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Natalie Odenbreit, Virgin Limited Edition's International Sales Manager recently hosted an action-packed travel trade familiarisation at Ulusaba Private Game Reserve. Natalie gives us the lowdown on the group's South African adventure...
The catchphrase for the trip was "It just doesn't get better than this!"
I was delighted to host the Tour Operator familiarisation trip to Ulusaba in May 2009. We had a great group of sales consultants from some of our UK Tour Operator partners join us on the incredible journey which all began at Heathrow T3. We were all very impressed to be whisked through security checks at Heathrow to the Virgin Atlantic Club House. A very impressive lounge where you could while away a whole day let alone an hour or two! Before we knew it we were boarding the Upper Class cabin of the Virgin Atlantic flight and very excited about the flat bed and sleep suit.
On arrival into Johannesburg, although a little jaded from the flight, we all arrived eager to get to Ulusaba, unbeknown what a thrilling trip awaited us. After a short and smooth internal flight with Federal Air we arrived at Ulusaba's private airstrip, greeted by Trevor and Steve our incredibly knowledgeable rangers. We had some refreshments in the very impressive lounge, this really is the now you know you are on Africa! On arrival at Safari Lodge, James the Safari Lodge Manager greeted us and gave us a little orientation tour. I must admit by this point I was so proud to represent Ulusaba I had to hold back a tear.
We enjoyed lunch on the deck of Safari Lodge and spotted our first sighting of an impala herd grazing and playing by the waterhole. Our first evening game drive was outstanding! We spotted two warthogs, Impala, Nyala, Kudu and then seemingly out of nowhere a bull elephant emerged, actually we could smell him before we could see him. Musth' we learnt is characterised by highly aggressive behavior, accompanied by a big rise in reproductive hormones released through glands, easily seen in the ears. We quickly moved away as he tracked us, trunk in air and followed our land rover. Our second of the big-five incredible sightings was a pride of Lioness's feasting on a recent Buffalo kill. The Male Lion, belly full, was sleeping off his dinner nearby! After this exciting first game drive we retired to Safari Lodge dining room for a delicious dinner, then belly full we retired for a well deserved sleep but eagerly anticipating our morning game drive.
The very next morning, all wrapped up, with hot water bottles and poncho's we saw the rest of the big five and we still had two nights to go! We saw a Mummy and Baby Rhino, the toddler was very playful and very eager to investigate the surroundings - suckling mummy with milk all round his face. We then saw a male and female leopard in the thick of the bush, she, a young female busy grooming had been tailing him' in the hope to raise some cubs...much to his annoyance. After hot chocolate and Amarula, our new morning drink (which we realised we would have to wean ourselves off, before returning to the office), we spotted Buffalo by the waters edge. As Trevor described they are about 2,000lb of pure testosterone and definitely not to be messed with.
Overall throughout our stay we were blessed with incredible sightings, Hyenas, Zebra herd with young, noisy hippo's, tall and elegant giraffes grazing and drinking. We also spent time with a huge herd of Elephants, including cheeky young which came within a metre of our vehicle. My personal favourite were the Lions, we glimpsed them chase an Impala, after the cloud of dust had settled we saw the five females feasting...within minutes the Impala was no more! The following morning they were up to mischief again, playing near the staff village before moving off to chase a giraffe, which I must admit that was something I did not want to see. But that is nature and life in the heart of the bush. We spent the morning with them and just when we thought they were about to take on a herd of Wildebeest the sun rose and it was time to rest again!
Not content with tracking and educating us on life in the bush, we learnt there really is no end to our Rangers talents. We enjoyed a fascinating talk about the Southern Hemisphere star consolations and even viewed Saturn and its rings and a close up of the moon and its craters through a very impressive telescope at the Bush Observatory.
The evenings were hosted in different locations every night, in the middle of the bush with a campfire and dancing - where the beat of the drum and natural rhythm of the local tribes inspire you. We all tried new and very special South African wines and feasted all day and night on typical African dishes including Kudu and Springbok Carpaccio, which became firm favourites. We enjoyed a very special dinner on the deck of the new and incredibly stunning Cliff Lodge at Rock Lodge, with a private chef, outdoor fire place and incredibly spacious lounge area for all nine of us.
We had beautiful weather during the day, some of the group spent days by the pool, enjoying the Spa, relaxing on the decks and watching the passing game. But a real highlight which touched everybody's hearts was the morning spent with Lindsay from Pride n' Purpose. We visited Dumphries community to understand more about local life and what has been achieved so far by the staff and guests of Ulusaba. At the creche we had a bubble blowing party' and donated pens and books. The kids were so happy to meet and play with us, playing chase, taking it in turns for lifts and hugs and checking out how photogenic they were. The genuine pleasure and excitement from the children was overwhelming! It was also great to see Prince, at the orphanage, set up by Pride 'n Purpose who had been very poorly earlier in the year, running around and playing full of energy. This visit really touched the hearts of the group and you see a whole new side to people, it was a humbling experience for everyone to truly understand the challenges the community face on a day to day basis. Pride n Purpose under the guidance of Lindsay has achieved so much, yet there is still so much to do.
Everything that we experienced on our "It just doesn't get better than this" trip, from our games drives and amazing sightings, to our not stop dining, to the best spa treatments ever experienced to just relaxing around the Lodges - the whole experience was made even more memorable by the Ulusaba family! It truly is a very special place and I am incredibly proud to be part of it.
So, thank you to the Ulusaba family for taking such great care of us - you really made the trip incredible! Thank you also to our Tour Operator partners for sending one of your team. It was a pleasure to host the group on this trip of a lifetime. Also thank you to Virgin Atlantic for partnering with us, obviously we would not have got there without you - and in such style! And thank you also to the team at The Westcliff hotel in Johannesburg, who hosted us on the final night of our itinerary and showed us around the city - we had a fantastic day, Johannesburg really exceeded all expectations!
The trip had so many wonderful moments.
International Sales Manager
Virgin Limited Edition
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