The first carriage of this super luxury hotel will be off-loaded in Skukuza. Picture: Supplied

History was made on Friday morning when the first carriage of the Kruger Shalati Train on a Bridge arrived for placement at the Selati Bridge in Kruger National Park. 

This is first-of-its-kind the world over for several reasons. 

Judiet Barnes, the General Manager of Kruger Shalati, said: "Thebe Tourism Group is committed to developing iconic and unique tourism products, which enhances the lives of communities. In this case there was an opportunity to develop a unique and superior African travel experience that not only complements the Kruger National Park but also creates job opportunities and SME development opportunities all the while bringing a unique part of Kruger’s history to life.

"The idea behind this project began several years ago as part of a commercialization programme conducted by SA National Parks to increase revenue opportunities in the Kruger. While the original concept was to recreate the historical experience, an extensive consultation process with the engineering team saw us make the practical decision to keep the train static."

This undertaking is praised for being unlike anything on offer in the country and is expected to entice local and international visitors to Kruger National Park.

The first carriage of The Kruger Shalati Train on a Bridge was placed on Friday. Picture: Supplied

Since its inception in 1898, the Kruger National Park and rail travel have had a deeply entwined history. For several years, South Africa’s foremost game reserve was largely only accessible by rail. Guests would arrive by train, enjoy the park by day and retreat to their carriages at night to sleep before moving on to their next destination.

"It’s fitting that the new luxurious Kruger Shalati Train on a Bridge Hotel, an initiative by Thebe Tourism Group, pays homage to this history. Shalati Train on a Bridge incorporates the iconic and still original Selati railway bridge where visitors would disembark at Skukuza Camp nearly 100 years ago. The reinterpretation of luxury train travel sees the original train carriages reinvented as fixed hotel rooms suspended over the Sabie river, offering guests awe-inspiring views," she adds.

"An integral aspect of creating this one-in-a-lifetime travel experience that will leave guests breathless, is the interiors. They needed to be luxurious, incorporate the rail history, and reflect the very best in South African design, while being sensitive to the setting."

Johannesburg interior design studio, Hesse Kleinloog, was awarded the contract. The firm specialises in commercial and residential spaces. Head designers Andrea Kleinloog and Megan Hesse combine several years of experience in understanding the visual language of design and how people relate to their surroundings and move in spaces.

“From our perspective it was imperative that the interior design was respectful to the tradition and heritage but didn’t succumb to being heavily themed and old-fashioned,” explains Andrea Kleinloog. “At the same time, it was important that the design language reflected a distinct and proudly Afrocentric experience, without deferring to stereotypes.”

“What struck us immediately was the exquisite familiarity of deep reds, and both the shape and the colour of the patina of the steel original train carriages. The contrast against the sculptural design of the bridge girders, blended with bold traditional South African design patterns, is what inspired the graphic development of the creative. We then layered tones and textures over this.”

What's unique about this experience, from a tourism perspective?

"With Kruger Shalati, we want to create a tourism destination and a hospitality product so unique that people want to travel from around the world just to stay here for a holiday, and for domestic travellers to really be proud to have something that exists nowhere else in the world,'' says Jerry Mabena, CEO of Thebe Tourism Group. “Through this development, we are truly re-imagining Africa with pioneering innovations and ingenuity.”

The first carriage of The Kruger Shalati Train on a Bridge was placed on Friday. Picture: Supplied

What can travellers expect from their stay?

This will be luxury accommodation in large train rooms – each carriage will have only 2 rooms to maximize the room space. Amidst the room carriages, there will be a lounge carriage with bar with adjacent deck and overhanging pool overlooking the river.  

The rates will be inclusive of the following: luxury accommodation in a unique setting, all meals during your stay, house beverages during your stay and two game drives per day.

Immersing guests in the comfort of an Afro-chic boutique hotel experience, the train itself will offer 24 en-suite rooms able to sleep 48 guests, with another seven rooms in adjacent Kruger Shalati Bridge House accommodating 14 beds on land next to the bridge.  All rooms will offer guests a high-star rating luxury experience and will be accompanied by fine dining and other leisure experiences on site.

Bookings will be open from June 1, 2020.