The best of all worlds

Call it the petrolhead in me, but while David, our guide, was telling Bheki, our lookout, that he should learn to speak leopard to find leopards, I couldn’t help but wonder what the animals would think of the electric game viewer vehicles in a few years.

Let’s be honest, these V8 Land Cruisers are about as subtle as a sledgehammer as they dig through the African sand and bush in search of sightings. I could just see the smirk on the black rhino’s face as we passengers tried to be as quiet as possible with the V8 rumbling in the background – and also wondered what fuel consumption at R20-plus per liter was doing at Thanda occupancy.

Not that I think he needed to worry. Thanda Safari, a private game reserve in northern KwaZulu-Natal is not your average safari experience.

It’s clear that they take two things very seriously: affluence and game viewing.

Let’s start with the latter.

The challenge was simple. The kids had never really seen the Big Five, which is ironic considering how much money they spend and how many big fives have physically passed through their hands over the years.

But we challenged David, our trusty guide, and he seemed rather nonchalant that it wasn’t a big ask.

Bheki, who picked us up from the parking lot and drove us to the lodge, on the other hand, couldn’t believe his eyes when at midday, on our way, two rhinos were speeding by in the breeze.

We never saw those two again, and Bheki laughed as he mentioned that the paying guests the previous week had been praying over the rhinos for days, and they were there, with no regard for the overseas elite. sea ​​that left binoculars empty.

This set the tone for the next 36 hours. Be warned, the default setting for safaris is on, not off. That means you get a wake-up call at 6am for the morning stay, and there’s an afternoon hike at 3:30pm to make sure you get what you pay for.

Both outings last about three hours, or in the case of David who is possessed by the leopard, until evening as he suspects the felines are at the other end of the camp. It could mean a brisk walk (read 45 minutes) to settle a hunch. Bheki lives for these moments, especially in winter.

But it’s the guides that make these adventures exactly that.

And the chemistry between young snapper-whip David and Bheki in the business for three decades made me laugh a little.

Especially since Bheki is the only one who knows most of the routes.

“Bheki glasses”, as David called him, got the seat at the head of the table, the far left corner of the hood on a welded chair, tied daily with binoculars to one eye, and a sixth sense to see pink – throated twins miles away – which he pointed out are unique to the region and have twitchers from foreign countries who come just to scout.

Between Bheki and David there was a lot of poop spotting, checking footprints and heading to places like Baobab Corner and Windy Hollow, with many stories like how hyena poop, thanks to the calcium in the bones they eat, was used by local tribes generations ago. to paint; and David telling us how they once had to use Cruiser seat belts to tow a vehicle out of the mud.

But I was also very interested in rhino conservation, because the several thousand acres of land that Thanda enjoys, I imagine, could be a poacher’s paradise.

And that’s where I learned something interesting.

Thanda trims the horns of these precious animals, distracting poachers.

I hadn’t realized it, but the horns are like our fingernails: they grow back.

Photo: Minesh Bhagaloo and Fourni
Safari Lodge. Photo: Minesh Bhagaloo and Fourni

It’s not ideal for rhinos I imagine, as the horns are essential to their daily lives, but it takes away the light and protects them, a small price to pay.

It also got me thinking, aside from electric vehicles, about how technology could make life easier for guides.

I suggested tracking devices, but that would take away from the sport.

Drones? Apparently these frighten the bejesus of animals.

I mentioned that they feed the animals, but that brings us back to the argument and the authenticity of the tracking device.

So, hats off to Thanda. They keep it real and authentic, even if that means David usually hums a prayer to the game gods, or tries his luck through his phone app at animal and bird calls.

To be fair, he’s pretty good at it and would listen to a call before imitating it perfectly. Believe it or not, he actually made a black rhino walk towards us when he heard the call.

While on the subject of black rhinos. They are magnificent creatures to look at, but also with stainless steel stomachs.

Bheki said they were happily chewing on something called spinach seeds, or mal-pitte, which, as Afrikaans imply, are notorious for one seed to get you high and a few too many to be deadly. Those black rhinos chew them like they’re Cadburys.

Driving the truck-infested N2 (don’t get me started) to Thanda and seeing boards like Pongola along the way, also made me wonder about the tribes at the time.

As a kid, I was a huge fan of the Shaka Zulu mini-series on SABC. I was fascinated by the short spear techniques and how the tribe had conquered many lands.

So naturally I had to ask Bheki, a local Zulu, and to my delight he confirmed that many relics and artifacts, such as Shaka-era spears, had been found on the property.

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The best of all worlds
Photo: Minesh Bhagaloo and Fourni

To put Thanda in perspective as a lodge, this is the property where a certain princess of Monaco chose to spend six months during the Covid.

Fair enough, she was in the R100,000 per night private villa overlooking the property, but luxury runs through the rest of the property like a hot knife through butter.

I like that all meals including teas are included as well as all local drinks and spirits.

The rooms are more than special, with our cottage larger than most average homes and featuring a private pool, outdoor fire pit and a boma overlooking the reserve, filled with an oval day bed which my bookworm daughter loved .

The food is, as you would expect, Michelin chef quality, allowing me to regale the teenagers with what tempura means, why they should avoid anything that says tartare and how Cornish isn’t always du chicken.

What was also good was that the chef made a fancy version of a lamb chop curry, which I mentioned on the booking form as a favourite, and homemade ice cream with some unusual flavors.

Thanda is truly global in its approach to hospitality, which also means little touches like nougat and folk sayings on your pillows at night, pristine outdoor showers and old-fashioned baths; fluffy robes and towels you could fall asleep in, and my son’s favourite, warm towels as a welcome after every game drive.

To get the upper hand, the Elephants stop by for a drink in the ponds outside the main reception area, and have also been known to offer pool maintenance services for your private room when you’re not looking, at the chagrin of the management, I imagine.

You may also see a variety of deer roaming daily as you walk through your room.

The best of all worlds
Photo: Minesh Bhagaloo and Fourni

At night, you get Eagle-Eyed Sipho as your guide, as hyenas and other Lion King-type predators would happily nibble on you should you fall in the dark.

Sipho, to be honest, should check his job description more closely. I’m sure there’s a leopard or two with him on the menu.

Did we get to see the Big Five? Almost.

The Leopards were dastardly and it looks like their dance cards were filled by previous rotations.

They were seen one night after we were dropped off, but other than that we ogled the other four, much to Bheki and David’s relief.

Thanda Safari is that once-in-a-lifetime luxury lodge you see in the movies and it’s a place you should only spoil yourself and your loved ones once.

It reminds you of what makes Africa, our flora and fauna so unique, and why we are such a special global destination.

It also reminds you that we truly have it all on our doorstep: the best oceans, mountains, landscapes. We just need to solicit it more regularly.

Thanda Safari. Picture provided

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