Ulusaba Safari Lodge: Visiting Sir Richard Branson
The weather means it on arrival to Ulusaba Private Game Reserve especially good with us, it is already in the morning a pleasant 24 degrees and the sun shines in the cloudless sky over the world famous Sabi Sand Reserve. For months it has not rained in the region. Here on the edge of the Kruger National Park is not only the probably highest density of wildlife, but also the largest collection of absolute super luxury lodges in South Africa.
Our goal, the Ulusaba Safari Lodge, shares with the neighboring high located on a mountain Rock Lodge the exclusive Ulusaba concession area. Both lodges were built according to the vision of Sir Richard Branson and are the flagship of his elegant Virgin Limited Edition, a select selection of luxury hotels around the globe. This is the first time that I have come into contact with the African wilderness – for weeks I have been waiting with heartbeat and huge anticipation for this extraordinary journey.
Ulusaba Safari Lodge (Sabi Sand Reserve)
There are no fences between Sabi Sand and the Kruger National Park, so that all animals can roam freely and an encounter is thus completely left to the whims of nature and the habits of the animals. Our previous research promises spectacular sightings and almost a guarantee for leopards, whose observation makes the Sabi Sand Reserve the world’s best safari destination.
Just behind the guard Newington Gate, that only lodge guests with booking confirmations are allowed to pass, we already discover the first antelopes. At a distance, three warthogs run through the few remaining largely dried out grass. The dry season is at its peak and the plants are really thirsty for rain, but for us the scarce vegetation naturally increases the visibility and thus the likelihood of discovering animals.
Our safari guide is already waiting: “Hi, I’m Brandon!”
About 40 minutes later we reach the reception area of Ulusaba, which is located about 1.5 kilometers from the actual lodge, close to your own little airstrip. If you do not like us with the rental car, can Ulusaba also reach by small plane. The sympathetically smiling, stately gentleman, who already expects us, presents himself as Brandon in front. He will be our safari guide for the next days.
“champagne?“A question that Alex and I with a clear”Yes!“After we sat down in the cozy reception area of the reception. Brandon joins us, in his hand the obligatory arrival formalities and the first funny saying on the lips. “Relax and enjoy!“He says, from now on we should just enjoy.
As a safari rookie, I tap into a small faux pas immediately in the first conversation, as Brandon asks me what I expect and would like to see. My answer is a bit rash: “The Big Five!“Alex gives me a loving nudge, apparently you do not go the first time you get to know each other. He relativizes the statement charmingly and tells Brandon that we are really happy with everything nature wants to show us.
Our friendly safari guide Brandon
I understand, there comes the naive city dweller and puts the guide with her cocky “Big Five” statement directly under pressure. But Brandon takes the situation in South African style quite relaxed and soon we find ourselves in a conversation about wild dogs, waterbuck and baby hyenas again. There is no doubt that there is so much fascination and wildlife here that it would be a shame to just check off any checklist …
Arrival at the Ulusaba Safari Lodge
As soon as our glasses are emptied, we are already leaving Ulusaba Safari Lodge and find ourselves back in the SUV for about five minutes. The sun shines in the open vehicle and in me come up the first adventurous wildlife feelings. Arriving at the lodge, we are greeted again friendly, may first explore our new environment and get to know the timetable: A wake-up call (if desired) at 5 clock in the morning, followed by a small snack with tea, coffee and biscuits in the lobby.
The morning safari starts around 5:45 am and will last until about 9:00 am – depending on what’s exciting on the way, it may take a bit longer. Afterwards, a large breakfast is planned on the wooden lodge terrace outdoors. Then there is plenty of time to relax, for a massage and relaxation by the pool or Hippo-watching at the Treehouse-Viewing platform. Lunch is available from 13:00 to 14:30 à la carte and afternoon tea starts around 3:30 pm as a small culinary preparation for the upcoming evening safari.
The second Game Drive The day starts at 4:30 pm and ends at 7:00 pm when it is already dark. This not only allows the encounter with diurnal animals, but with some luck also some nocturnal species and the view of a spectacular starry sky. The return of the evening safari is topped off with a drink at the bar in the common area of the lodge, followed by dinner, if desired also casual in the safari outfit. We think that sounds like an optimal all-round carefree package.
