Wild and wonderful at Thanda Safari

Thanda Safari Lodge

By Renate Engelbrecht

Thu, Feb 03

I remember my parents telling us about a trip they went on many moons ago. They stayed at a lodge just around the corner from where Thanda Safari is located and apart from their suite’s large glass windows luring the bush inside, they spoke of lions walking alongside the vehicle on a game drive – so close that they could smell their breath – and a black mamba that surprised them enroute to their suite. Listening to their stories, I wished that I’d also get to experience that wild and wonderful side of the bush one day. A couple of years later, my wish came true.

I recently had the privilege to experience a part of the country I rarely get to see. I was invited to visit Thanda Safari – a private game reserve situated on 14 000 hectares of heaven. Even the road trip there (in the Ford Everest Sport, which made the drive even more worth it) was one for the books, with wonderful small-town scenery and quick stops for snacks – my favourite part of road trips.

Did you know? Who knew that the Gautrain runs from 5AM on Sundays? I took the train from Hatfield to Rosebank, where I met my fellow-travellers for the 7-hour drive to Thanda Safari. I think I might have been the only one on it, but how exhilarating to see the sunrise from the Gautrain!

Thanda Safari welcomed our media group with dense grasslands and tropical bush after recent rains. Our field guide, Ephraim and his eager apprentice, Ben met us at the entrance gate and together with Ronnie, our tracker for the next three days, they assisted with our bags and took us through to Thanda Safari Lodge.

Ephraim Ben and Ronnie from Thanda Safari
Ephraim, Ben and Ronnie. Image: Renate Engelbrecht

The lodge consists of a main building where the restaurant and lounge area is based, thirteen so-called ‘bush suites’ and a spa. Ladies with mint-scented handcloths awaited our arrival and quickly and efficiently checked us into our respective rooms. A delightful lunch was served in the main lodge’s restaurant, with a whole extended family of Nyalas nibbling away at low-hanging leaves. Just being there, in that moment, was pure bliss.

The meals at Thanda Safari were tasteful and adequately portioned
The meals at Thanda Safari were tasteful and adequately portioned. Image: Renate Engelbrecht

Queen of my own Zulu castle

Thanda Safari boasts three different accommodation options. Apart from the main lodge, they also have a tented camp (with a tented spa) and a luxury villa dubbed Villa iZulu. The main lodge’s rooms are spread out and tucked away between lush greenery, offering ample privacy for solo travellers, couples and families alike. The luxury villa is normally recommended for families with kids, though as the lodge and the tented camp aren’t fenced.

A bush suite with a view
A bush suite with a view. Image: Renate Engelbrecht

One morning, reception phoned, saying that they’re sending someone to escort me to breakfast as the lioness and her cubs had been spotted drinking from the lodge’s fishpond, right at the entrance of the main building. It’s wild and it’s wonderful at Thanda Safari.

Thanda Safari has Waterford Wine Estate wines as house wine
Thanda Safari serves Waterford Wine Estate’s wines as their house wine. Image: Renate Engelbrecht

Thanda Safari Lodge’s bush suites come with space in abundance. The king-sized bed is the centre of attention and from it, you see a lounge (with an inclusively stocked minibar and coffee station) to your right, a deck that pulls you into the prettiness of the bush in front and to your left there is an enormous bathroom with a bath and both an indoor and outdoor shower.

Plunging in the pool
Plunging in the pool. Image: Renate Engelbrecht

When I had time to spare, I spent it in my room. I hopped into my swimsuit and headed for the plunge pool, or I imagined I was queen of the castle, draped myself in a crisp, white gown and lounged on the humungous daybed, listening with intent. The sounds of the bush are magical and mesmerising. You just need to slow down and listen.

Just listen
Just listen. Image: Renate Engelbrecht

READ: Little Fields – Precious family moments in the Midlands

Spotted!

