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South Africa: Ulusaba Private Game Reserve

by Moderator March 2012 - last edited February 2013 by Community Manager

Virgin Limited Edition is Sir Richard Branson's collection of stunning retreats around the world including a private island, a mountain lodge and even a submarine. One of our absolute favourites is Ulusaba Private Game Reserve, located in the Sabi Sand Reserve which borders Kruger National Park in South Africa.

In today's guest post, Virgin Limited Edition's own Brooke Carter shares her recent visit to Ulusaba with us...

 

Rock Lodge deck at sunset, Ulusaba © Virgin Limited Edition

Rock Lodge deck at sunset, Ulusaba © Virgin Limited Edition

 

Safari Life

My safari journey began with a flight from London to Johannesburg, followed by a short-hop flight onto Ulusaba. The game viewing experience started before I'd even landed and the excitement levels rose as I spotted giraffes and elephants on our approach to the private airstrip. I was welcomed by my ranger, who was waiting with a glass of cold champagne - always a nice touch!

 

We set off for the Safari Lodge and arrived to another warm welcome from the Lodge manager who explained all the 'must knows' of living in the wild. I loved the rope swing bridges that connect the tree-house style rooms; each one unique and individually designed, and some with private plunge pools.

Safari Lodge is a great option if you want total isolation or a direct view of hippos from your bed. If you're bringing the kids or prefer views that stretch on forever, then Rock Lodge is a must. My choice here would be one of the Makwela suites, both with private pools and a huge balcony to take in the amazing views.

 

Rock Lodge Makwela Suite © Virgin Limited Edition

Rock Lodge Makwela Suite © Virgin Limited Edition

 

On track for a sighting

Before I knew it, I was geared up and ready for my first game drive. Within the first hour, we'd spotted four of the Big Five, so our ranger tried extra to hard to make it five in one day, which happens very frequently. There are two game drives per day, and I finished each one wanting more - every drive is different and it's hard to pick my favourite sighting, but the moment a leopard passed under our vehicle was a highlight I'll never forget.

 

Spotting the Big Five on daily game drive © Virgin Limited Edition

Spotting the Big Five on daily game drive © Virgin Limited Edition

 

Dining in the bush

With six meals a day, you certainly won't go hungry and the team of chefs shake it up on a daily basis, serving a different African-inspired dish every night. I'm pleased to report I was adventurous and tried both kudu and warthog, though my favourite was definitely the creamy Amarula dessert. Ulusaba's pastry chef creates the most incredible baked goods for breakfast too, so save some room to indulge after your morning drive.

 

Dining at Safari Lodge, Ulusaba © Virgin Limited Edition

Dining at Safari Lodge, Ulusaba © Virgin Limited Edition

Pride 'n Purpose

Pride 'n Purpose is Ulusaba's charitable arm, supported by Virgin Unite, and benefits disadvantaged local communities by providing education and health services. I spent half a day with manager Lindsay getting to know local children, and it was really inspiring to see the impact Pride 'n Purpose has had on the lives of 35,000 people across six different communities living adjacent to the Sabi Sand Reserve. The charity has also established crèches, literacy centres, organic food gardens and FunPumps at playgrounds, providing access to clean water.

 

Pride 'n Purpose © Virgin Limited Edition

Pride 'n Purpose © Virgin Limited Edition

My top ten Ulusaba safari tips:

  • Fly into Ulusaba’s private airstrip - it’s the perfect way to take in the vast surroundings and you might spot the Big Five. And you’ll be greeted by your ranger and a glass of Champagne.
  • Split your stay at both Rock Lodge and Safari Lodge. The views from Rock Lodge are out of this world but you can't beat being up close to the animals!
River room, Safari Lodge © Virgin Limited Edition

River room, Safari Lodge © Virgin Limited Edition

 

  • Take a walk to the Tree-House deck with a cold drink and watch the hippos in the Xikwenga Dam. There are usually more than 20 at any one time.
  • Get snap happy and try the new Photographic Safaris, perfect for amateur photographers wanting to capture the most thrilling moments.
  • The star-gazing in the bush is outstanding and the observatory tucked away in the Bush is a must-visit. All Ulusaba’s rangers are trained in astronomy, and can give you the lowdown on all the constellations.
  • Feeling hungry? Try the Kudo burger for lunch; a very popular meal among the rangers.
Safari Lodge bush dinner © Virgin Limited Edition

Safari Lodge bush dinner © Virgin Limited Edition

 

  • Spend some time with Pride ‘n Purpose. If you book the Volunteer Safari your tailored itinerary will allow you to participate in hands-on projects.
  • Bring the kids! Ulusaba has a Cubs Club for children staying at Rock Lodge. The Ulusaba team will provide a range of activities for your cubs to choose from and keep them entertained.
  • Pack binoculars, especially if you're interested in birdlife and other creatures that are hard to spot with the naked eye.
  • The walking safaris are a great way to get close to all the small animals and the bird wildlife is beautiful.
A colourful Woodland Kingfisher © Virgin Limited Edition

A colourful Woodland Kingfisher © Virgin Limited Edition

 

Essentials

Ulusaba Private Game Reserve is in the western sector of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. It's about a 1 hr 20 minute flight to Ulusaba’s Private airstrip from Johannesburg International Airport (also known as O.R. Tambo Airport), or 30 minutes from Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA) in Nelspruit. You can also drive from KMIA which will take about 2 hours. Try and arrive by 1pm – just in time for lunch!

