Right next to the dust road, deep in the savannah of Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve, adjacent to the Kruger National Park, we stop next to a colossal bull elephant. Standing in a shallow pool of water, he is clearly enjoying himself as he sprays mud all over his body, even onto the back of his giant ears. Dave Potgieter – our safari guide, who has a degree in Zoology – informs us that this bull is probably over 33 years old, that the mud is a way to keep cool, as well as to get rid of ticks when he rubs his body against a tree trunk. Ambling closer to us, this impressive male sprays himself vigorously one last time and I am left with an up close and personal souvenir of a few mud dots on my shirt! What a thrill to be near enough to this intelligent beast for me to capture a close-up of his eye with its long eyelashes.
In high spirits after our sprinkling of African mud, we continue our game drive in the open Land Rover (not standard issue, mind you – only two seats per row, separated by a spacious console for our personal use). No luxury is spared by Dulini, so I am delighted, but not surprised to find a designer amenity kit in the console, including Charlotte Rhys insect spray and sun block, tissues and paper bags for waste. Pentax binoculars are provided, for perfect viewing of birds or animals that are spotted in the distance. Not that we need to use binoculars very often, as we drive off-road through the bush when our tracker, Observe Mhlaba, spots interesting tracks. He finds the lion spoor that we are hoping for and after “bundu bashing” through the terrain, we are rewarded with a red-maned male that is having his early morning roll in the grass. We are amused at this playful behaviour by the King of the Veld. Nearby is a tawny lioness, so they are likely to be a mating couple, but they flop down to sleep.
Our excitement mounts as Observe notices leopard tracks in a river bed. Following these tracks in the sand, we come across a pretty female with her cub. The cute youngster, full of energy, tries to catch a butterfly, chases a lizard and nuzzles up to his mother between bursts of activity. Chattering Vervet monkeys catch the female’s attention and, with a burst of speed, she runs off in their direction. Immediately the cub runs to the base of the nearest tree and sits still, waiting in the relative safety of the shadow for his mother to return. Dave drives to follow the female, who does not manage a kill, as the shrieking monkeys are too fast for her. She heads back to her cub, which runs out to greet her with exuberant affection.
Chatting about our astonishing morning venture, we alight near to a Sausage tree bearing fruit next to the river for tea and freshly baked orange-flavoured cookies, tastefully set out on an African print cotton table cloth. I feel inordinately privileged to be standing out of the vehicle in this remote spot in South Africa. We hear grunting, groaning and wheezing of a hippo and the iconic call of a Fish eagle. Dave points out the wide variety of grasses, teaches us how to recognise some of the tracks in the vicinity and draws our attention to the diversity of butterflies. Although Dave is guiding a rather mixed audience – a honeymoon couple on their first ever safari, and a seasoned bush-lover like me – he is sensitive to us and answers all of our questions informatively and interestingly. Few lodges can boast of a ranger this highly educated and skilled.
Back at Dulini River Lodge – after a warm welcome with cool, scented hand towels – we sit together at a table on the raised platform of the veranda, to tuck into a veritable feast. As well as a generous buffet with fine cold fare, there is a full cooked breakfast to order. Everything is made from scratch: even jams, sauces, coulis, dips and dressings are lovingly crafted by enthusiastic Chef Altus du Toit and his team. Sipping my rooibos tea, I gaze out over the Sand River where three Southern ground hornbills move slowly as they forage and a pair of critically endangered White-backed vultures perch on their nest in the upper crown of a Knob-thorn tree.
The communal area of Dulini River Lodge is open plan and al fresco, under a roof thatched with Cape reed. Two lounges with comfortable chairs and scatter cushions in fresh organic tones are adjacent to a gift gallery displaying curios, animal print scarves and books. Décor includes an array of fine baskets on a wall, wooden chandeliers and other elemental features. A professionally climate controlled wine cellar cools an impressive array of South African wines – carefully curated by Chef Altus – a range of artisanal gins and spirits, including Glenlivet 12 year old whisky. The single malt is my tipple of choice for the sunset stop on the evening game drive.
After my breakfast I meander down the wooden pathway to revel in the time spent in my lavish suite, one of only six. The open plan design is pleasingly light and fresh: the spacious bedroom on a wooden floor supports a sizeable extra long King. With plate glass windows to maximise the view, the space has an inside outside flow. A changing area provides drawers and cupboard, plus a separate toilet. Behind the desk – with a splendid vista of the plunge pool plus recliners and the Sand River beyond – a drinks cabinet is filled with unopened Bombay Sapphire gin, a single malt Scotch, Absolute vodka and Amarula, the famous South African liqueur. Hand-made nougat, fresh lemons, spiced nuts and cookies beckon temptingly.
An outside shower, encircled by stone walls, has a rain shower head and designer Hansgrohe taps. Liberal containers of shampoo, conditioner and body wash again treat me to Charlotte Rhys’ exotic and pampering smells, adding to the sensuality of the Dulini River Lodge shower and bath experience.
From the raised wooden deck I observe a parade of animals descending the river banks to slake their thirst, as well as entertaining displays of birds flitting in a massive Jackalberry tree that shades the space.
The level of attention to detail, quality of the staff, fabulous dining and wining experience, plus the lavish nature of the suites, make this an exceptional lodge in my experience. Time to watch game – including the magnificent big five – as they conduct their private lives, is of immeasurable worth.
For information on Dulini River Lodge as well as Leadwood Lodge and Dulini Lodge – the other two lodges in the Dulini Collection – visit https://www.dulini.com/home
Lounge area of Dulini Lodge
Communal area of Leadwood Lodge
Route Specific Information: Direct daily scheduled flights from Oliver Tambo International Airport and Cape Town International Airport to Nelspruit KMIA and Skukuza, in the Kruger National Park, to Ulusaba Aerodrome, where a Landrover from Dulini River Lodge meets guests.
Connectivity: Through Airlink’s alliance with SAA, travellers can connect conveniently, effortlessly and seamlessly, with SAA, their Partner airlines and other carriers throughout Southern Africa and the world.
Discover more: www.flyairlink.com
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