Suspended over a river teeming with wildlife, a 100-year-old train has been turned into a luxurious hotel in South Africa. Travellers can now spend the night in the iconic Kruger National Park, by staying in a repurposed vehicle and immersing themselves in nature.
Imagine watching a baby hippo roam around in his natural habitat directly from your bedroom. This is just one experience that has made wildlife-lovers flock to South Africa's recently opened Kruger Shalati: The Train on the Bridge hotel.
Despite travel restrictions, the train hotel managed to open in the middle of a pandemic.
Back in 2020 when South Africa went into a strict COVID-19 lockdown, a local company pressed on with opening the hotel - and two years later that gamble is paying off.
The hotel proved to be an unexpected success during lockdown. It is literally a century-old train sitting on the Selati suspension bridge, which looks over the crocodile-and-hippo-inhabited Sabie River.
Lovingly restored, it offers 24 full-carriage rooms against a spectacular natural backdrop, a wildlife viewing deck and even a swimming pool jutting out beyond the tracks.
The refurbished train is a nod to the past. Before the last train ran along the Selati railway line in 1973, trains often stopped on the bridge and guests would stay for a safari excursion and an overnight experience admiring the animals.
"I thought we were taking a very big risk. I never thought we were going to operate and have guests coming in during that time," says cabin manager Justice Muchinya. But the hotel proved an instant hit.
"Ever since we opened, we had lots of guests who would be extending or guests who would be returning and that doesn't normally happen with lodges," says Muchinya.
Kruger Shalati has also been a lifeline for locals in need of jobs amid a record high unemployment of nearly 35 per cent. Since taking off, the hotel has employed almost 200 people.
The business has lost 20 per cent of revenue since the Omicron variant emerged late last year, with many international tourists cancelling. But with travel restrictions now eased, visitor numbers are picking up again.
Watch the video above to learn more about the hotel.