Ulusaba Rock Lodge
Sun Safaris’ Product and Reservations Manager, Michelle, travelled to Sabi Sand recently to explore some of the lodges on offer by Sun Safaris. She travelled with her sister Kathryn and together they saw amazing wildlife and stayed at some beautiful lodges. Here is Michelle’s review of Ulusaba Private Game Reserve – Sir Richard Branson’s home in Sabi! Ulusaba has 3 lodges, the first is Ulusaba Safari Lodge, built under large trees along a riverbed, and the other two are Ulusaba Rock Lodge and Ulusaba Cliff Lodge. Cliff Lodge is perfect for small groups or families as it has its own team and facilities. Just next door on the same koppie (hill) is Rock Lodge.
Ulusaba; what a treat
We drove in from Newington Gate, winding our way through the western Sabi Sand Game Reserve towards Ulusaba. We arrived at Ulusaba’s reception, which is located away from both Ulusaba Rock Lodge and Ulusaba Safari Lodge, at their private landing strip. We were met by our ranger Brandon, hot refreshing towels in hand, followed a short briefing accompanied by cool champagne. After we checked in we met Jack our tracker and were driven up to Ulusaba Rock Lodge in the Landrover safari vehicle, the 4×4 engaged to get us up the steep hill! Vikkus, the General Manager met us on arrival and swept us into the main lodge.
You enter the main lodge lounge from upstairs, showcasing the beautiful décor and breath-taking views, before ascending the wide staircase taking us into the dining area, housing one of the lounges, the bar and the outside deck. Sitting in plush leather couches with the whole of the Sabi Sand bush stretching out below us whilst Vikkus animatedly discussed the lodge and our itinerary, we understood immediately why this spectacular place was special enough to be included in the Branson Virgin portfolio. Our luxury Makwela Suite sported a beautiful lounge opening onto a private viewing deck, plunge pool and outdoor shower under the stars before walking 2 steps down into the serene bedroom and deck lounge. The en suite bathroom was opulent, with dual basins, large ball and claw bath, walk in shower and heavenly scented aromatherapy bath products.
The view just took my breath away, with the Sabi Sand bush stretching as far as the eye could see, with the pool sparkling and inviting.
We headed up to lunch on the deck where we were greeted by name by every staff member we saw, which made us feel so welcome. Sitting down we could see a large herd of elephant roaming the plains below us and another at a distant waterhole. Lunch was a delicious affair, a large selection made to order and beautifully presented.
After lunch we met Brandon and Jack for our evening game drive. Brandon and Jack are a fantastic team; Jack is one of the best trackers in Sabi and Brandon has a wealth of knowledge about fauna, flora and weather, including the stars. He was also a budding comedian and kept us entertained! We headed along the boundary road, where on the other side of the fence, the cattle were returning home and on our side we got to see the most cherished sight, a mother cheetah and her 2 cubs who were nursing – just 10 meters from the fence! We sat watching these few week old cubs really tucking into their meal, very relaxed with the vehicle.
Then over the radio came the call – the rare and elusive wild dogs had been sighted! Off we raced away from the setting sun to join the other Ulusaba vehicles and spend time with a large pack of wild dogs who looked like they were settling in for the night. It was a special moment with the most amazing sunset turning the sky a burnt orange and this pack of painted dogs milling around the vehicle, napping and playing!
Contented and happy to return to the lodge we started off in the dark, Jack with his spotlight just in case! As we were driving and happily chatting away we became aware of distant music. Thinking we were close to the fence we thought nothing of it, until Brandon turned a corner and there was the most magical sight… Bush Drinks! The ladies of Ulusaba were singing and dancing for us as we arrived, a large bonfire crackled merrily and one of the big trees was draped in fairy lights. Braai (BBQ) snacks and a cold drink were served before we sat around the fire and were treated to traditional song and dance by the Ulusaba staff. The beautiful evening, lovely setting and wonderful entertainment made for a magical moment.
We were heading back to the vehicle when Brandon stopped us and suggested we go for a night walk. Even though we were not prepared, excitement sparked as we followed him away from the lights and noise into the dark bush. Thank goodness the moon was almost full to provide light. We walked for less than 5 minutes when we came upon a domed building – Ulusaba’s brand new private observatory! Brandon was clearly passionate about astronomy and showed us a few amazing sights, clusters of stars, the moons of Jupiter – 3 were visible and best of all, the surface of the moon! It was a truly unique experience, to be out in the wild bush, looking through a state of the art telescope out into space.
This is definitely an attraction that sets Ulusaba apart from other game lodges, and is an experience that most guests would not easily forget. Being out in the wild bush at night and being able to feel connected to the earth and the stars was a truly special experience.
Before dinner, Vikkus, the GM turned sommelier, clearly displayed his passion for great wines by taking us through his choices of pairing to accompany our 4 course set menu. We were then seated for dinner outside on the deck, under the stars. The distant horizon was dotted with the lights from the local villages which made a pleasing back drop to delicious our meal. An after dinner swim in our private pool was essential – because I could – before turning in for the night.
Early the next morning after our wakeup call we headed to the dining area for a snack before our game drive. We had fruit salad, yoghurts and warm muffins to snack on, it was so refreshing to be served fruit rather than the old faithful rusk for the 6am snack!
We climbed into the game vehicle and headed down the hill facing the rising sun silhouetted behind another koppie. We drove across the private run way where we were greeted with the funny sight of zebras crossing the zebra crossing of the runway!
Jack then tracked some lions and found 2 Othawa lionesses with 2 Manjingelane male coalition, they will spend a few weeks together during breeding season.
We then moved on to see what else could be found in the Sabi bush. Jack spotted some tracks in the sand and they both jumped out to see where the tracks went. Jack came up trumps in finding a leopard cub devouring an impala in a deep thicket. The other cub and mom were close by, but the foliage was just too dense to see them.
We were then taken to Ulusaba’s Safari Lodge for breakfast. Built along a river in a forest, Ulusaba Safari Lodge has rooms that are connected with suspension bridges, amazing views of a very active waterhole and of course the river. Each individually decorated luxury room at Ulusaba Safari Lodge has a private viewing deck overlooking the river. There is a large inviting pool with sun loungers for guests to enjoy and a wine cellar with viewing deck for a romantic private dinner. The bar and lounge is beautiful and leads out onto a large deck with different seating areas, complete with couches and tables for outside dining.
Our breakfast was delicious, offering us the options of serving ourselves from the buffet or ordering from the extensive menu. We were kept company by a family of elephants drinking at the waterhole and experienced a wonderful sense of being out in the wild amongst the trees. After breakfast we returned to Ulusaba Rock Lodge to enjoy one one last swim and a moment to drink in the spectacular views before our departure. We were sent on our way with a small taste of Ulusaba – the most delicious brownies lovingly prepared by their chef. The warm hugs and good bye’s from Brandon and Jack cemented Ulusaba as the experience of a lifetime.
I will always remember Ulusaba, not just for the fantastic views, great food and amazing wildlife, but for the awesome team that makes each and every visitor feel like we are being welcomed into their home. The lodge staff and the guiding teams were outstanding and the deeply personal experience made all the difference!