Whether you’re a keen birdwatcher (if you’re not, you might become one at Thanda) or whether you’re there to track the Big 5, the wildlife at Thanda Safari will leave you speechless. Of course, it helps to have talented field guides like Ephraim and his team who understand the secrets of the bush, as they not only teach you valuable lessons about wildlife, but also ensure that you see as much as possible.

Thanda Safari is a Big 5 reserve and apart from the leopard, we saw them all. Like Ephraim put it: We might not have seen the leopard, but he definitely saw us. It’s that kind of a reserve, where the bush beckons and the animals thrive.

One afternoon, we spotted a lioness with her three cubs underneath a tree. The curious cubs kept coming in and out of sight, cautiously contemplating our intentions while playfully exploring the patch of land they’ve chosen to lounge on for the arvie. We also spotted two leopards beside a watering hole and later two lion brothers, adoringly cuddling during their afternoon nap.

Lion cub at Thanda Safari
A curious cub at Thanda Safari. Image: Renate Engelbrecht

The immense amount of new-borns in the bush were refreshing too – from the smallest elephant I’ve ever seen to the hairy little zebra on the plain. They might call them ‘weer bokke’ because we see them again and again (‘weer en weer’ in Afrikaans), but the Impala’s little ones – of which we saw a whole creche – are always some of the most beautiful babies of the bush.

Similar to my parents’ slithery surprise on their luxury bush experience many years ago, I also encountered a sneaky snake on the decked pathway enroute to my bush suite one day. Luckily this one – a spotted bush snake – was not too harmful I was told, and it humbly let me pass uneventfully (to my relief).

A lone ellie at Thanda Safari
A lone ellie at Thanda Safari. Image: Renate Engelbrecht

P.S. Thanda Safari’s resident photographer, Christian Sperka has various insightful smart phone and digital camera wildlife photography sessions that guests can attend. With the exception of his complementary smart phone photography session, his other sessions come at an additional price. He also takes guests who have a keen interest in wildlife photography on game drives with his specialised wildlife photography vehicle, fittingly dubbed the Green Mamba.

We saw many giraffes at Thanda Safari too
We saw many giraffes at Thanda Safari too. Image: Renate Engelbrecht

READ: A luxury safari with kids: Recharging at TAU Game Lodge

The Thanda Safari bush is bliss

On every game drive, we got to stop for what Ephraim referred to as a ‘tea break’. We were all at work, after all. He was doing his job as field guide and we, as journos, were doing our jobs (which definitely came with a couple of perks this time around).

Game drives were the highlight of the trip
Game drives were the highlight of the trip. Image: Renate Engelbrecht

The morning drives usually came with a delightful (and often much needed) cup of coffee, coupled with home baked biscuits from Thanda’s talented bakers. The ‘Three lads on Safari’ blend was sometimes even infused with Amarula by request, South Africa’s famous drink of the bush.

I opted for Amarula on ice on afternoon drives’ sunset ‘tea breaks’ though – an exhilarating sunset experience in Zululand and one that you will struggle to find anywhere else.

Thanda Safari dense grasslands and tropical bush
Thanda Safari dense grasslands and tropical bush. Image: Renate Engelbrecht

Self-care at Thanda Safari

I have never been much of a spa-er, if that’s even a word. In fact, I’ve always struggled to justify paying an arm and a leg for lengthy spa treatments, while there are so many other things that need to happen and that need to get paid. But, once you’re a lone traveller in the bush, a hint of self-care and self-celebration is a precious thing to stumble upon. Thanda Safari Lodge’s spa is nestled among indigenous Sekelbos and it was there where I once again realised the importance of looking after yourself and your body in order to be able to look after anything or anyone else. Apart from Thanda Safari’s delightful and adequately portioned meals, it was a full-body massage that soon had me ready to take on the world, motherhood, mompreneuring, side-hustling, the new year’s adjustment challenges with new schools and so much more, head on.

And so, the wildness and wonderfulness of Zululand and its rolling hills have got be hooked once and for all.

*SADC rates are available on request.

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