On track to becoming a class act

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Safari News first reported in its winter 2019 issue about the construction of a new luxury tourism development in the Kruger National Park’s Skukuza Rest Camp – the Kruger Shalati Train on a Bridge. Here visitors can stay in the train on the tracks of the historic Selati Bridge over the Sabie River. Although the project has been delayed, it is nearing completion and likely to open mid-2020.

Artist impression of the project. Photo: Kruger Shalati

Owing to the complexities and the uniqueness of this development, there were some delays that included the impact of inclement weather. However, the project remains on track to become a class act, says Judiet Barnes of Thebe Tourism, who is general manager of the Kruger Shalati Concession project.

“We are building something that has never been built before, so there were a few unforeseen delays due to a number of factors, some of which are out of our control,” says Barnes. “This is not an ordinary hotel, so there was a lot of experimenting to get it right.” The train consists of 13 restored and upgraded carriages that will sit on the original tracks. Up to 48 guests will be accommodated in 24 compartments, each with a bedroom, small lounge and mini-bar, a double vanity, shower, separate toilet, freestanding bathtub and cupboards. All compartments have three large windows offering great river views. One of the challenges encountered involves extending the bridge for a walkway, but it’s a delicate process as the bridge still serves as an emergency exit to Skukuza Airport. Construction also has to keep within the Environmental Impact Assessment parameters to ensure the integrity of the bridge from a heritage point of view. This is still underway but great progress has been made.

Views to die for! Photo: Provided

The first completed carriage served as the prototype and arrived in Skukuza in November 2019 for testing. “This was done under extreme weather conditions to see how it would react,” says Barnes. For extra-precautionary measures, the team added reinforcements to the joineries due to expansion and shrinkage, which was greater than initially anticipated. Testing is currently underway and all indications point to a positive outcome. This will be rolled out onto the carriages in Johannesburg before they are delivered to Skukuza.

 

Inside the carriages. Photo: Kruger Shalati

Construction on the other development within the precinct, which forms part of the Kruger Shalati Concession and is known as the Kruger Station (once the Selati Station), is also nearing completion. The general public will be welcome at this development. The original carriage that was once the Selati Station Grillhouse is under restoration, and will be a place for visitors to learn more about Kruger Park’s historical connection with trains, and also to enjoy a deli, ice cream and coffee bar. There will be a restaurant and eating area on the deck, and a 360-degree theatre offering entertainment for the family. “We are confident this development will open in time for Easter,” adds Barnes. The Kruger Shalati Concession has already started the process to recruit staff for these projects. Most are from the Kruger National Park Land Claims Forum and surrounding communities. They will undergo training in preparation for the official opening around mid-2020.

 

Written by René de Klerk
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