Thanda Private Game Reserve, KZN

Thanda Private Game Reserve

Situated in the heart of Zululand, Jonathan and Sophie visit 14,000-hectare Thanda for a relaxing night away

Thanda means ‘Love’ in isiZulu – fitting enough for this heart-warming little corner of KwaZulu Natal. Its proximity to the N2 national highway is both an advantage (for easy access) and a disadvantage (sound of traffic sometimes when on game drives) but 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.

We were greeted by the excellent hospitality staff, including Magdel and Eric. Thanda punches its full weight with the quality of staff who are helpful and friendly without being over-bearing.

Looking out from the safari lodge deck

Looking out from the safari lodge deck

Lunch (a delicious a-la-carte three course meal) was served on the lodge’s main deck, overlooking the rugged Zululand hills. We love lodges with elevated positions – those 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. And from here to our luxury bush suite, complete with lounge area, indoor and outdoor shower, private plunge pool and day bed, playing heavily on the Zulu theme with its décor, as does the rest of the lodge. And of course that magnificent view…

Luxury Suite

Luxury Suite

But no matter how beautiful the lodge and surroundings, it’s always the game drives we look forward to – today with guide Nick and tracker known as Mr X. Not 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, and Thanda is excellent for the extremely rare black rhino. We were left in little doubt over Thanda’s wildlife credentials.

Lions on a kudu kill

Lions on a kudu kill

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 – not a sing-song by the staff that passes for ‘traditional African dance’ at some lodges – but a proper war dance with beating drums and a frenzy of acrobatic moves worthy of any athlete, let alone dancer. We were seriously impressed!

Luxury suites each have a plunge pool

Luxury suites each have a plunge pool

The path back to our bush suite was blocked by an elephant – the perfect excuse to pour a post-dinner whisky and browse the lodge’s book collection. Eventually he began drinking from a water feature just metres away, his great grey bulk reflecting in the full moon, his deep rumblings the only sound of the night.

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 – low key and private, ideal for those that want to be closer to nature but can do without some of the frills (don’t expect hair dryers for example – power is solar).

Tented Camp

Tented Camp

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. So many first-time safari-goers miss out on memories due to lack of photographic knowledge, so it’s refreshing to see this emphasis. Sometimes a quick (free) tutorial is all it takes to start taking great photos.

And other activities are also offered – from bush walks, community excursions to learn more about Zulu culture and trips to nearby iSimangaliso Wetland Park – a World Heritage site, making Thanda 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…until next time!