Luxury Explorer Review

5-Star Hotel Review

Dulini River Lodge

South Africa

A life-changing and peaceful experience

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Dulini River Lodge
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Dulini River Lodge


Directly on the Sand River

Travel Information

2.5hrs direct flight from Cape Town, but only once a day. 1hr flight from Johannesburg, non-stop, but only 2 a day. 5hrs drive from Johannesburg

Top Tips

Make the best use of your rangers. They really are an awesome font of knowledge and expertise.

The Magic of Dulini

Touchdown was a relief, given that the tiny plane we’d boarded at Johannesburg airport had already landed once en-route to the Sabi Sands, a private game reserve bordering The Kruger National Park. We had shared a chartered flight with 10 other safari-goers and had dropped 4 of them off at another airstrip. Here I had eagerly leapt off the plane, assuming this was our final destination, but, alas, I was shepherded back onboard to take off once more. Not being a good flyer, next time, and there definitely will be a next time, we will drive the 5 hours from Johannesburg…  

We arrived at Ulusaba airfield and were whisked off in a jeep to experience my first 'game drive'. It was a short drive to Dulini River Lodge, which was to be our home for the next 3 nights. This was my first ever safari, and I was completely overwhelmed by my surroundings. It was my shiny new husband, Bert’s, second visit to the bush, but given that his first was 18 years prior, we were, effectively, both novices. The couple sharing our jeep ride were on their 3rd safari of the year, and 4th time back to Dulini. This suggested we were in for a real treat…


Located in the Sabi Sands Reserve, Dulini River Lodge is breathtaking. We were greeted by a pair of female nyala, the indigenous spiral-horned antelope, the Dulini team’s smiling faces and a very welcome warm hand towel, before being shown to our beautiful suite, equipped with a plunge pool and terrace perched under the trees, overlooking the river.

Dulini River Lodge, as the name suggests, is situated above a river and is the only lodge in the Sabi Sands with a river views. We were soon to discover that this brings certain game viewing advantages. While I could have lingered there forever, we had just 15 minutes to ready ourselves for lunch and change into our safari gear for the afternoon game drive.

We found our way to the breathtaking cantilevered viewing deck to enjoy a delicious lunch, just 20 metres from the water's edge. Dining in the shade of an enormous Jackalberry tree was captivating.  The stillness, the beauty and the silence, bar the sound of silver cutlery on plates whilst we devoured our delicious lunch, was magical. We couldn’t even find words - we just sat beaming from ear to ear. The peace was only broken when a waiter screamed “tall horse, tall horse!!” and we looked across the river to see two giraffes drinking at the water's edge, less than fifty metres away. It felt like we had died and gone to heaven.


Meeting our ranger, Mark, was a moment we won't forget in a hurry. He made a beeline towards us, warm and charming (as are all the staff at Dulini) and extremely enthusiastic that he had two 'newbies' on board. Asking us if we had any specific requests to look out for, I said anything was a bonus, but my husband was keen to see a glow-worm and a dung beetle… He laughed, before informing us that we were more likely to find a glow worm in England, and that it was the wrong season for dung beetles, but he’d do his best…  We got on immediately. Mark, and his tracker, Colbert, were a match made in heaven, with one another, as well as with us. Their relationship was heartwarming and their enthusiasm for the bush was quite overwhelming. They really were best friends and absolutely passionate about their jobs.

This was June. We had been warned that the evenings were cold, but we had no idea how cold. Days were hot and t-shirts were more than enough, but on the early morning drives and once the sun had gone down in the evenings, it was freezing. The wind chill was positively arctic. I ended up wearing 7 layers, having bought a fleece from the shop, which was the only thing on our bill at the end of our stay, as everything you could dream of is included in your rate. Despite the cold mornings and evenings, we were told June was the perfect time to visit the Kruger. It wasn’t unbearably hot during the day, so the game was around all day, with no need to hide for shelter from the baking sun.

We soon discovered that the Sabi Sands is very special indeed. Being a private game reserve it is meticulously protected, and a percentage of your booking is fed directly back into an anti-poaching fund. The borders are open with the Kruger, so game is free to come and go as it pleases and there is certainly no shortage. We saw everything, bar cheetah (which had apparently left the reserve the day before we arrived) and, boy, were we overwhelmed. Highlights included a baby leopard lying on a tree branch with its kill, an entire pride of lions relaxing at the waterhole, and a very young white Rhino playing with its mother.

Mark went above and beyond his duties on our last day. He had lunch with us and worried that Bert had not found his dung beetle, so asked us if we’d like to go out on a walking safari in the afternoon, before the evening drive, in a bid to find one. This was his time off, but he was more than happy to take us. We jumped at the chance, and off we went with Mark and his rifle. Despite not finding a dung beetle (even if we did find plenty of dung!) it was an experience I will never forget. We very quickly became aware of our own vulnerability, even though Mark did explain that in 10 years of being a ranger he had never needed to use his rifle.  


We had been worried that booking a safari straight after our wedding was a mistake, and that it would amplify our exhaustion, but we couldn’t have been more wrong. This was an overwhelmingly peaceful experience, whilst being curiously exhilarating at the same time. The moment we walked into Dulini River Lodge we relaxed. The Dulini way of life is certainly something I could get used to. Mark explained that we were behaving just like animals during our stay – “Wake, Eat, Hunt, Eat, Sleep, Hunt, Eat, Sleep”. That would be our schedule, and it suited us perfectly, as it transpired. The 5am wake up calls were a breeze – the excitement of yet another game drive and the delicious breakfast fuelled us throughout.

There were innumerable surprises from the staff and the lodge along the way. I wouldn’t want to ruin any of them for you, so I will just say – go. You have to experience the magic of Dulini for yourself - the warmth of the staff paired with a rustic luxury, and an eco-consciousness makes for a very unusual and totally inspiring combination. I could have stayed there forever, and certainly longer than three nights, but it was time for us to head off on the second leg of our honeymoon, to Benguerra Island Lodge.

It is no exaggeration to say that I had tears in my eyes as we said our goodbyes to Mark and Colbert. And so I ended our stay at Dulini as it had begun - all emotional. It had been an overwhelmingly exhilarating, life changing, and life-affirming stay.  We are now safari converts, and whilst it might be sensible to explore elsewhere next time, the pull of Dulini and the Sabi Sands is too strong. We will be back.

We twinned our stay at Dulini with a week in Mozambique at beautiful &Beyond Benguerra Island, which, as you can read, was an exceptionally good idea.

Clio Hare
Clio Hare

Luxury Explorer
Luxury Explorer

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