The lush green bush of Thanda Safari, a Big 5 private game reserve in KwaZulu-Natal is mesmerising.
Amidst Sekelbos and Tamboti trees, visitors get to experience all the African bush has to offer, and that just a three-hour drive from Durban, or just over six hours’ drive from Joburg.
Here are the 10 things you should add to your Thanda Safari bucket list:
When you visit Thanda Safari, two game drives per day are included in the price.
Crisp mornings offer a glimpse of glistening grass, the beauty of the bush at sunrise and creatures like the bark spider, still nibbling away at its web from the previous night.
The morning game drives come with filter coffee from a brilliant local brewer, 3 Lads on Safari – a brand that also contributes to the conservation of African wildlife with blends like the Rhino Blend. The coffee is complemented with home baked biscuits.
Afternoon game drives are just as memorable, with views across Zululand’s rolling hills, lions and cheetahs lazily lying underneath indigenous trees and curious cubs inspecting the game vehicle from afar.
Not to mention the game reserve’s majestic elephant herds, humbly, yet stately strolling along the two tracked paths and the spotting of giraffes – their long, light-coloured necks in strong contrast to the dark, green bush.
Complimentary wildlife photography lesson
Thanda Safari offers a 90-minute photography lesson at no additional cost to allow guests to capture their favourite animals, birds and memorable moments during their visit.
Resident photographer Christian Sperka teaches you to set up your digital camera for wildlife photography specifically, and he also introduces you to the basic wildlife photography rules and the art of motion photography.
Sperka also has impressive smart phone photography tips up his sleeve – especially iPhone photography and editing – something definitely worth tapping into.
These sessions need to be booked with your accommodation to prevent disappointment and are subject to availability.
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Thanda Safari boasts a lovely spa too, which is located at the main lodge, carefully hidden away behind the trees.
Here you can truly let your hair down and let them treat you to a soothing spa treatment. The spa has a pool and daybeds as where you can spend the morning or afternoon, relaxing and taking in the fresh, bushveld air.
The Thanda Tented Camp also has a spa tent and in-room treatments are available.
Sperka also offers guests the option of a short photo shoot at Thanda Safari Lodge, Thanda Tented Camp or the luxury villa (where Princess Charlene recently stayed), Villa iZulu.
The shoot takes place between game drives, and you can download your photos from a password-protected library afterwards.
To capture an even more memorable experience, opt for his game drive photo shoots – your very own photo shoot in the South African wilderness. This includes a three-hour game drive on Sperka’s famous Green Mamba – a game vehicle specially kitted for photography – accompanied by a Zulu tracker.
Booking Sperka and his Green Mamba is at an additional cost, as with all photo shoots at Thanda.
Spend time in your room
Thanda Safari’s accommodation options are all immaculate.
The lodge’s rooms are spacious and luxurious, with a huge bedroom and lounge both walking out onto a large deck that boasts an inviting plunge pool, a romantic daybed and more.
The bathroom boasts a bath and an indoor and outdoor shower, as well as two separate basins and a dressing station fit for a queen. Of course, the king-sized bed is also worth spending time in (and on), but when the sun is out, the plunge pool and the daybed are probably the main areas where you’ll spend your time.
The room’s mini bar and coffee station are both kitted out daily with drinks that are included in the price of your stay – all the more reason to spend time in your room, overlooking the bush and the birds that come to bathe in the pool.
Just an hour’s drive from Thanda Safari, you’ll find uMkhuze Game Reserve’s kuMasinga Hide, one of the most active hides in South Africa, which is visited by a large number of bird species every year.
If you’re a keen birder, this is a great opportunity to spot (and photograph) some of the birds on your list. The excursion normally replaces the morning game drive and includes transfers, a four-hour photography session with Christian Sperka and breakfast.
Although a bit too lush during the current summer months, Thanda Safari offers visitors the opportunity to explore its fauna and flora on foot when the bush allows for safe tracking.
A walk in the bush is the best way to track birds, insects, small mammals and other animal and plant species and with the resident trackers having extensive knowledge about the area and its habitat, this experience is one not to miss out on.
It’s also an opportunity to learn more about the Zulus and their secrets of the bush.
If you’re an early riser and a rhino lover, you can join a specialist rhino monitor to find rhino tracks before sunrise.
Once the tracks are found, the rhino tracker will guide you (on foot) into the bush to find the rhinos, teaching you about these special creatures, their behaviour, how to read their tracks, how to observe wind direction and more.
Hippo and croc cruise
Known as Africa’s largest estuarine system, St. Lucia, which forms part of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park is a renowned World Heritage Site, boasting a large congregation of Nile crocodiles and African hippos.
Thanda Safari often organises two-hour interactive boat trips for their guests to visit the St. Lucia Estuary, allowing them to spot yawning hippos and lazy crocs.
The road transfers for this experience are organised by the game reserve too, which means you can just sit back and enjoy the ride.
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In the footsteps of the Zulus
Apart from the already immersing experience with Thanda Safari’s Zulu staff – from the field guides and trackers to the operational and restaurant staff – you can also opt for an in-depth cultural experience, which is a community excursion following in the footsteps of Zulu ancestors.
The experience is customised based on visitors’ interests, while also taking into account seasonality and events that may be happening in the area.
You might even catch a glimpse of the Zulu culture during dinner too, with a local group entertaining guests with song and dance while they indulge in local cuisine.