Skukuza, South Africa, :Baboons weave their way under the carriages of a train on a bridge. A hippo wades in the river below, while a lone leopard prowls, sniffing for an antelope to make its dinner.
In the middle of the Kruger National Park, South Africa’s most celebrated wildlife reserve, this luxury train takes passengers — but it never moves.
Converted into a boutique hotel, the train provides a gilded lookout from which guests can gaze over the animal kingdom from the golden sunrise until the Milky Way spills across the nighttime sky.
A small platform added to the bridge holds a small round pool, where groups of humans gather at 4:00 pm (1400 GMT) 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.
Two round ears stick out from the water.
“Adorable,” whispers Karen Lane, 56, who came from Johannesburg to celebrate 30 years of marriage to her husband, Rich.
“It’s such an experience,” says Chichi Mudau, a 36-year-old sales rep with a smart manicure and a Gucci bucket hat.
“The place, the service is immaculate. Like a dream come true. I love everything about it.”
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.