Observing wildlife with uninterrupted views from the comfort of a king-sized bed is a privilege few will experience. When said king-sized bed lies within a refurbished stationary train carriage from the 1970s, the experience is that much more unique.
From this vantage point, one can see the bushveld horizon meeting the sky, ever more beautiful after a dramatic, passing thunder- storm. Stepping onto the carriage’s surprisingly spacious balcony brings the view into greater focus, allowing you to gaze at the hippos and crocodiles lingering down below. Elephant herds use the dry riverbed as a thoroughfare, a breathtaking sight as they emerge from under the steel bridge directly below.
The three-hour game drives pass by in what feels like minutes because of the high density of wildlife (particularly bird species. Many come to see the Big Five, but the experience with Kruger Shalati’s knowledgeable rangers teaches a great deal more about all animal encounters, big and small.
Until 1973, trains were the only mode by which wildlife could be observed in the Kruger National Park. The Selati Bridge is the exact location where visitors who explored the park nearly 100 years ago would spend the night on the train, disembarking for evening entertainment where Kruger Shalati’s Bridge House now stands.
Those guests wouldn’t have been able to fathom the 21st century luxury aboard today’s carriages. Celebrating the best in African design, the glass-walled suites feature opulent fittings, a full-sized bath and views in every direction. Silk gowns, a hand- woven seanamarena (a high-status Basotho blanket) and luxury Cape Island diffusers, soaps and room mist sprays come standard in each suite and are available for purchase in the most carefully curated gift shop filled with one-of-a-kind items. As camp manager Tshego Mathole says, ‘You can never fully appreciate your country- men’s talents until you see a curated body of their work.’
The centrepiece of the train is the pool and lounge, situated in the middle carriage. Jutting out from the bridge, the cylindrical infinity pool offers respite from the Skukuza heat, which can peak in the early 40s. Drinks and high tea are served daily. Children under 12 are not permitted on the train, but the land-based Bridge House offers family units where a second pool area can be enjoyed.
The fresh air, wide open spaces and outstanding service at Kruger Shalati make it an experience worthy of an annual pilgrimage.
By Linda Mzamane