Accommodation and features on the lodge grounds
The Ulusaba Safari Lodge (official website) offers its guests 11 exclusive accommodations divided into different categories: Safari Rooms, Elephant Rooms, River Rooms and the privately bookable Treehouse Suite. Our accommodation for the coming days is a River Room and as the name suggests, located on a – albeit dry – riverbed. The whole area is well integrated into nature, the main area was carefully built around centuries-old trees and therefore does not look like a foreign body in this breathtakingly beautiful landscape.
In order to change nature as little as possible, the walk to our room turns out to be an absolute highlight. Because the only way to a large part of the accommodations leads in the Ulusaba Safari Lodge over a wooden bridge swinging at a dizzy height, hovering over rugged steel cables over the riverbed. The construct looks absolutely safe, but we are not really comfortable in the first few meters. Every step makes the suspension bridge swing, I feel like I already have the first liter of delicious South African Sauvignon Blanc downed.
Ultimately, we master this little one Indiana Jones Challenge then easily and reach our room safe. The decor is characterized by a lot of wood and muted natural colors, it is wonderfully African rounded off by some colorful color accents in the living area. The style is modern, but accented with quite rustic elements. The minibar seems to be well filled, anyway Ulusaba all but the massages are included in the price – including a spectacular view of the vastness of the African bush landscape.
I can hardly believe my eyes, but not far from the two Nyala antelopes stands on the edge of the riverbed a big elephant and delights peacefully on the branches of the shady trees. A promising sighting, which increases my anticipation of the coming experiences all the more. The bathroom is bright and has an open shower. Although the expansive wooden deck could take a little update in some places, it is a fantastic place to relax with its two comfortable sun loungers and the almost cute mini-pool.
Obviously, there are also many colorful birds that land again and again for a few refreshing sips of water right next to me. From the staff, we even learn later that even on particularly hot days in the dry season even elephants pass the small pool and quench their thirst – so we are right in the middle of the animal kingdom, just unbelievable. For a moment, I close my eyes and enjoy the extraordinary melody of the wilderness. Hah yes, what a paradise! Meanwhile, Alex is only a few hundred meters away Viewing deck broken up at the waterhole and watched a herd of buffaloes, which makes it comfortable in the mud.
All accommodations are reminiscent of a tree house in their layout and style. We really like how natural elements combine with the luxurious but down-to-earth decor of the rooms and the Ulusaba Safari Lodge create a very authentic, yet upscale ambience. The small number of guests makes the experience a whole lot more exclusive, the extremely warm and dedicated staff try every day for each guest to make unforgettable and therefore wait with new surprises and attentions to us.
Safari in the legendary Sabi Sand Reserve
At 4.45 pm punctually, after a delicious iced coffee, we board the Land Cruiser together with four other lodge guests. Here we also learn trackers herald know better, the Brandon actively supported with his sightings during our rides. Both have incredible expertise, tremendous enthusiasm and a refreshingly humorous, charming nature. After a brief introduction for newcomers, Brandon brings the car with a promising “Are you ready guys?“On the move – my heart is pounding.
We stutter in our spacious vehicle, which apparently nothing can stand in the way. Brandon looks excited and already informs us on the start that our first stop will be a hyena construction, which has already been said to have increased activity in the last few days. But what we find when the car slowly approaches the inconspicuous, rocky hole in the ground is hard to describe in words. Good two dozen hyenas of all ages fool around, curiously poke their heads, some of them just a few weeks old, and shortly afterwards withdraw back into the protective paws of the adult females.
I click on my camera like crazy, shooting the first safari pictures of my life. That’s not really promising, I’m just too excited and excited. Alex is sitting next to me with bright eyes, I hear a short but strong “Wow“And quickly realize that this sight is not only for me as an absolute safari beginner a very special experience. After all, he manages to capture some nice moments on his camera.
The social structure of the hyenas is so interesting and so exciting to observe this great, lively togetherness that I find it rather unfortunate, what a poor standing this species has in many people. Ultimately, the film “King of the Lions” certainly carries his share. “What a great start“Brandon says. I can only nod in agreement with a big grin – yes, what a great start.
After a good 25 minutes, he sets the brawny SUV slowly moving again. He is a very experienced driver and guide, which gives us a lot of security. In general, I am amazed that there are apparently no questions at the Brandon or Herold would not have a detailed, yet entertaining answer ready. We learn not only about the interaction of the animals in the hyena pack, but also exciting information about almost every bird, every special plant and even the most timid antelope who crosses our path.
