Thanda Safari is the kind of place that while there, you realise that you need to work less and get out more. It makes you forget about your daily life and focus on the now.
Situated near Hluhluwe in KwaZulu-Natal, Thanda Safari was founded in 2004 when Swedish IT entrepreneur Dan Olofsson fell in love with Zululand and wanted a piece of Africa that was not only luxurious but also focused on uplifting the community. Over fifteen years later the 14000-hectare reserve has done just that. Encounter the Big 5, experience luxury in the African bush with fine dining. Thanda runs a research and volunteer program and guests are encouraged to take part in activities that further conservation efforts.
Game drives in search of The Big Five
Our guide for our stay, Bhuselaphi Mngomezulu, was nothing short of amazing. We laughed a lot and also learned so much about the animals. Bhuse made us feel right at home and I looked forward to our game drives (there are two a day – one in the morning and one before sunset) because each one seemed to top the previous. I don’t know how they did it, but our game vehicle was one of the comfiest I have ever been in. Also having a G&T at sunset and coffee in the morning in the open bush can’t be beaten.
We saw plenty of giraffe, impala, zebra and the birdlife is spectacular. We even got to see an owl one evening on our way back to camp. And on two occasions, we saw a herd of buffalo.
On our first game drive, we spotted a crash of white rhino grazing out in the open. THanks to Thanda’s intense Rhino monitoring and Anti-poaching Unit team, Thanda has not loas a rhino through poaching in the last 3 years. This is also when they started dehorning their rhinos along with the neighbouring reserves.
Mariana Venter, wildlife operations coordinator, explained that it costs R27 500 to dart and dehorn a rhino (this includes vets, helicopter hire, medicines and the procedure), which guests can sponsor and be part of. This is one of the ways Thanda combines conservation and tourism.
I was really shocked to learn that the horn grows and needs to be trimmed every two years. Precautionary measures are also taken when dehorning. The horn is given to someone not connected to Thanda Safari for safe keeping. Getting to see the rhino up close in the wild is something you can never get tired of.
The elephant sightings were magnificent. I’m always amazed at how quickly elephants can disappear into the bush. They are rather large but so quiet. We got close to the elephants but never more than necessary. Bhusi refers to them as the big ninjas.
The lion spotting was something else. I’ve never a) been so close to a lion in the wild and b) heard a lion roar like that. As the lion came closer I knew that I had to be very quiet and still and that I had to hit record. Watch the video below to see what I’m talking about.
While we spotted 4 of the Big 5, there was no leopard to be seen. We did, however, get to see a cheetah that was due to be released from another game reserve that week after spending some time in a boma. The cheetah is fed fresh impala because this is what she’d eat in the wild. We watched as the impala was sliced by the wildlife team with such precision, that I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. It’s at times like this that the circle of life is made very clear. The meat was placed at the gate of the boma and the cheetah appeared out of nowhere. In a flash, the cheetah put the impala in her mouth and disappeared into a bush. If I wasn’t watching, I would have no idea where she went to.
On our last day at Thanda Safari we woke up early to watch what would hopefully be the release, but she wasn’t having any of it.
She did, however, leave the boma the next day and even made her first kill.
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As part of Thanda Safari's ongoing efforts to support the survival of this highly endangered species a new Cheetah female was released onto the reserve this morning. After being rather hesitant to leave her boma (an enclosure in which she spent the last few month to get used to Thanda) she went straight onto Thanda's savanna area to meet her first game viewing vehicle. And within a few hours of her release she made her first kill! #Thandasafari @thandasafari #christiansperkaphotography @christiansperkaphotography
Chew on this: fresh ingredients cooked simply that are full of flavour
A holiday wouldn’t be complete without delicious food. At Thanda Safari we were treated to three meals a day starting with a continental breakfast buffet (the freshly baked scones were out of this world), followed by a cooked breakfast of your choice. It was really easy to get used to having a full breakfast after returning from our morning game drive.
Lunch and dinner both consisted of a three-course meal. The starters were always just enough to whet your appetite and if it wasn’t for the two remaining courses, I’d definitely have more. From a cold salmon soup that tasted like salmon pate to ostrich carpaccio with a balsamic reduction, no two starters were ever the same. When it came to mains, while I’m usually not a fan of venison, after tasting venison the first night, that quickly became my go to. The jus was full of flavour and complimented the meat perfectly. The homegrown veggies had just the right amount of crunch. Dessert was always a treat whether it be a decadent chocolate mousse, pecan pie or lemon tart.
Luxury in the bush
From the moment you wake up to when you get into your comfy king-sized bed, you are treated like royalty. Thanda Safari offers three tiers of accommodation, lodge, villa and tented camps. We stayed in the tented camp and if that conjures up images of anything less than luxurious, you are horribly mistaken.
As I was led to my tent, we took a walk on a path covered by trees. Each tent is situated on its own piece of heaven, far away from the next. If I hadn’t walked the distance, I’d assume I was alone. Surrounded by bush, each tent has its own deck that offers breathtaking views of the valley and the comfy chairs were perfect for reading my book while sipping on a G&T. Each tent has an en-suite bathroom and an outdoor shower. The canvas features floor to roof windows so that you can take in panoramic views straight from your bed.
There are two spas, one at the tented camp and one at the lodge. It’s very easy to get lost in the tranquillity of it all what with the soothing smell of the essential oils and the sound of nature to put you at ease. I was already relaxed but after the massage even more so. I definitely recommend adding a massage to your itinerary.
Swimming is par for the course, and after our morning game drive and breakfast, I decided to make the most of my Monday morning and lounge by the pool. The water temperature would have impressed Goldilocks because it was just right. The monkeys even came to say hi and it was only when they drank from the pool that we realised why had they had really come to visit.
Getting to Thanda Safari
We left early in the morning, and after a rather pleasant 7-hour drive we arrived at the gates. As a passenger in the Ford Everest, I had a comfy seat with loads of legroom, a cupholder to place my coffee in and aircon vents above me. So yes, I had all I needed. Also, the sound is amazing, especially when listening to The Greatest Showman soundtrack.
You have the option of driving to Thanda Safari or flying to King Shaka International Airport in Durban, where the team will meet you and drive you to the reserve (it’s about a 3-hour drive). You can also land at Richard’s Bay airport, which is much closer. Once there, you park your car and get around via a game vehicle.
Costs are broken up into three tiers ranging from low season to peak season and SADC rate are offered starting at R2 379 pppns in the tented camp, a night in the lodge at SADC rates starts at R4 450 pppns and it comes with a private pool and viewing deck, and the villa which sleeps 1-10 guests is R25 903 pn for 6 pax (additional guests are charged extra) on the SADC rates. These rates include all meals, snacks and a selection of local beer, wine and spirits as well as two game drives per day.
For more information, please visit the Thanda Safari website.
Disclaimer: All4Women was invited on a press trip to stay at Thanda Safari in the tented camp for three nights.