Ulusaba Safari Lodge

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    Ulusaba Safari Lodge

    Upon arrival, guests are led to a reception area under a thatched roof, offered refreshments, and introduced to the waiting staff. © Susan Breslow Sardone. 

    Deep in the South African bush, Ulusaba is a luxurious private game reserve that offers couples an unforgettable safari experience. It is owned by Sir Richard Branson, which should give potential guests the assurance that everything — from the lodge to the staff to the accommodations and touring — will be first-class.

    The essence of Ulusaba is to provide guests with an authentic safari experience without sacrificing comfort.

    Each day, before sunrise and again at sunset, guests are led on a photo safari in the company of an experienced game ranger and tracker team. Within the course of a visit, it's possible to witness each of The Big Five in their native habitat.

    Run by managers passionate about wildlife and the environment, hospitality and genuine friendliness reign at Ulusaba Safari Lodge.

    From the moment you arrive at this once-in-a-lifetime destination and are greeted with Champagne and chilled juice and water, to the time you reluctantly leave, Ulusaba will imprint itself on your...MORE heart and your mind forever.

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    Ulusaba Accommodations

    This wooden walkway leads to the River One cottage, closest to the main building. © Susan Breslow Sardone. 
    Throughout Ulusaba, guests are surrounded by nature. Lodgings consists of 22 private cottages constructed to stand several feet off the ground. They're made of natural woods and stone and have tall thatched roofs.

    Rope bridges lead to most quarters, and some feature a private plunge pool. The rear of the cottages have wraparound windows and a private viewing deck overlooking a dry riverbed where bush animals browse.

    As you make your way to your cottage, you may find yourselves observed by small black-faced vervet monkeys hanging from nearby branches.

    Be sure to lock your door to keep their baboon cousins out. These smart primates have learned how to turn door handles and have been known to brazenly enter an unlocked room and rifle through suitcases in search of treasures.

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    Inside River Cottage

    Mosquito netting surrounds the king-size bed. © Susan Breslow Sardone. 
    Spacious Ulusaba cottages hold a king-size bed swathed in pristine white linens and surrounded by mosquito netting, which is drawn at night. The material is practical as well as romantic: Ulusaba is located inside a mosquito endemic zone, so potential visitors are advised to discuss malaria prevention with their personal physician.

    Although it rarely gets cold in this part of Africa, beds come with a heated warmer with adjustable temperature.

    These air-conditioned cottages contain sizable bathrooms with a stone-walled shower, dual sinks, and a claw-footed bathtub big enough for two.

    Cottages contain a minibar and coffeemaker. There is a telephone but no TV, although a DVD player, DVDs, and monitor can be delivered on request.

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    Wildlife at Ulusaba

    Curious and quick, vervet monkeys scamper around the property. © Susan Breslow Sardone. 

    The reason Ulusaba accommodations are built off the ground is that bush animals make their home here, too.

    Typically visitors can see lions and elephants on safari drives. Closer to their personal quarters they are likely to witness vervet monkeys only slightly bigger than squirrels, and nyala, grazers who resemble deer.

    At night those blood-curdling screams you may hear coming from your terrace are likely to come from baboons.

    Since the area is alive with wildlife, guests are told to dial the main lodge for a chaperone after dark.

    Serious animal lovers look forward to the twice-daily safari drives, at sunrise and sunset, each lasting about three hours. During a three-day stay, we witnessed all of the following animals:

    • Baboons
    • Bushbucks
    • Cape buffaloes
    • Crocodiles
    • Elephants
    • Giraffes
    • Hippos
    • Hyena
    • Impala
    • Kudu
    • Leopard
    • Lions
    • Nyala
    • Rhinos
    • Springbok
    • Steenbok
    • Vervet monkeys
    • Warthogs
    • Zebra

    See "The Big Five"

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    Dining at Ulusaba

    Lunch on the porch. © Susan Breslow Sardone. 
    Meals are made into occasions at Ulusaba, and there are many of them. Couples leaving on a safari drive receive a 5:30 am wakeup call and have enough time for a quick cup of coffee or tea and a roll.

    At a midpoint during the drive, the ranger stops and he and the tracker create an impromptu bar atop the hood of the Land Rover. There passengers are again offered a beverage and a cookie.

    Three hours or so after starting out, the group returns to Ulusaba for a proper breakfast, where a buffet is set up and guests may also order hot dishes from the menu.

    Couples who are around for lunch can take it outdoors until 2 pm on the porch, which overlooks the dry riverbed.

    And to ensure than no one grows peckish, tea is served at 4:30 and scrumptious pastries await.

    Dinner is a nightly special event. First guests gather in the main lodge for cocktails and to regale one another with the day's sightings.

    Then the chef arrives, and he recites the special menu he’s prepared for the evening. Each night...MORE it is different.

    This is usually a choice of three starters, three entrees including a vegetarian dish, and two desserts (do not refuse the Baileys cheesecake if offered!) . Main dishes include familiar foods as well as local items such as butterfish.

    Dinner can be savored in the main lodge. At a long wooden table with chairs upholstered in ikat cloth, guests from around the world meet and share their experiences in and out of the country.

