Long, long ago, back in the 1920’s when the old steam trains traversed the pristine plains of the Kruger wilderness, carriages carrying intrepid travellers meandered the tracks until the end of the route was reached. There, upon a sturdy bridge built from stone, the train and its passengers would rest for the night, above the Sabie River overlooking the magnificent, rugged landscapes that unravelled before them. As dawn would break and the African sun would wake up the wildlife, the steam engines would start and off they’d go again, back in the direction they’d come from, witnessing the wondrous way once more.
By the 1970’s, the traffic on these tracks had severely impacted the natural flow of the Kruger’s ecology. The trains were stopped, the tracks were lifted and the traffic of trade and tours came to an end. Slowly the Kruger’s wildlife returned to their primal ways, free-roaming the plains amongst the burgeoning flora, with the only remnants of the train and its tracks being above the Sabie River, upon the old Selati bridge.
Paying homage to this historical landmark in this particularly special spot, Kruger Shalati Lodge opens its luxury cabins to those intrepid travellers once again, who seek a train adventure, standing still above the lapping rapids of the river. 24 capacious cabins have been beautifully re-envisaged and restored by a local design team – HK Studio, led by Andrea Kleinloog. With expansive glass windows and doors yielding an abundance of light and breathtaking views from every angle – whether it be from the bed, the bathtub or the balcony – each individual cabin beckons you in with a seductive safari lullaby and cradles you with nostalgia. It’s the little things too, like the bird book beside the binoculars, and the rather fancy, fully-stocked mini bar that keep in with the luxury and pleasantries of the surroundings. The funky rugs and bathroom tiles, swivel chairs and side tables transform any remnants of regal, to a more retro rail. All of the suites face east, allowing for that magical morning hour when the golden sunrises flood the room – should you wish to be up with the birds and the beasts, sipping on a hot brew. It may be that you’ve opted for an early morning drive where you’ll be likely to spot all of the big five and the small five, the antelope colonies and amazing birdlife. After which you’ll feast over the morning’s meal at the main bridge house – out on the deck, underneath the acacias, overlooking the land you’ve just ventured upon.
Like any perfectly tailored safari, the days unfold as you choose. Following a hearty breakfast you are at liberty to recline by any of the glorious swimming pools – either at the bridge house and its two plunge pools with sun-loungers and comfy seating areas, or outside the cabins on the bridge overlooking the river. The library is fully stocked with rich reading material that’ll educate you on the history of the area, the country and the continent. Be prepared for a lot of feasting, as a tasty light lunch will be served in the middle of the day, followed by a decadent high tea prior to the evening game drive. Back out into the bush for another thrilling adventure, only to return to yet another delicious dinner spread. There’s just enough time to submerge yourself in the bathtub, with a cold beer, beforehand. The days begin and end early at Kruger Shalati, just as they should. In keeping with the existence of the wild.
All that’s left of the day is to resign to your private room, climb into those sensational beds and drift off with the night, as the moon rises, reflecting its light onto the river’s ripples, as the night jars sing you to sleep, with that ever-so romantic safari lullaby.
What we love!
- Whilst the train carriages are the main spectacle of Kruger Shalati Lodge, and the very essence of the experience, the bridge house and its compartments are the necessary delight and extension to your stay. A substantial library and reception area, indoor and outdoor dining areas, quiet reclining spots and swimming pools all add to the magic.
- Watching the sunrise from the cabins and walking the long walkways at sunset, for the next golden moment of the day.
- The plethora of wildlife that inhabit the land – from all of the Big 5, Small 5, wild dog, hyena, all antelope, warthog, mongoose, pangolins…lest we forget the incredible birdlife.
- Witnessing the wildlife wandering down to the water to bath and drink from it. A mating pair of resident fish eagles are known to swoop in and out of the river, resting on the trees and calling out to each other.
What you need to know…
- Kruger Shalati Lodge is only a 4km drive from the nearest airstrip – Skukuza Airport. Nelspruit is only a 2-hour drive away.
- Each day there are plenty of excursions to get involved in. From the two optional game drives – early morning and evening – walking safaris, a round of golf at a nearby golf course, spa treatments in your own cabin, or at the nearby spa.
- Only children 12 years and older are welcome at the lodge.
Reviewed by Colleen Ogilvie