This rich history began in 1886 when gold was discovered in the Selati River basin, sparking a rush of fortune seekers to the Murchison Range, southeast of Tzaneen. Plans for a railway line were approved in 1893, and by 1894, it stretched from Komatipoort to Newington (now in the Sabie Sand Game Reserve), except for the Sabi Bridge (now called the Selati Bridge) at Skukuza. Due to corruption and the South African War in 1899, the work was delayed, but construction resumed in 1909, and the Selati line officially opened for railway traffic in 1912, marking its completion.
As the gold reserves began to dwindle in 1923, the ‘Round in Nine Tour’ was established to increase the profit of the railroads. This was a 9-day tour of Mozambique and the Lowveld. James Stevenson-Hamilton, the Park’s first warden, approached the organising authority to promote Kruger Park. It was agreed that the train would spend a night at the Selati Bridge, proceeding to Newington early the following day.
After the initial excursions, the undeniable highlight of the trip emerged – the captivating leg through the game reserve. Before passengers would retire to the train for a restful slumber, the evenings came alive with enchanting tales, melodies resonating from a grand piano, and exquisite track-side dining experiences around a magnificent campfire adjacent to the Selati Bridge. A skilled game ranger later accompanied the train, guiding eager tourists on short walks through the untamed bush.
From that pivotal moment, a culture of conservation took root. James Stevenson-Hamilton eloquently recounted, “The public’s fascination with animals and the conversations I overheard among guests gave me confidence in the potential of our national park scheme. It could be a cherished asset to the country, and hearteningly, the South African public, despite tradition, demonstrated a profound appreciation for wildlife without a desire to harm them.”
The number of trains multiplied as time passed, and environmental concerns arose. Eventually, the Selati Line was rerouted along the Park’s border, and after 50 years of grandeur, the legendary overnight Kruger bush feast bid farewell in 1973.
Yet, in 2016, a vision of restoration emerged. Sanparks set its sights on rekindling this illustrious history, crafting an enchanting space where visitors could relish this unique experience again. The Motsamayi Tourism Group secured the honour of developing Kruger Shalati, The Train on the Bridge, and Kruger Station. In 2020, amidst the challenges of Covid-19, these iconic tourism destinations opened their doors, gaining resounding international acclaim.