This follows on from the first part of Pascal's trip around the central Kruger Park region, when he visited Hamilton's, Imbali and Hoyo Hoyo, the second part, about his time at MalaMala, and the third, covering his stay at Leopard Hills.
Ulusaba Safari Lodge
Upon arriving at the airstrip, one of the guides was waiting to take me to Ulusaba Safari Lodge. I signed the usual indemnity forms, and we headed for the lodge, where the manager, Godfrey, and other staff members were waiting at the entrance to greet me in typically African fashion. My luggage was taken to my room, while Godfrey grabbed me a beer and shared his thoughts on the pandemic and its effect on the travel industry. It’s been interesting to hear the opinions of the various insiders I’ve spoken to on this subject while on my travels.
He then gave me a tour of the lodge, showing me each room and explaining its function and capacity, which was useful in terms of booking for clients going forward. Our tour of the lodge took us into the tree canopies, via swing bridges and raised walkways. I particularly liked the Treehouse Suite, which overlooks the Xikwenga dam, which is home to a dozen hippo, and a dozen more crocodiles. No swimming then. The unit also offers almost total seclusion, which makes it perfect for couples on honeymoon.
We went back to the lodge and had a delicious lunch of ostrich burgers and freshly baked chips. Then back to the room to freshen up before the afternoon game drive began. I was very excited for the drive, as the bush always holds surprises. I took a power nap on my room’s private deck, with the angry river flowing beneath me. The rains continued to pour down on Kruger National Park, raising concerns of flooding. Across the river, I witnessed a pair of nyala mating, and herds of impala and warthogs trooping by. It was a truly boundless experience of nature, and I drank it in. At 15:30, we gathered in the lounge area, where I met three other guests: a couple, and a solo traveler. We chose our preferred spots on the vehicle, before the ranger received a message about three lions close to the riverbed, just a seven-minute drive away.
A Leopard Hills vehicle was already there when we arrived, and I was pleased to see that Cal was the ranger. There was one adult male lion, and two female cubs. I recognised them as the last remaining members of the once mighty Othawa pride, which had been decimated by tuberculosis and turf wars with rival prides. The male’s name was Skorro, and he had been part of a group of males known as the Tumbela Coalition. The other two members, known as Eye Scar and Limper, had gone missing some time ago. It made me very happy to see that Skorro had managed to protect his cubs from the Nkuhuma young male and the aggressive Plains camp males. While we watched the three lions, a herd of elephants suddenly emerged into the clearing, and then just as quickly vanished back into the trees.
For Sundowners, our ranger took us to an open plain nearby, where wildebeest, impala, and a lone elephant bull were grazing. We disembarked from the vehicle and enjoyed our drinks while taking in the gorgeous sunset. Three rhinos soon arrived, and then we saw the lions again, ambling along in plain view, clearly not on the hunt despite the nearby antelope, who watched them warily as they slunk along the periphery, and then disappeared from sight. I felt truly honoured to be a part of this incredible gathering of animals in the wild. After the sunset, we headed back to the lodge for dinner with heavy clouds rolling into frame overhead. After a delicious three course meal, the clouds broke, and the rain started lashing down. I thanked the staff for their friendly service and retired to my room.
The next morning, the heavy rain persisted. Opening my sliding doors, I was greeted by the roaring of the flooded river. In contrast to the raging waters, a pair of rhino grazed serenely on the opposite bank. To nobody's surprise, the morning drive was cancelled. It was in fact decided that to ensure my safety, the lodge had arranged for my transfer to the reserve gate, where my ever-patient Ecoaches driver, Marlen, awaited. I packed my bags quickly and grabbed a packed breakfast that the lodge had prepared, as there would be no time for a leisurely meal. Having met up with Marlen, we made our way toward Paul Kruger Gate, the main entrance to the park, encountering two flooded bridges along the route. Wildlife sightings were limited due to the heavy rain. Upon reaching the staff quarters, Marlen took a break for brunch at the local cafeteria. As we relaxed, we learned from the radio that the floods had caused disruptions, including fallen trees, road closures, and delayed flights from Johannesburg.
The main route to the airport was also flooded, and so we were directed to wait at the entrance of the Kruger Shalati Train on the Bridge, a five star private lodge constructed out of an old train permanently stationed on the bridge across the Sabie River. Although all the rooms were occupied, I admired the train's luxurious exterior and the stunning views of the river. The way in which the carriages have been converted into such spacious and comfortable rooms is truly ingenious. After crossing the bridge via the train/lodge, I reached the other side, where several safari vehicles were waiting to transport people to Skukuza Airport. It was one of Lion Sands Game Reserve's vehicles that took me to the airport, where I discovered that my flight, too, had been delayed by the torrential rains. So I would have some time to gather my thoughts and grab a cup of coffee. Next stop Johannesburg, and then it’s on to Victoria Falls.