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Kruger Station and Nostalgic Shalati: Train on the Bridge hotel to open soon

An artist’s rendering of the Train on the Bridge hotel in the Kruger National Park, showing the pool deck.

An artist’s rendering of the Train on the Bridge hotel in the Kruger National Park, showing the pool deck.

Published Nov 13, 2020

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An artist’s rendering of the Train on the Bridge hotel in the Kruger National Park, showing the pool deck.

Val Boje

ONCE upon a time, visitors to what is now the Kruger National Park came in by train.

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The Selati Railway which connected Komatipoort with Tzaneen during the Transvaal gold rush was taken over by the South African Railways (SAR) in 1923 with a “Round in Nine” tour to the Lowveld and what was then Lourenço Marques (now Maputo).

This trip had an overnight stop at Sabie Bridge in the Sabie Nature Reserve (now Skukuza Rest Camp) so the chief warden of the reserve (which is now part of the Kruger National Park), James Stevenson-Hamilton, had the idea that an excursion in nature would enhance the attraction of the tour and so passengers alighted for game viewing while the train took on water.

The Selati Railway line was disbanded in 1973 when it was realised that it caused disturbance to the plant and animal life in the Kruger National Park, and a new route was built that bypasses the reserve.

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This history is part of the charm of the recently-opened Kruger Station and Kruger Shalati: The Train on the Bridge hotel which – after delays due to the coronavirus and lockdown – is due to open in December.

Kruger Selati Concession general manager Judiet Barnes, explains enthusiastically that the project not only recalls the past but makes use of many items that celebrate the fascinating history of the train and the unusual site.

The station precinct takes its name from the steam engine number 3638.

This includes the historical bridge and station which was in disuse, railway sleepers and carriages from the 1950s which have been lovingly restored. Also on display is a rail trolley such as was used by Stevenson-Hamilton to travel to Komatipoort.

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The train hotel takes its name from Shalati, a 19th-century female warrior chief who ruled the Tebula clan, part of the Tsonga tribe, and her image forms part of the carefully-considered artwork.

This is no ordinary hotel: aside from spectacular views high above the river bank where animals come to drink, the rooms are “six-star” says Barnes, and the unusual hotel even has a swimming pool hanging from the bridge, strictly for those who are not afraid of heights.

The view from the Sabie Bridge in the Kruger National Park.

There are 24 glass-fronted carriage rooms and a further seven Bridge House rooms are being built adjacent to the station. No children under 12 are allowed on the train, but families can stay in these land rooms.

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The lifestyle centre created on the station is open daily and offers visitors to Skukuza a lovely place for a safe refreshment break.

The station includes plinthed SAR Class 24 steam engine 3638 and a dining car on the platform which can be booked as part of the Selati Station Grill House that is open daily with a coffee shop, bar, restaurant and takeaways, curio shop, children’s area and 360º cinema where wildlife documentaries will be screened.

The flamed game sharing platter is popular for meat-lovers.

The restaurant has a full service menu with takes on a number of South African favourites such as a bush pizza with babotie, a buttery chicken bunny chow, and a game sharing shisa nyama platter, but lighter meals and takeaways are also available.

The deck offers charging stations - ideal for those out for the day. All the Covid-19 protocols are being strictly applied.

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