 500 year old Leadwood tree while dining on a picnic before sleeping under the stars. In the morning their ranger will fetch them and take them on a private game drive before they feast on a bush breakfast.
Aside from the game drives, which are led by some of the best and most friendly rangers we came across, guests can go on a guided bush walk in the mornings where they will learn more about the plants around them and the basics of tracking. Those who have trouble spotting hippos can embark on a game drive specifically aimed at finding the fascinating creatures.