 

Enjoy over 13,500 hectares (about 33,000 acres) of unspoilt, game-rich bush in near solitude. Experienced trackers and rangers will accompany you on game drives in open Land Rovers, helping you spot the Big Five and sharing with you their vast knowledge of the surrounding wildlife.

 

Game drive at Ulusaba © Virgin Limited Edition

Game drive at Ulusaba © Virgin Limited Edition

 

Apart from twice-daily game drives and a daily walk in the bush with a ranger and tracker, guests should plan their days to enjoy the other facilities available at Ulusaba. Soak up some sun by the pool or relax at the Aroma Boma Spa offering a wide range of treatments. For the more active, play tennis on a floodlit tennis court with a fully stocked bar or work out at the fully equipped gyms any time of the day.

 

Rock Lodge Aroma Boma Spa © Virgin Limited Edition

Rock Lodge Aroma Boma Spa © Virgin Limited Edition

 

Visit the wine cellar at Safari Lodge for a spot of wine tasting, with an outdoor dining area for up to six guests, or go stargazing at the observatory tucked away in the bush. Cultural, wildlife or scenic tours including helicopter trips and a tour of the local community can also be arranged at an extra cost - the proceeds from the community tour are donated to the local village. Don’t forget to pick up some mementos of your stay at the gift shop at Safari Lodge.

 

Aerial view of Rock Lodge, Ulusaba © Virgin Limited Edition

Aerial view of Rock Lodge, Ulusaba © Virgin Limited Edition

 

Virgin Limited Edition has teamed up with Virgin Atlantic to make a stay at one of their properties even more rewarding with double miles and a free night! All you need to do is book by 31st March, 2012. Virgin Atlantic Flying Club members can:

  • Earn 4,000 miles per night for stays at Kasbah Tamadot in Morocco
  • Earn 8,000 miles per night for stays at The Lodge in Verbier, Switzerland
  • Earn 12,000 miles per night for stays at Ulusaba in South Africa
  • Earn 20 miles per £1 spent in Babylon Restaurant

What's the deal?

Book before 31st March, 2012 for a stay of at least 4 nights and your final night is free AND we'll double the number of Flying Club miles you would normally receive. Just contact Virgin Limited Edition to make a booking with your Flying Club Membership number and quote 'Double Miles'. Click herefor all the terms and conditions.

 

Virgin Atlantic operates a daily flight to Johannesburg from London Heathrow. Visit our website for more information and all our latest fares.


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Comments
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March 2012
Thanks for this great article, and pictures, of the fabulous Ulusaba. As you say, this is an amazing and very special place. We had the pleasure of going there a few years back - and we were blown away with how stunning and clever the place was and how welcoming everyone was.

We stayed up on the hill in Rock Lodge, and the views were great. It was fab to be able to bath or shower looking out across the game reserve. I agree with the recommendation in this article that it is worth staying in both the lodges, as the experiences are very different.

If it helps, and as I think it adds to this greta review, I have on my blog a video I made of flying over and into Ulusaba and a tour of some of the rooms and the room we stayed in:

http://www.tipsfortravellers.com/2007/07/ulusaba-game-lodge-sabi-sands-south.html

I also have a podcast I did about the place and the game reserve: http://www.tipsfortravellers.com/2006/04/podcast-20-sabi-sands-game-reserve.html

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DavidManttan March 2012
Interesting article.

Ulusaba is really strikingly designed and the views from Rock Lodge are top drawer. The suites are huge and luxurious.

Great that is so well set-up for families with kids too.

But good luck with driving from ORT to Ulusaba in 2 hours (you must be getting dropped off from one of your planes somewhere nearer). It's FIVE hours away, even if the traffic and roadworks are kind. Much better to follow Maxine's tip and take the short shuttle hop to the airstrip right at the lodge.

That's certainly much more fun and something else for the kids to remember!

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March 2012
Thanks Gary! Glad to hear you had such a great time at Ulusaba - hope you get to make a return visit someday.
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March 2012
Thanks David - good to hear you're a fan of Ulusaba. I think Brooke is saying that it's a two hour drive from KMIA rather than ORT, but yes - much more exciting to take the plane!
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MatthewWilkins April 2012
Hmnn, I think you need to send me for an indepth look behind the scenes...
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About the author: Maxine

Maxine Sheppard

Maxine is the editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.