We breathe in the warm, now in golden evening sunlight dipped fresh air. Next on our trip we visit some lions in the dry river bed, lazily digesting the prey of the last hours. The sight of these royal cats provides me with a respectful portion of respect, but equally pure fascination. While the lionesses are almost motionless, their offspring at the age of about six months all the more active. The two little boys are playing and frolicking around, finding some remnants of the last loot that they want to claim in front of the brother in playful struggles.
Time goes by incredibly fast at the sight of such spectacular scenes. Even as a child, I enjoyed watching animal documentaries, but Alex did not promise me too much when he inspired me with his boundless love for Africa for this extraordinary journey. Since today with a particularly beautiful sunset be expected, Brandon brings us to a nearby waterhole. Already from a distance we can hear the strong grunts of some hippos hear.
In the night, in the dark …
The sight at the waterhole could not be more romantic and picturesque: The sun colors the entire environment in breathtaking orange-red and golden hues, while a large group of hippos literally make the water sparkle. On the shores numerous storks and herons look for their next snack, while a Kingfisher In the hunt for small fish, it almost stands suspended in the air and suddenly plunges headfirst into the water. I have to pinch myself, this magic is almost surreal and for my first night in Africa more than I would ever have dreamed.
Only a few minutes later it is already pitch black, the Sunsets in Africa are apparently gorgeous, but incredibly fast. But with the last rays of the sun, our adventure does not end yet, because now on the slow way back to the Ulusaba Safari Lodge again on the search for nocturnal animals, who dare slowly from their protective hiding places. Tracker Herold now has a strong spotlight in his hand and looks for noticeable reflections, but always has to be careful not to dazzle any diurnal animals. An incredible achievement.
But what we initially find is neither porcupine nor genet cat. It is a male leopard, We carefully accompany the car through its territory. Brandon may even leave the fixed routes for such a sighting and maneuver the Land Cruiser over hill and dale. One of the many advantages of a private reserve compared to the public areas of the National Park, where Off-road trips are strictly prohibited and anyway no vehicles are allowed at nightfall.
Everything feels like adventure, but with net and double bottom, which especially gives me as a freshman a good feeling. After the leopard has disappeared in the thicket, we start our way home. Shortly thereafter, Brandon stops by the wayside and Herold shines his lamp into a tree. There is actually an Impala hanging in the branches up there. My breath stops for the sixth time this evening. It looks macabre, but is equally fascinating and Herold tells us that leopard prey is “parked” and eaten in stages.
When we’re on the final stretch to our lodge, Brandon stops our car on the runway and shuts off the engine. We look up in awe and admire the magnificent, clear, almost magical starry sky about us. Even planets like Mars and Saturn become visible in the deep African darkness. Brandon shows us the different constellations with his laser pointer and once again impresses us with his wealth of knowledge.
My personal highlight is the sighting of my own constellation in the sky. At least now I was completely fascinated by the unbridled fascination of this place, a tear of joy rolls down my cheek and Alex takes me without a word in the arm. He knows how emotional I can be, but I would never have dreamed this multitude of spectacular, unforgettable, moving moments in just one evening.
A few months ago we read in a magazine “Sabi Sand certainly always delivers“, which means something like: Sabi Sand always delivers. It meant extraordinary nature experiences and sightings, memories for eternity. And although we are only two nights on site, we have nothing to be desired, even the following exits chasing a highlight formally the next. The high prices, the many awards and the great hype surrounding the premium reserve in the Greater Kruger – none of this seems excessive. And Ulusaba is without doubt one of the most luxurious places to enjoy Sabi Sand with all your senses!
Culinary pampering par excellence
Those who spend so many hours in the fresh air will also get an appetite with time and it is not surprising that the staff of the Ulusaba Safari Lodge is perfectly positioned in this area. The kitchen offers a variety culinary delights, but also down-to-earth dishes and even great vegetarian options that make my heart beat faster. In addition, select South African wines from our own stone wine cellar seduce you into extensive tasting.
The culinary pampering program starts in the morning, when after the first safari around 9:30 am a rich Brunch buffet waiting on the open terrace. In addition to fresh fruit, chilled yoghurt, delicious muesli and sweet delicacies are also various sausage and cheese specialties ready. Depending on your preference, a warm egg dish can be ordered from the menu. The tranquil atmosphere, the attentive warm-hearted service and the delicious food are the perfect setting to sip the first impressions of the day over a cup of coffee.
After breakfast I decide for one massage at the charming Precious, who really understands their craft and puts me in complete relaxation mode. The morning is also ideal for sunbathing on beautifully designed pool area or a good book on your own terrace. Some guests go to bed again for one or two hours – but despite the tiredness, the time is actually a bit too bad.
