A couple of weeks ago, I complained to a friend that I never have good big cat sightings when I go on safari. (I know it’s an absurd thing to complain about. But I’m a travel blogger in South Africa, after all.) The very next day, I received a last-minute invitation to Thanda Safari, a five-star game lodge in KwaZulu-Natal.
It’s a sign, I thought to myself. My bad big cat luck will end now. And it did.
With or without the big cat sightings, a media invitation to Thanda Safari is a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to visit Zululand, the northern part of KwaZulu-Natal and the ancestral home of the Zulu nation. It was more beautiful than I could have imagined, especially at this time of year.
Thanda is one of the most luxurious game lodges I’ve ever visited. The service was impeccable, the food was delicious, the weather was perfect. And we got to stay at Thanda for three whole days, which meant six game drives — an incredible luxury for a safari holiday of this caliber.
I apologize in advance: This is going to be one of those posts in which I gush on and on about how great the trip was and show you a million photos, none of which do justice to the real thing. I have no choice though; this was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience and I must document the hell out of it.
My Stay at Thanda Safari
The Thanda reserve is about 14,000 hectares (nearly 35,000 acres). It was just us (a group of six journalists), the Thanda staff, a couple of other guests, and the animals on the reserve. I stayed in a luxury “bush suite” only slightly smaller than my entire house in Joburg, with my own plunge pool, spectacular indoor and outdoor showers, and a boardwalk leading out to a huge daybed overhanging the emerald green hills of Zululand.
Thanda has nine bush suites in the main section of the lodge, as well as a luxury tented camp and family-style villa (currently unoccupied) in other sections of the reserve. And there is a spa, of course. I had a fantastic massage there.
I would have been more than happy just to spend the days hanging around my gorgeous suite, eating gourmet meals and sipping great wine at the lodge, getting spa treatments, etc. But the Thanda game drives were another level of spectacular. We had fantastic guides — Ephraim, Ronnie, and Ben — who know the reserve like the backs of their hands and tracked down all the best animals for us every day. Ephraim and his crew, as well as the animals themselves, felt like family by the end of the trip.
The Animals of Thanda
We had so many amazing wildlife sightings on this trip: lions, cheetahs, elephants, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, and many more. (Thanda has the Big Five and we saw all of them except a leopard.) I’ve tried my best to whittle down the photos but there are still a ton, especially of the elephants and lion cubs. I’ll break them down into sections so you can scroll past your least favorite animals, if you so choose.
There are five cheetahs on the Thanda reserve, all of whom are collared as part of a conservation program. (Cheetahs are critically endangered.) We saw the same pair of brothers twice.
Thanda has both white and black rhinos (black rhinos are quite rare in South Africa, and I was excited to glimpse one from a distance), also part of an active conservation program. Most of Thanda’s rhinos are de-horned to discourage poaching.
There is no better game drive sighting than a big herd of elephants and we were lucky to visit two large herds, complete with several tiny, insanely adorable babies.
I’ve flooded you with too many words and photos. But I still don’t feel like I’ve sufficiently communicated how much I loved staying at Thanda. I am very, very lucky to be a travel blogger.
And thank you, Big Cat Gods, for ending my bad luck sighting streak.
My trip to Thanda was courtesy of Thanda Safari (thank you thank you thank you), Ford South Africa (who provided a comfortable Ford Everest for our seven-hour drive to Zululand), and Theresa Gibbon PR. Opinions expressed are mine.