    Arrangements can also be made to dine at a private table outdoors beside a bonfire to ward off evening's chill. Guests at the safari lodge can also dine at Branson's Rock Lodge, up a steep incline and towering over the bush.

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    Ulusaba Activities

    Swimming pool at Ulusaba. © Susan Breslow Sardone. 

    Although safari drives are the raison d'etre at Ulusaba, there are a few other diversions. The lodge features its own spa, swimming pool, tennis court, and workout room.

    Visitors who expect to do some shopping during their stay at Ulusaba can browse the made-in-Africa items and safari wear at the lodge's free-standing gift shop. (There are no other stores in the area, so souvenir-collectors are advised to do their shopping at the Johannesburg airport.)

    In the main lodge is one PC for the use of guests, and wi-fi for all who tote laptops. In addition, guests whose cellphones are enabled for overseas calls will have no trouble calling home from Ulusaba.

    Viewing decks from the main house, as well as private terraces, overlook a dry riverbed where species ranging from warthogs to elephants come to feed.

    During the day guests take unique excursions, such as a visit to Elephant Whispers in Hazyview. At the facility, about one hour's drive from Ulusaba, unwanted elephants are cared...MORE for and trained with kindness -- and human visitors get to interact with these gentle giants.

    Ulusaba can also arrange for guests to tour nearby African towns bordering the Sabi Sands Preserve including Justicia, where many Ulusaba staff members live. At less-developed Dumphries, visitors see the devastation of AIDS and discover the urgent needs of the local children -- many of whom don't have a parent or a pair of shoes to call their own. Yet they are joyful, despite the privations.

    Other off-campus activities include a breeding project tour and visits to Ulusaba's Rock Lodge, set far above the nature preserve.

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    Romance at Ulusaba

    Swinging rope bridges are pathways to most of the cottages. © Susan Breslow Sardone. 
    If a trip to Africa is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, Ulusaba is the magical place within it to experience an adventurous honeymoon or romantic celebration.

    On a recent visit we met several honeymoon couples and others celebrating an anniversary. Some had combined the safari trip with a beach vacation to the Seychelles.

    As if its safari drives, posh private cottages, and gourmet meals aren't lovely enough, Ulusaba can offer romantic extras such as an observation dinner in the bush. Savor the meal under the stars and in the company of one of Ulusaba's rangers equipped with a high-powered telescope and well-versed in astronomy.

    A true refuge for couples, Ulusaba does not permit children under the age of twelve. Even parents with kids that age or older are likely to be more comfortable at the Rock Lodge sister property, which permits children of all ages.

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    Weddings and Honeymoons at Ulusaba

    Lounge in the Main house. © Susan Breslow Sardone. 
    The towering Treehouse is the newest structure at Ulusaba. A fifteen-minute walk or short drive from the main lodge, the Treehouse is built high up, overlooking a hippo pond.

    Totally private, the Treehouse features one suite and a separate large living and dining area with both a conversation area as well as individual seating and binoculars for those who want to gaze at the hippos.

    Shaded from the sun yet open on the sides, it's a beautifully furnished area that can be used for a wedding. Ulusaba staff can manage all the details, including arranging for a minister, securing tribal dancers, and handling all the catering and service.

    The Treehouse suite, an amazing place to celebrate a honeymoon, contains a king-size bed that faces a private balcony overlooking the hippo pond.

    The bathroom features a bathtub built for two and floor-to-ceiling windows that insure you won't miss any of the wild life outside this domain, either.

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    The Ulusaba Vibe

    One of the house Land Rovers parked at the Ulusaba entrance. © Susan Breslow Sardone. 
    “We have set out to create the most beautiful game reserve in Africa.” — Sir Richard Branson, owner

    Luxurious and nature-oriented, Ulusaba is a wonderful choice for couples who love the outdoors, the hot sun, and thrill to seeing animals in their natural habitat.

    In African style, many meals are communal, offering guests the opportunity to make international friends and break bread with them.

    Those who go on safari with Ulusaba's experienced rangers may find themselves exhilarated or terrified; sometimes both, on the same drive. And you may not know which emotion will wash over you until you’re photographing a herd of young lions as sleepy and playful as pussycats... or watching hippos roar (or is it yawn?) and expose their pink mouths and big molars... or staring down a herd of elephants led by a bold matriarch unafraid of man or machine, and marshalling her homegirls to throw some more fear into you.

    Ulusaba Gives Back

    The contrast between barely subsistent Africa and opulent Africa...MORE is strong in these digs, and Ulusaba does its part to support the local Shangaan tribal authorities. Pride'n Purpose, Ulusaba’s nonprofit charitable wing, funds numerous projects that help to provide clean drinking water at local schools, supply food of high nutritional value to kindergardens, maintain schools, and build homes.

    Pride'n Purpose has also opened a regional healthcare center. On the day we visited, there were many tears as orphans lined up for vaccines. In addition, the charity provides start-up funds to encourage local entrepreneurial projects.

    To find out more or make a donation, contact: Pride@ulusaba.virgin.com

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    Ulusaba Info

    To reach Ulusaba, guests normally fly (1 hour) or drive (5 hours) from Johannesburg.

    Skukuza 1242
    South Africa
    Official Web Site