The Wild Life – Luxury finds its peak in the KZN mountains
With two camps and a private lodge, guests are spoilt (and they really are spoilt!) for choice. For an experience that’s straight Out of Africa, the Thanda Tented Camp is hard to beat. Sitting high on the hills and offering breathtaking views of the Lebombo Mountains, this destination is all claw-footed bathtubs and luxurious outdoor showers, opulent sheets stretched across giant beds and an entire room where the canvas walls can be rolled up to complete your experience of sleeping right in the heart of the bush.
When you step outside your room onto your private deck, with complimentary Amarula nightcap in hand, and gaze up at the stars, you really do start to feel that you’re living in a movie – Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, unfortunately, not included.
The 15 tented rooms are dotted around a central boma area where you meet up with other guests to enjoy meals, take a dip in the infinity pool, or have a drink at the bar.
A 15-minute drive away, yet remarkably hidden in the trees, you’ll find the Thanda Private Lodge, which reaches new heights of magnificence – often quite literally, as the individual rooms are each positioned on stilts high up in the trees. Each extensive suite surpasses most luxurious apartments in size and certainly overtakes in lavishness most of the luxury hotels we’ve visited. With a private plunge pool, choice of indoor and outdoor showers, a bath overlooking the bushveld, a lounge, and a covered raised deck that stretches out into the wild with a giant daybed (our favourite spot!) you could easily spend a weekend or more simply enjoying your private suite. But as wonderful as that sounds, it would be a shame to miss the incredible wildlife opportunities Thanda offers.
Early morning game drives were rewarded by a close encounter with a young lioness and her very first litter, courageous bush walks produced up-close looks at the famed white rhino, and staying out just that little bit longer on an evening drive gave us a ringside seat to watch a herd of two dozen elephants having their nightly drink at a watering hole. If seeing the Big Five is something you’ve always wanted to do, then Thanda won’t just show them to you … it will give you the kind of real-life brushes with nature you’ll never forget.
With a plethora of private game reserves dotting South Africa’s landscape, there’s another distinct way this reserve sets itself apart, and above, the rest. Christian Sperka is the resident wildlife photographer and specialist photography guide.
This bush guide not only teaches budding photographer guests how to set up their cameras and capture the best wildlife shots possible, but he also captures pictures of your game drive highlights, all from the comfort of his specially-designed game viewing vehicle – The Green Mamba. Complete with onboard Wi-Fi, ample space for photographers to move around to catch the best moments, and a genuine Nespresso machine for those all-important morning stops, seeing the world from Christian’s perspective is truly sensational. Available to book for the duration of your stay or for single drives, this experience really is a must-do for photography lovers.
Fiercely committed to not only conserving the area around them but also uplifting the communities that have made their homes there for generations, it’s also incredibly empowering to see how the Thanda Private Game Reserve team members work to protect their world. Based on a solid, close relationship with the Zulu monarch, His Majesty King Zwelithini Goodwill kaBhekuzulu, people from the three neighbouring chiefdoms are invited to work with, at, or alongside Thanda to enrich their relationships as well as the experiences of the guests.
There are activities like village tours and nightly performances, and rather than being the fake, staged affairs lodges set up as a way to entice international guests (which almost always make locals cringe), these are authentic, honest, educational moments, ones that local South Africans can learn just as much from as foreigners can. Paired with a relentless commitment to caring for their wildlife (a session with the inspirational rhino trackers is key for anyone passionate about the subject), the team is undeniably doing all it can to make South Africa a better place for everyone.
This, along with the invigorating nature walks, sleepy, massage-filled mornings, delicious fireside bush dinners, G&Ts alongside the waterhole, and extravagant outdoor baths, make a weekend in the heart of the Zulu kingdom one guaranteed to make you feel like royalty.
While this level of lush might usually be reserved for international guests with a healthy exchange rate working in their favour, the Thanda team’s commitment to South Africa is further shown through its special SADC resident specials. Year round, South Africans can enjoy 40 per cent off normal accommodation prices, making exploring this beautiful country we call home accessible for locals.
Rates from now until December from R4 445 to R12 700 a person a night, children pay half price. SADC rates at 40 per cent off. This includes two daily game drives, all meals and select local drinks. Details: www.thanda.com
To view a selection of the incredible photos taken by resident wildlife photographer Christian during our unforgettable stay at Thanda Private Game Reserve, click here... where you’ll also read out about the brilliant seven-seater Ford Everest SUV that got five journos – and all their gear – there in style.