The lunchtime can also be designed as desired, fixed times there are in the Ulusaba Safari Lodge actually only in the game drives. If you want, you can indulge in the culinary delights again, a daily changing menu offers light summer salads as well as many warm options. I choose a vegetarian burrito, Alex chooses the linguine with a creamy mushroom sauce. The cool one Sauvignon Blanc completes the taste experience perfectly and our eyes wander again and again on the dry riverbed, which offers a magnificent view from the terrace.
I am fascinated how calm it is in the middle of the bush. Strictly speaking, I could have expected that, after all, there are no roads or immediately adjacent civilization here. But in our everyday life at home, we obviously unlearn what peace really means. What it feels like to suddenly hear the light crackling of a branch and to sensitize oneself to the smallest noises, such as the chirping of a bird or the peaceful eating of antelopes.
Afternoon tea is another step in the safari lodge’s culinary program, giving guests the opportunity to have a little refreshment before embarking Afternoon Safari. It is not difficult to admit that we are not hungry at all, but we are still seduced by the little things offered. We try a carrot cake and enjoy an iced tea. Life is Beautiful.
And those of you who have already been on safari will also be familiar with another point, as both the morning and the evening there is a little break during the game drives – which, of course, means more calories waiting for us. The safari guide selects a suitable spot to get the guests out of the car, sets up a storage area (in the form of a folding table or on the car itself) and offers biscuits, salty nuts and the famous South African dried meat Biltong also wine, beer and a gin and tonic.
In the morning there is tea or coffee, also enriched with a dash of Amarula. As much as I had fears before the trip, if I could handle the South African culinary art, I’m more concerned about whether all my pants fit after the trip. But in the end one is not forced to do anything, but the outstanding quality and the high frequency allow the unconcernedness over reason to gain the upper hand over and over again. Anyway, it’s vacation after all.
Many surprises and a lot of good mood
By the way, Safari also means, not to be afraid to get in touch with other guests, as I quickly realize. Contact anxiety is out of place here. After all, you sit in a vehicle twice a day for several hours together, toast together for sunset, and in the evening usually gather with the guides and the rest of the staff at the bar to crown the safari experiences with a drink of your choice.
Brandon is responsible for our hospitality, and the guides are not just responsible for the wilderness experience, but become the main caregiver at the lodge. Alex is served a perfect gin and tonic and I’ve found great favor with the exquisite Sauvignon Blanc. We talk to other guests and enjoy the pleasant and informal atmosphere. Shortly afterwards we learn that it is for Dinner a surpriseg will give.
We join the entourage, hear fire from afar and smell grilled food. The staff has a South African Boma on its feet. This is a particularly important component of African food culture and hospitality. It used to be an elementary part of many bush villages, traditionally gathered around a campfire in the shelter of a wooden fencing to clear important issues or just celebrate.
We forego particularly important topics this evening, for us the fun and a little thrill in the open air are in the foreground. Also the guests of the Rock Lodge join us, many new faces take place at the long table. A South African vocal group from one of the surrounding villages provides the musical accompaniment, the positive mentality and the beautiful sounds immediately spread good mood.
Also on the second evening, which is already our farewell evening, the staff has come up with something special and invites us to a private Candlelight dinner in front of the lovingly decorated wine cellar. So peak climax in Ulusaba and even on the very last morning, just before our departure, waiting with a small Safari on foot to the waterhole, where the employees have surprisingly built the breakfast buffet on the observation deck, another goosebump moment.
Our conclusion to the Ulusaba Safari Lodge
We were a little worried that, as a result of commercialization under the Virgin Limited Edition, Ulusaba would be primarily a “lifestyle” product that lacks a little heart and soul. But far from it! The Ulusaba Safari Lodge is a thoroughly authentic, luxurious feel-good lodge for nature lovers and connoisseurs, suitable for safari newbies and experienced African fans alike.
The many special moments and the high level of romance make Ulusaba a fantastic destination, especially for couples, in the truly unique Sabi Sand Reserve, perhaps South Africa’s best safari area. The prices are high, but the experiences are priceless!
Whether Safari Lodge or Rock Lodge is ultimately a matter of taste. Both offer perfect service and safari at the highest level. The difference: The Rock Lodge perched on a hill and allows majestic views over the reserve, but the Safari Lodge is virtually built at ground level and thus in the midst of nature and wildlife. For us the better and more intense option!
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