JOHANNESBURG, South Africa They are called the “big five” lions,
leopards, elephants, buffalos and rhino- ceroses and the mystique
that surrounds Africa’s greatest game animals has driven hunters,
photographers and adventurers to the continent’s most distant
gamelands for generations.
These days, however, pursuit of the big five has led developers
to create some of the priciest and most luxurious resorts in
Africa. Gone are the days of Hemingway roughing it on the veldt.
Today, game reserve resorts boast comfortable designer beds,
international cuisine and even some of the best wine cellars in the
One of the best of these upscale resorts is Ulusaba, airline
magnate Richard Branson’s stunning twin lodge complex located on
6,000 acres at the western border of South Africa’s famed Kruger
Set amid the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, Ulusaba is one of several
luxury lodges in the area, but it is arguably the most spectacular
because of its hilltop location. The property is located on an
800-foot cliff with panoramic views of the adjacent game reserve.
And the area has one of the highest densities of game per acre in
Guests arriving at Kruger Mpulmalanga International Airport
transfer to the resort by car, a drive of 2½ hours over bumpy
rustic roads. The roads travel through farmland and later bush
country into the park, where guests might catch a glimpse of
buffalos, zebras, or, in very rare cases, lions.
But as an alternative, the lodge strongly recommends that guests
fly from Johannesburg to Ulusaba’s private airstrip via charter
company Federal Air. It takes about 90 minutes and costs $550
round-trip. Flying may lack the adventure of driving, but guests
will arrive more relaxed and refreshed.
The two lodges on the property are Rock Lodge and Safari Lodge.
Rock Lodge, true to its name, is carved into a cliff face with 10
air-conditioned rooms. Safari Lodge has 10 rooms built like
treehouses luxury treehouses, mind you and they can only be reached
by wooden bridges that snake through the treetops.
All rooms are decorated in African themes with original
artifacts and traditional colors and weavings.
Because Ulusaba is in a wilderness area, the lodges are
unfenced. Though the lodge perimeter is patrolled and there is
24-hour security, dangerous animals sometimes enter the lodge
grounds. Guests must ring for an escort after dark, and they are
requested not to leave the confines of the resort unless
accompanied by a field guide.
Packages include all meals and twice-daily game drives in 4x4
vehicles, and twice-daily walking safaris, both outings accompanied
by professional guides and trackers.
In summer, from December through May, the animals tend to be
well-fed and have glossier coats, but they can be difficult to spot
because of dense foliage. Also, it’s very hot in the afternoon.
Winter, from May through August, is a better time to spot game,
since leaves are off the trees. But it can get cold.
The resort also has a health club, pool, tennis courts and
laundry service. About the only hardship is getting up before dawn
to catch glimpses of the wildlife (the animals try to avoid the
heat during daylight), but that’s all part of a day’s work that
usually ends with the traditional “sundowner” cocktail at
Room rates for a double are $1,100 to $2,500, with a 10 percent
commission for travel agents.
Ulusaba Game Reserve