Overnight Safari | Thanda Private Game Reserve, KZN

Thanda Safari

Jonathan and Sophie safari at the 14,000-hectare Thanda, in the heart of Zululand.

Thanda means ‘Love’ in isiZulu – fitting enough for this heart-warming little corner of KwaZulu Natal. Thanda is a proud member of The Leading Hotels of the World and multiple winners of World’s Leading Luxury Lodge and is also renowned for wonderful safari experiences and close-up encounters with the Big Five.

Its proximity to the N2 national highway gives the advantage of easy access, with the occasional downside of hearing traffic sometimes when on game drives. The reserve is large enough for it not to be a big problem and the spectacular view over hazy wooded hills from the lodge itself is enough to convince anyone that this is a wild place.

A warm welcome.

We were greeted by the hospitality staff. They were wonderfully helpful and friendly throughout our overnight stay. Soon after we were served a delicious a-la-carte three-course lunch. We enjoyed lunch on the lodge’s main deck, overlooking the rugged Zululand hills.

We love lodges with elevated positions. The views at sunset beat everything and the sound of the bushveld birds seems to rise up from the valleys. You’ll feel like you’re on top of the world. From the main lodge, we were escorted to our luxury bush suite. The suite was complete with lounge area, indoor and outdoor shower, private plunge pool, day bed and magnificent view. Thanda has a sincere commitment to the Zulu culture, evoked strongly in the décor of the rooms and throughout the lodge.

Looking forward to the game drives.

No matter how beautiful the lodge and surroundings, it’s always the game drives we look forward to. We were treated to a great drive, with guide Nick and tracker known as Mr X. Barely 3km down the road we came across a lion pride devouring the remnants of a particularly fine male kudu. An impressive herd of buffalo followed, together with ever-present nyala and zebra. Other guests saw leopard, rhino and cheetah on the day. Thanda is known for sightings of the extremely rare black rhino. We were in no doubt over Thanda’s wildlife credentials as a place for close-up encounters with the Big Five.

Sundowners, dancing and an elephant.

We enjoyed G & Ts as the sun’s orange disc disappeared behind the hazy hills and a full moon rose. The bats came out and the nightjars began to call. Later at the boma dinner, Zulu dancers provided entertainment. We were treated to a proper war dance with beating drums and a frenzy of acrobatic moves worthy of any athlete, let alone dancer. We would much rather have this than a tame sing-song by the staff that passes for ‘traditional African dance’ at some lodges.

The path back to our bush suite was blocked by an elephant. So we had the perfect excuse to pour a post-dinner whisky and browse the lodge’s book collection. Eventually, the elephant began drinking from a water feature just metres away. His great grey bulk reflecting in the full moon, and his deep rumblings the only sound breaking the quiet of the night. We did eventually make it to bed!

Great for budding safari photographers.

For photographers (budding or experienced), resident wildlife photographer Christian Sperka is on hand to give free 90-minute tutorials or chat informally and his services are also available for photographic safaris. This is really special as many first-time safari-goers miss out on memories due to lack of photographic knowledge, and we found it really refreshing to see the emphasis placed on this. Sometimes a quick (free) tutorial is all it takes to start taking great photos.

A little bit more about Thanda

As well as the safari lodge with its 9 suites, Thanda boasts a 15-tent tented camp and exclusive-use villa which between them offer good options for families, couples and groups alike. We were especially impressed with the tented camp which offers excellent value. It is low key and private. Ideal for those that want to be closer to nature, but can’t do without some of the frills. Don’t expect hair dryers for example, as the power is solar.

There are so many other activities offered, from bush-walks, to community excursions. Enjoy learning more about Zulu culture and trips to nearby iSimangaliso Wetland Park – a World Heritage site. Thanda is a good base from which to see much of what KwaZulu Natal is famous for. We’ll miss Thanda’s serene location and friendly staff.

Cheers, until next time!