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I’ve been visiting the bush all my life yet I notched up three new experiences at Dulini in the Sabi Sand that will remain etched in my memories forever. 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 to prepare 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… instead, 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 and tropical flavours bursting forth from a tropical mango relish that I still wish I had the recipe for.
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 to defend his territory (flicking his paws with annoyance as he alighted on the other side). Equally rewarding was my first leopard cub sighting ever. 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.
That night we were treated to a superb meal high up on a lofty deck in the trees at the neighbouring Leadwood Lodge, the second of the three Dulini properties in the collection. Having just opened again after a full refurb, it was hard to say which one I preferred, but the muted grey interiors are the complete antithesis of River Lodge. I loved the fireplaces and can imagine Leadwood’s cosy layout being a treat in the winter months. The pools here are larger and the layout multi-levelled, giving you access to shady eyries in the trees overlooking the riverbed. Dulini’s executive chef, Silwood-trained Altus du Toit, is a delight, detailing an astounding number 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 serene and light, and each one has a view of the Sand River where leopard often roam. With only six suites, Dulini River Lodge is small enough to book 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 the lodge over 25 years ago when it was a private retreat
• That there’s a heated plunge 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, but you can also choose to lunch under the sausage tree – keep an eye out for those pods!
What you need to know…
• Honeymooners often choose Dulini – suites are very private, and staff are intuitive – giving you space when you want it and offering various 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 River Lodge sleeps 12 in 6 luxury suites
from R16 790 per person sharing per night