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Ulusaba: Sir Richard Branson's Private Game Reserve in South Africa
The handsomely decorated guest rooms feature natural elements incorporated into the design

African artifacts, inviting furnishing and a heavenly view at the Rock Lodge

Breakfast is served on the deck at the Rock Lodge
The Safari Lodge is build along a dry riverbed
The Safari Lodge’s modern African furnishings
Morning Safari is an unforgettable way to start each day

Story by Ken Panton
Photography by David Lewis Taylor

One of the few vacation adventures left to take in the world that uniquely captivates your sense of wonderment, is an African safari. We recently visited Sir Richard Branson’s private game reserve, Ulusaba in South Africa, where the spirit of the breathtaking wild African bush, peppered with the supreme taste and wit of Sir Branson, made memories that will last a lifetime. Our daily predawn wake-up call so filled us with anticipation for our morning safari that we didn’t mind that it came so soon after the previous late night. We gladly relinquished the comfort of our luxurious veiled bed dressed in crisp white linens., Our marvelously decorated African bush themed guest room – complete with a spacious shower and bath was no match for the adventure that awaited us on the morning safari at the start of another exciting day at Ulusaba. The action-packed days at Ulusaba are accented by fine dining, safaris, bush walks, special events and surprises, spiced up with laughter, and balanced by plenty of relaxation – all set within one of Africa’s most beautiful game reserves. Evenings are spent mingling with other guests over gourmet dinners (which were often served out-of-doors), and trading safari stories with the rangers, guests and friendly staff members over post-dinner cocktails.

Nearly everything in the outside world seems insignificant when you find yourself face to face with such awe-inspiring wildlife as the lions, cheetahs, elephants, giraffes, buffalo, impala, hippopotamus, and more. The two monumentally luxurious lodges, the Rock Lodge and the Safari Lodge, are equally impressive, and we recommend that you experience both on your visit to Ulusaba. Framed by the distant Drakenberg Mountains, the Rock Lodge is built into a rocky cliff and affords guests with an eagle eye’s panoramic view of the wild bush below. At Rock Lodge, guests can swim in a fresh water “infinity” pool or work out in a spacious gym, both of which are built at the highest points at the rock lodge. Or, they may choose to be pampered at The Aroma Boma, Ulusaba’s full-service spa. Dining on the decks, which are built out from the cliffs, truly puts you at the top of the world. As you contemplate having second helpings of the delicious fare, you may be entertained by passing eagles, curious velvet monkeys, or toothsome baboons. The spacious granite-walled, fully-windowed, thatched roof Rock Lodge, accented with fine African artifacts, plush furnishings and a dining table fit for a king’s court, is the centerpiece and meeting place for guests staying "up in the sky."

The Safari Lodge boasts "tree house" style guest rooms that are accessible only by elevated walkways and rope bridges suspended over a dry riverbed that is often occupied by with animals. A veranda and deck over look the riverbed line, and small waterholes attract animals that can be safely observed from numerous vantage points. You are truly “in the bush” at the Safari Lodge. Each of the ten private thatched chalets is positioned to ensure privacy and to allow for individual views. You will long remember time spent on your private deck viewing the passing wildlife or rapturous feeling that comes with the tranquility of the sights, sounds and scents of the African bush. At each lodge the bathrooms are designed to ensure privacy. Guests can shower in the spacious open corner-showers or bathe in the freestanding bath while enjoying the outside views. In our room at the Rock Lodge, a sliding glass door, part of the
bathroom’s wall of glass, could be opened while showering. My mid-morning shower, taken after the morning safari, seemed like it was in the outdoors.

Dining is a formidable adventure in itself at Ulusaba. All beverages are completely included as part of your stay. Under the direction of a world-class chef, bold selections are created that incorporate traditional African flavors and dishes, local and regional specialties including meats, seafood, and produce and richly innovative cuisine. Multi-course dinners are served in a variety of locations including the fireside dining room at the Safari Lodge and the dining room and decks of the Rock Lodge. On some nights, a traditional African barbecue, called a "braai," is served in a romantic setting outdoors under a canopy of stars, with illumination provided by a pit fire and torches. During their stay, guests will be treated to a bush reception at the conclusion of an evening safari. A barbecue is ablaze and the scent of grilling meats greets the guests, who are also treated to a full bar and delicious hors d’oeuvres on these nights. Unforgettable and moving entertainment is provided by local performers who magically light up the atmosphere with the beauty of traditional African songs sung for the guests. To our surprise, the daylight of the next morning revealed to us that the location of our bush reception was only steps away as spot where we had watched lions mating the previous evening.

The qualified armed ranger who escorts guests on safari and bush walks, accompanied by a tracker, is literally your protector while in the bush. And while the rangers hold that responsibility foremost in their guidance, they completely make guests feel at ease. The rangers are professional field guides, fully educated in the species and ecology that share the bush. Their knowledge of animal behavior often makes it seem as they have a sixth sense, as does the tracker’s ability to locate and identify the spoor of the many wild creatures hidden in the bush. The rangers impart interesting information with ease as they address every inquiry as if it’s the first time they have been asked such a question. The ranger also seems to find an ideal spot each day to watch the rising and setting sun in the near silence of the bush. Experiencing the presence of the animals from an open vehicle is breathtaking, as is the safe viewing of a trumpeting mother elephant at close range. We also found plenty of opportunity for laughs with our personable ranger Stewart, tracker James, and two interesting couples with whom we were fortunate enough to share the daily safari experiences, along with other guests from around the world also visiting Ulusaba.

During our stay a wedding took place at the Rock Lodge and the staff’s attention to every detail and special requests was remarkable. Surely the exceptional and informally friendly, yet seamlessly efficient service, reflects the managerial philosophy of owner Sir Richard Branson, who seems add a modern flair to all his ventures. Our trip included flying from London on Virgin Atlantic to Johannesburg, Virgin’s great connection-to-the-world home city, and then on a brand new Cessna Caravan, flown by Federal Air from Johannesburg to Ulusaba’s private airstrip. For more information about visiting Richard Branson's private game reserve Ulusaba click the Sanctuare link below.

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