Issue 35
Lions to the Left of Me, Leopards to the Right…
Dulini Lodge in the Sabi Sands game reserve is an experience of sensory revelations
By Jo Kromberg  ·  2017-04-01  ·   Source:
Photos by Philip du Preez and courtesy of Dulini

The effects of a prolonged drought are one of the most heart-breaking things I have ever had the misfortune to witness.

But when said drought breaks in Africa and the rain sinks into thirsty earth like oxygen to a dying man, us Africans look to the heavens in silent grateful prayer of thanks.

It is on such a day that my photographer friend and I are traveling to Sabi Sands. This pristine 65,000-hectare reserve borders the world-famous Kruger National Park in the Limpopo province of South Africa.

The air is perfumed with the aroma of rain and the clouds follow us all the way from Johannesburg, the five and half hours to our abode for the night, Dulini River Lodge.

I have travelled this road many times yet I am always in awe of how the landscape changes once you hit the tropical air and plantations. From the flat plateau, the spectacular mountain world of the Drakensberg of Mpumalanga rises, which then separates as part of the escarpment the inland plateau (Highveld) from the low plains (Lowveld) in the east.

The Panorama Route, one of the scenic highlights of any tour through South Africa, proceeds along the escarpment. In the expanse of the Lowveld lies the Kruger National Park, one of the world's biggest wildlife sanctuaries. But on this day we will be staying next door. The Kruger Park and Sabi Sands have no borders, meaning the wildlife roams freely in a gargantuan natural area.

Five-Star magnificence  

Dulini Lodge is an experience of sensory revelations. Embraced in the riverine grandeur of ancient ebony trees, Dulini River Lodge exudes a sense of indulgence true to the long-standing safari tradition. Manager Leesha is all smiles as she greets us at the entrance of the lodge. She makes us feel so welcome immediately along with her great staff, handing out soft cool towels and welcoming drinks and we are shown to our beautiful room. The enthralling elevation of the six luxurious suites offers inspiring views over the regal Sand River to the savannah beyond.

 

The room is as one would expect of an outstanding five-star lodge such as this, including a massive bath with a view of the river. The price for what you get, compared to other similar five-star lodges in the area is a bargain - less than $800 per person per night including everything! Plus a 15 percent discount off accommodation costs is offered for returning guests and they have honeymoon specials where the bride gets a 50 percent discount - that's a huge saving.

Leesha gives us a quick room orientation and introduces us to our butler Difference and our chef Civilise and the gorgeous irony of their names is not lost on us. We have missed lunch so between them they rustle up a fantastic smorgasbord of Langoustines, beef and Yorkshire pudding, a summer salad and spanakopita washed down with great ale as we relax by our private splash pool overlooking the river.

Well spotted 

But no time to linger as the afternoon game drive is afoot. Dulini River Lodge presents the signature safari experience in the company of expert guides and in the luxury of exclusive six-seater game viewer vehicles. A total of 10,000 hectares of pristine wilderness are traversed with the teeming biodiversity of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve and with the skilled interpretation of bush signs by astute Shangaan trackers, no two game drives are ever the same. Trackers and rangers partner in looking for fresh animal tracks and sensitively follow elusive animals into ravines and through thicket to ensure your vivid and exhilarating wildlife encounter.

There is also the option of daily bush walks offered by their field guides. This serves to highlight those aspects of nature one may miss on a drive and expose you to the energy and excitement of being immersed in the environment.

 

The air is sweet with the lingering smell of rain and wild mint and no sooner had we set off than one of our fellow guests utters an involuntary whoop of delight as we spot a herd of elephants. Our guide and driver Tyrone carefully manoeuvres the vehicle closer and explains all their habits in interesting detail.

Then follows one of the most exhilarating encounters with wildlife I have ever experienced in the ten years I have been going on game drives. Our fellow guest - yes her again who has never ever been in Africa - urgently whispers "leopard!" a mere 5-minute drive further. She had spotted his tail hanging from a branch.

We position ourselves right under the tree and stare in hypnotized stupor at this majestic creature. Tyron explains that he is a young adult and that his mother should be somewhere around. He completely ignores us as he carries on with his nap, high up in the tree.

Then a crackle on the radio and a Tyron drives a few meters ahead into a low ditch as our tracker Patrick gives him directions. "Guys," he says," keep an eye out to the left." And there lo! A male lion maybe three meters away in the green thickets, also barely opening a lazy eye to quickly scrutinize us before heading back to dreamland. So a lion to the left of me, leopard to the right...

An hour or so later, having spotted a myriad of antelope, interesting bird species and other wildlife including buffalo with Tyrone regaling us with fascinating facts and stories about each specie, we stop for drinks and the mood is jovial. We all joke that all we need to see now is a rhino to complete the Big-Five. Joking, mind you since no one could possibly be that lucky. Or could we?

 

We could. Approaching camp in the quickly fading light, Patrick points ahead and says: "Rhino!" Yip, true story. He comes so close to us that I can see every prominent, ancient, fold of his gargantuan body and hear him grazing the soft, tall green grass. What an amazing spectacle.

We dine that night under a ceiling of stars in the traditionally-known "boma". This truly African dining venue boasts a roaring fire and excellent buffet cuisine consisting of "pap" or polenta, steaks, chops, salads, corn and venison. It is around the boma fire that friendships are sealed and all African bush yarns are spun - grandiose tales of fearsome beasts and great escapes are always more memorable when shared around the camp fire.

After dinner we retire to our sanctuary, sitting on the veranda with a glass of wine. The silence of the silky black African night is punctuated by the eerie nocturnal laugh of a hyena and the distant roar of lions. Not forgetting of course about the "hoh hoh hoh" of the hippos mere meters below us at the water's edge as the graze in the darkness.

Dulini will make its mark on your memory like very few other experiences.

And as I sit here now, remembering how Dulini and its beautiful people and creatures captured every one of my senses I am reminded of a quote by the author Anaïs Nin: "We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect."

Contact:  

http://www.dulini.com/river-lodge

Getting there: 

Air China outbound flights to Johannesburg in South Africa operate on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, with return services from Johannesburg offered on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Flights will departs from Beijing at 23:15 Beijing time, and arrive in Johannesburg at 7:35 local time on the following day. The inbound flight departs from Johannesburg at 11:50 local time and arrives in Beijing at 7:30 Beijing time.

Go to:  

http://www.airchina.com.cn/en/

From Johannesburg, Dulini River Lodge will be happy to arrange transfers at an extra cost. You can also hire a car at the airport to enjoy the easy five and a half hour drive.

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