From their carriage on the bridge, in the heart of the Kruger National Park, a national reserve in South Africa, visitors can spot baboons weave their way, a hippo wades in the river below, while a lone leopard prowls, sniffing for an antelope to make its dinner. Converted into a boutique hotel, the train provides a gilded lookout from which guests can gaze over the animal kingdom in the middle of the savanna, reported Agence France Press (AFP)
A small platform added to the bridge holds a small round pool, where groups of humans gather at 4:00 pm for high tea, with a pleasant late summer breeze. A loud grunt silences the chirping of birds. "It's a hippo," a waiter quickly assures, as guests lean over the railing, hoping to spot it in the muddy Sabie River below.
Moments later, the group will leave in open safari trucks to drive up close to giraffes, elephants and dazzles of zebras in their natural habitat -- chewing grass, playing in water, and sometimes erupting into fights.
The bridge suspended over this dreamy landscape was abandoned for decades. The hotel won a tender in 2016 to transform it into posh accommodation, with a train that never moves but always has bird's-eye views. In the 1920s, this railway line was the only way into Kruger. But the last locomotive came through in 1979, and the railway fell into disuse.
"We went to a train graveyard to find the carriages. They were pretty dilapidated. Repurposed into hotel rooms, the carriages offer ‘a step back into time,’" said Gavin Ferreira, executive manager of operations.
The hotel features 24 carriages, but they're numbered to 25, following the old hotel superstition whereby number 13 is skipped.
When it opened in December 2020, the Kruger Shalati welcomed flocks of African visitors as the pandemic prevented western tourists from traveling.
Each carriage has only one room, with a massive bed covered in fresh sheets and overstuffed pillows. Sunlight spills through windows above the tub and sink, for gazing over the river while you brush your teeth wearing a silk bathrobe.