Into the wild: Ulusaba luxury safari lodge at Sabi Sand game reserve
Located in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, Ulusaba is renowned for combining luxury with an unrivalled safari experience. As Heléne Ramackers discovers, owner Sir Richard Branson certainly knows the hospitality game.
By Helene Ramackers | Published #69, Autumn 2017
A distress call cuts through the crisp morning air, followed by a spit and a snarl. Our ranger manoeuvres around the corner to see what is making this commotion. Could it be a hyena or some other animal in trouble? We soon see her perched on a termite mound in the shade of a tree – the most beautiful leopard. “Why the distress call?” I ask. It seems as though the lady in question is calling for her one remaining cub, while at the same time gesticulating that no-one is to encroach on her territory. She will find her cub if it’s the last thing she does and scampers off in her search for him.
We arrived at Ulusaba the previous day and we’ve already had the most phenomenal experience. Whether you arrive by vehicle or by air, the reception area is situated at the Ulusaba airstrip where you are warmly welcomed by staff. Chilled champagne is served on arrival and should you prefer something non-alcoholic, they have that too. Our ranger is Philip Andrew and our tracker is David Noguyela. We are transported to Rock Lodge in the Ulusaba safari vehicle and, up on the hill, we take in the breathtaking vistas that unfold in front of us.
Makwela Dusk is our domicile for the duration of our stay and it is luxurious to say the least. The size of an apartment (125 square metres), this opulent suite is built on two levels with the master bedroom located upstairs, while the kids have their own wing on ground level with a stylish fold-out sleeper couch.
The furnishings are lush, with the finest linen adorning the canopied, oversized four-poster bed. The white bedding is offset by accessories in shades of mustard – cushions prettify the headboard and a throw at the foot of the bed is at hand to ward off the cold.
The bathroom is the epitome of lavishness – free-standing bath, double vanities and a shower big enough for two. A beautiful beaded chandelier is suspended over the bath, creating an atmosphere of calm and elegance.
The lounge area features comfortable couches and furnishings that blend in with the surroundings. A favourite is the infinity plunge pool and the outdoor shower. Don’t be surprised if an animal pops round for a drink out of the pool or, as our luck would have it, an elephant browses the leafy trees. Here you can sit for hours watching the wildlife pass by, G&T in hand.
Animal sightings are incredible at Ulusaba. On our morning game drive, we saw two lionesses and their sub-adult cubs walking towards us. We found them later in the evening in the same spot, getting more active and stretching their jaws.
Cheetahs are known for being the fastest land animal, but they are very nervous eaters. We witnessed a cheetah on her kill in the late afternoon and as she glanced upwards from her meal, two hyenas approached her. Instead of putting up a fight, she simply hissed and abandoned her kill. While she had been eating quite elegantly, these notorious scavengers devoured the entire kill.
A leopard spotted on Safari
On one of our morning drives, we saw the famous Dayone leopard walking to the dam for a drink. He stopped along the way to scent-mark - being able to follow him was such a privilege.
Another marvellous aspect of staying at Ulusaba is the cuisine. Your day kicks off with pre-game-drive pastries and a beverage, followed by rusks, tea, coffee, hot chocolate or some Amarula on your drive stop. Back at Ulusaba, it’s time for breakfast and they really make sure this is one of the most important meals of your day. Lunch is served on the veranda overlooking the savannah and then you are tempted with high tea before departing on your evening game drive. Sundowners and snacks form part of your game drive and dinner is a gastronomic feast, with flavours of Africa incorporated into the menu by head chef Shane Johnson.
Add the fact that the contents of your minibar is included in your accommodation package and the only fatality you might suffer at Ulusaba is overindulgence!
It’s evident that when Sir Richard Branson stumbled upon this jewel in the Sabi Sand, encompassing 33,000 acres of open bush, he knew he had found something special.