Thanda Safari Lodge, in KwaZulu-Natal, is easy to love. It’ll love you back too, in name (Thanda means ‘love’ in Zulu) and in almost every other way.
It starts with a warm greeting by manager, Ashleigh, cold towel delivered by Sikhonzile (‘Adore’) and welcome drink created by ‘Lucky’ in the lodge’s beautiful main building - and doesn’t let up.
A walk along an elevated pathway leads me to my Bush Suite (one of nine at the Lodge), which in style resembles an African hut, but in size a small house. Inside, it’s nothing but luxury, done tastefully.
To one side, a long, curved red lounge sits among dark timber decor and artwork, books and games. Next to this, a mini bar stocked with local wines, beer, and all sorts of treats ensures I never go thirsty. And best of all, it’s all-inclusive (read guilt-free).
Past the double-sided, river-rock fireplace lies the bedroom, where a four-poster bed (technically a six poster, for the enormous king berth) is bathed in light pouring in through large glass doors.
Not to be outdone, vertical split doors reveal a massive bathroom, the highlight of which is the free-standing bath overlooking the bush, while there are also indoor and outdoor showers.
On the main deck, a private plunge pool (set at just the right temperature) looks out over the park while a huge daybed perched on stilts offers arguably the best place from which to enjoy the sights ... and sounds, as I discover.
Back in the main building, it’s equally impressive. At the base of the multi-level structure, a beautiful check-in area - with amazing wooden rhino sculpture - take you up to the lounge and bar, where guests meet before, after and in-between safari drives. Here, wicker chairs mix with comfy sofas and bar stools in a crowded yet cosy space.
Adjacent to this, under a high thatched roof, is the dining area, where three supremely good meals are served every day.
At breakfast, a smorgasbord of smoked salmon, buttered kippers, fresh fruit and pastries precedes an al a carte menu featuring the full ‘Thanda Chef’s Breakfast’ for the really hungry and banana and strawberry crepes for the sweet-tooth. Elsewhere, there’s smashed avocado on ‘health’ bread for the health nuts and French toast with lashings of bacon and grilled pineapple bits for a touch of decadence. But for me, the highlight of breakfast is the homemade Thanda muesli.
A la carte lunches and dinners are equally good, especially when starting (and ending) the latter with a drink around the outdoor ‘boma’ (fireplace).
Wrapped around all of this is an enormous verandah, from which a panorama of the reserve can be seen - though some of the best views are almost directly underneath the building at a pond that attracts zebras and other wildlife.
Elsewhere, the resort offers a wealth of experiences, from Zulu cultural activities and rhino monitoring (with Thanda’s conservation team) to free photography lessons and spa treatments. But of course, what matters most to people are the safari drives.
No matter how luxurious the lodge, the safari experience would be a letdown without a good dose of wildlife. Fortunately, they’ll get that here.
Visitors to Thanda will find the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo) as well as plenty of other fauna across the park’s hilly 14.9 hectares. And though you may not sight every animal you want to see (usually the leopard), chances are you’ll encounter most of them even during a short stay at the lodge.
On my first drive, we quickly stumble across a lone buffalo, part of a 300-strong buffalo presence in the park.
Shortly afterwards, between pretty starlings and shrikes, we find several elephants on a hillside who clearly aren’t as interested in us as we are in them.
Later, as an anti-poaching plane flies by overhead, we follow two cheetahs as they stalk a herd of wildebeest on an open plain. Here, we witness a short, albeit unsuccessful chase, which even gets Sabelo - our calm ranger who has been here since the park opened - out of his seat.
We can’t miss the several giraffes that cross our paths on a number of occasions, but it’s a crash of white rhinos, including a couple of calves, that draw some big oohs and ahhs out of everyone.
On the last drive of our stay, we’re taken to see a den of hyenas, including some cubs who seem more than happy to pose for photos, while on the way back to the lodge our road is literally blocked by over a dozen dozing lions.
At Thanda Safari Lodge, it’s love at first sight ... until last sighting. And beyond.
The writer was a guest of South African Tourism.
Subscription successful! Thank you for subscribing.