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Lion Sands Game Reserve

Lion Sands Treehouses are the ultimate star beds and Tinyeleti Treehouse has a view over the Sabie River.

A Tinyeleti Treehouse Surprise at Lion Sands

I can’t wait for this afternoon. Not just because spending a night at Tinyeleti Treehouse is a spectacular way to privately indulge in a Big Five wilderness experience, but also because this will come as a complete surprise to my travel companion, and niece, Anne.

It’s probably the best kept secret I have managed to keep for a long time and, considering this has been in the planning for many months, I am quite proud to have kept the surprise right until the last minute.

We are five days into our safari trip. Having spent the first few days at Tinga Lodge, we’re now at Narina, where every staff member, from managers to reception to field guides and trackers are in on the treehouse surprise – which makes it even more special. I have decided on the menu, have packed an overnight bag for us while Anne wasn’t looking and now, as we are about to enjoy afternoon tea prior to the game drive, I quickly walk back to the room to furtively grab her toiletry case – which I had dared not pack knowing full well she would’ve noticed it as missing from the bathroom.

Climbing into the safari vehicle and joining our field guide Quolani, tracker Isaac and the other guests, Anne still has no clue as we head out into the concession.

It is about 4:30pm when I hear another vehicle approaching. We are just admiring a trio of old bull buffalo and I can barely contain myself. This is our link-out to Tinyeleti!  Murray, one of the other Lion Sands field guides, draws up alongside us and getting up from my seat, I grab my bag and camera gear and motion Anne to follow me to step straight over and switch vehicles. She doesn’t question this, as a few days ago we arranged to be taken back to the lodge a little earlier to have some extra time before dinner.

After a short drive, Murray stops and indicates that we have almost arrived. “Anne”, I say, as I excavate a scarf from my bag that was lent to me by Sue, the lodge manager, “you just have to trust me now”.

Understandably bewildered, she allows me to blindfold her; we carry on around a bend in the road, and there is Tinyeleti Treehouse!

Murray is a real sport and, with Anne still blindfolded, assists her in coming down the vehicle and up along the walkway until we are right in front. I remove the scarf and for a moment, she stands dumbfounded. Then, as she looks up and spots the double bed with mosquito netting 8 metres up on the open platform, her jaw drops.

Wildly excited she follows our welcome committee through the entrance door and up the stairs onto the platform. We have just passed the bathroom on the lower level; there is a washbasin, flush toilet and shower with hot and cold running water along with plenty of soft fluffy towels, bathrobes and luxury amenities such as shower gel. She can’t believe her eyes.

Upstairs, a small table, draped in a flowing white cotton tablecloth, is set for a three-course dinner and a bottle of bubbly rests inside a large metal ice bucket. Paraffin lamps are aglow and two therapists from the newly refurbished Narina Spa are waiting for us to take a seat and spoil us with a foot massage (this was a surprise for me too).

“Anne … you just have to trust me now.”

The Treehouse Experience is booked in conjunction with accommodation at the lodge of your choice, and the cost is ZAR 4190 (2023) per person per night. Your room remains ready for your return at any point. You’ll pack a stay-over bag with the essentials, leaving the rest of your belongings safely back at the lodge.

Fransje van Riel Wildlife

We are familiarized with the radio to contact the lodge and shown a fully charged cell phone in case of any problems. Our dinner, including hot soup, is tucked inside a wooden cabinet and a Field Bar yields a chilled bottle of white wine. We are good to go.

Everyone leaves and, closing the door and donning our comfortable bathrobes, we head back up to open the bubbly. It is the golden hour and, with stunning views across the Sabie River, we are savouring this ultimate sensation to connect with nature.

As night falls, we hear the faint trundling of a safari vehicle heading back to the lodge. Saving that, everything is quiet.

We have the best of sleeps after dinner and, in the morning, awake to the chirping of birds and wave-like sound of some rapids in the Sabie River.

An hour later, when Murray collects us and we re-join our safari vehicle, we know we have made memories to last a lifetime.

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