The most complete Mpumalanga experience, however, is found at the Ulusaba Private Game Reserve, a first-rate resort owned by Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, Virgin Airlines’ parent company.
This is an upscale, exquisite, elegant resort with flawless service and excellent cuisine where visitors are pampered before, during and after exciting game viewing treks.
According to Karl Langon, Ulusaba’s general manager, it’s not uncommon to get a close-up view of Africa’s fabled big five creatures (buffalo, elephant, lion, leopard and rhino) during the first hours of exciting safaris led by knowledgeable guides and trackers.
Ulusaba (“place of little fear” in Zulu) is part of the Sabi Sand Wildtuin, a private expanse within Kruger National Park, and adheres to strict conservation methods. It’s a 6-hour drive from Johannesburg, but easily accessible from Nelspruit’s airport. There are also five daily flights on the lodge’s planes from Johannesburg to a private landing strip.
Ulusaba is actually two resorts in one. The most alluring one is Rock Lodge, a fantastic African chalet on a bluff towering over the African veldt. There are eight rooms, one master suite and two luxurious Makwela Suites with plunge pools allowing guests to bask in warm waters, sip wine and watch game roaming below the bluff.
The second complex is Ulusaba’s Safari Lodge, where the ambiance of being on safari is always present. Wooden bridges connect guest cottages to game viewing platforms nearby.
Prices at the Rock Lodge run from about $850 pp per night for its Rock Cliff cottages to $1,200 for a Makwela Suite and $1,800 for its Cliff Lodge Suite. Rates at the Safari Lodge range from about $590 pp per night for a safari room to about $970 for a river room and almost $1,200 for a tree house suite.
The price includes all meals plus first-rate picnics during game viewing treks, all beverages (together with vintage wines and champagne from the lodge’s vast cellars) and even laundry and dry cleaning.
Of course, Mpumalanga is so varied that one could spend months in the province and still not see everything worth seeing. Some of the highlights include photogenic mining towns like Pilgrim’s Rest, where time has stood pleasantly stuck at a century ago, and where a FortyNiner from California’s Gold Rush days would feel right at home. There are also a vast number of native settlements like Botshabelo, where South Africa’s rich and colorful tribal roots can be seen up close.
Regardless of what path one chooses to explore, South Africa is a destination that delights the senses.