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World-renowned for its big cats, our latest visit to the Sabi Sand was more than rewarding with sightings that will never be forgotten. For starters, our Lodge Link flight into Ulusaba airstrip was nothing short of spectacular … we landed just ahead of an approaching electric rainstorm, and as guide Jono Hammill and I waved goodbye to the plane taxiing again again for a swift take off, storm clouds darkened considerably. To say it was dry here was an understatement, so rain wasn’t going to damper the spirits of the day… it would be nothing short of a blessing. And, pour it did, bringing with it the warm smell of hot, parched earth responding to a powerful pelting. Thunder rumbled and lightening crackled for the rest of the afternoon while I sat mesmerised, eating a delicious tapas style lunch with a glass of crisp white.
Having watched so many documentaries of the miracle that occurs when rivers start flowing again, I thought I would be prepared for the emotional moment, a full two days later, when the Sand River ponds were joined up again by what started as a trickle so slow that I could capture the moment on video. It fast became a celebration of mother nature and that day, bird calls rang out with joy, impalas birthed, elephant families playfully interacted and we even witnessed a male leopard swim across the newly flowing river (flicking his paws with annoyance as he alighted on the other side) to defend his territory. And my first leopard cub sighting ever was equally moving. That morning, we spent almost an hour watching him survive without his mother in the wild, while she went off to look for his sibling who had disappeared. Jono interpreted his calls and we witnessed the most loving mother-cub reunion when she returned. No baby brother though… until the next morning when news crackled through on the radio that the other cub had been spotted.
Neighbouring Dulini River Lodge, the first of the three Dulini properties in the collection, is done in shades of soothing chalky whites, textured wallpapers, natural light wood and the palest blue hues of the river running through the lodge – a contrast to the deeper greys and beautiful dark wood colours used at Leadwood Lodge.
The menus reflect a move towards healthy eating (although desserts here are a complete indulgence!) and Dulini’s executive chef, Silwood-trained Altus du Toit, is a delight. Taking time to chat at each table, he always shared the astounding list of ingredients for the foodies among us who so enjoyed his creative pairing of flavours – a memorable end to a wonderfully restorative two nights in the bush.
What we love!
• The new-look suites are in calming tones of grey, contrasting with natural dark woods and each one has a fireplace making them wonderfully cosy in winter. There are only four making it easy to book the entire lodge exclusively
• The personal touch and guest interaction with the passionate owners Sue and Iain Garrett, who co-founded the Dulini Collection in 2016, but have a historic relationship with this special place – they first managed neighbouring Dulini River Lodge over 25 years ago when it was a private retreat
• That there’s a large private heated pool on each deck – bliss in the cooler months and for pre-dawn dips when you feel at one with mother nature
• Cats, cats, cats everywhere – there’s good reason why guests are drawn from around the world to spend time here in their domain. Our sightings were exceptional
• The food. It’s creative, fun, full of new flavours and generous
• The trees: ancient leadwood and ebony trees shade the river banks
What you need to know…
• It’s a hotspot for honeymooners for good reason – there are only four suites, all of which are very spacious and private, and staff are intuitive – giving you time on your own when you want it and offering different private dining options at night
• Children over 8 are welcome
• Game vehicles seat a maximum of six and, thoughtful touches make all the difference here: in the box between the seats you’ll not only find your warm poncho but protective eyewear for those who might have forgotten theirs (10/10 Dulini!), insect repellant, sunscreen and binoculars
• We love the fact that Airlink flies guests in direct from Cape Town to Nelspruit and then swiftly on to Ulusaba airstrip on Lodge Link, so you can have an early beach walk that morning and arrive fresh as a daisy and in time for your game drive in the afternoon! Their schedules are perfectly timed for international flights too. Airlink also flies direct from Nelspruit to Livingstone, Zambia, if you’re wanting to combine Dulini with a stay at Victoria Falls (one of our fave combinations!)
Reviewed by Michelle Snaddon
Dulini Leadwood Lodge sleeps 8 in 4 luxury suites
from R16 790 per person sharing per night