Thanda Safari – IsiZulu for ‘Love’ – is a private Big Five reserve that protects a vast tract of undulating savannah and its wild inhabitants in the heart of the subtropical Zululand region. It lies a stone’s throw north of Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, which is not only the oldest game reserve in South Africa but also the most important in terms of rhino conservation. In contrast to provincially-owned Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, which caters mainly to self-drivers, Thanda offers a superior safari experience inclusive of luxurious accommodation and expertly guided game drives in open 4x4s.
Boasting a truly superb year-round climate, Thanda can be visited at any time, but every season offers a slightly different experience. For wildlife viewing, the dry winter months of June, July and August are the optimum time. However, those who want to combine a safari with time on the beach or in Cape Town, the summer months of October to April are recommended. Summer is also when Thanda’s spectacular and colourful birdlife is at its most prolific and diverse.
1. Big Five destination
Thanda offers a true Big Five wildlife viewing experience. You’ll get a chance to capture lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and maybe even the elusive leopard on camera. The Big Five were once the wild animals most feared by hunters, and even today, nothing compares to the thrill of tracking these iconic creatures in their natural environment. Led by enthusiastic and knowledgeable guides, game drives take place in the early morning and late afternoon, the best hours for seeing wildlife in action. This is the time you might catch a pride of lion hunting or a solitary leopard on the prowl. The Big Five aside, there is plenty of other wildlife around, with some of the more common species being giraffe, zebra, blue wildebeest and impala. Look out, too, for smaller creatures, such as a family of dwarf mongooses sunbathing on a termite mound or a fearsome male baboon barking when alarmed.
2. Luxury lodges
While a stay at Thanda Safari is mostly about spending time in the bush, you’ll be pleased to know that you will have all your creature comforts taken care of. Thanda Safari Lodge and Thanda Tented Camp both offer sumptuous Africa-themed accommodation. The delicious food is crafted by a team of South African chefs, service is always personalised and attentive, and amenities include swimming pools at both lodges and a world-class spa. With only 24 accommodation units split between them, both the lodge and camp offer guests an exclusive and intimate bush experience. However, for a private function or a family get together, consider booking the standalone Villa iZulu, which was voted Africa’s Leading Luxury Villa at the World Travel Awards.
Since there are only two small lodges and one private villa on the 145km² reserve, Thanda is able to provide a very exclusive safari experience. There are seldom more than four or five vehicles out on game drives on any given morning or afternoon. This means that you’ll be able to spend quality time at wildlife sightings without having to make room for other guests. It also means that the typical 10-seater open safari vehicles are rarely filled to capacity. While everybody will enjoy the extra space, it can be crucial if you are a keen photographer.
4. Rhino and cheetah tracking
Thanda offers two very special optional activities that combine a thrilling wildlife encounter with the opportunity to contribute financially to the conservation of endangered animals. In the rhino tracking activity, you’ll join the resident rhino monitors, who protect and record data on the reserve’s rigorously protected populations of black and white rhino. Equally rewarding is the cheetah tracking experience. For this, you’ll join the Wildlife Conservation Team to track and follow the reserve’s resident cheetahs and learn about their behaviour. Both activities are a great addition to the general twice-daily game drives – aside from offering a chance to get close to two of Africa’s most iconic animals, they offer a rewarding behind-the-scenes glimpse into conservation work.
5. Community engagement
By visiting Thanda Safari you offer direct support to the Thanda Foundation Trust, which has been set up to assist three poor neighbouring Zulu communities. Funds are used for a variety of projects, including Thanda’s flagship Star for Life education and HIV/AIDS prevention programme. For greater engagement and a chance to learn more about Zulu culture, book the highly rewarding Zulu cultural and community experience.
Written by Ariadne van Zandbergen