Perched on a hillside in the northern reaches of Zululand in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, Thanda Safari is steeped in Zulu history, making it the perfect destination to take in the spectacular views while experiencing the magnificence of the Big 5.
When Swedish IT entrepreneur Dan Olofsson and his wife, Christin, first set foot in South Africa, his commitment was to establish a place that encompasses luxury, conservation, and community. In 2002, Dan founded the Thanda Group, and in essence, became entrenched in the vastness of the land, the affability of the people, and the majestic wildlife.
Arriving at Thanda Safari Lodge, I am immediately mesmerized by the landscape, the rolling hills, and undulated topography. Its storied past goes that the reserve was once the ancient hunting grounds of Zulu Kings, but is now a conservation success story, where guests come from all over the globe to enjoy up-close sightings of buffalo, rhino, elephant, lion, and leopard in the private 36,300-acre reserve. At the lounge, I am served a welcome drink, consisting of lemonade and grenadine, and ushered through to the dining area, where I will be enjoying lunch overlooking the beautiful panorama. A team of chefs ensures that I am well catered for, with a delicious venison burger & French fries for the main course, and the morish pannacotta citrus for dessert.
Taking a leisurely stroll to my luxury suite, I swing open the imposing door and catch my breath at the size of my accommodation. In a nod to the traditional Zulu dwellings, each suite has been carefully constructed, with its rounded shape bearing testament to a conventional homestead. My luxury suite comes complete with a lounge area, a bedroom, a bathroom containing a bath and indoor & outdoor shower, an outside sala, and a heated plunge pool. Sized at around 2,400 sq. ft. and with only nine individually appointed suites dotted across the terrain, guests are ensured of the ultimate in privacy and exclusivity. Other accommodation options include the 5-bedroomed Villa iZulu, Thanda Tented Camp, featuring 15 classic safari-style tents, and the newly built Royal Residences.
A big drawcard to Thanda Safari is the prospect of wildlife encounters, and field guide Sabelo meets up with me during high tea, where the delectable chocolate brownies are too good to resist. Making our way to the safari vehicle, tracker Khaya is in his seat at the front of the vehicle to distinguish the spoor of animals, hopefully matching the footprint to the wildlife. Departing on our game drive, we spot a black-winged kite, a side-striped jackal, and much to our surprise, a herd of buffalo decides to gatecrash our sundowner stop. Safely back in the vehicle, we head back to camp for dinner, but Sabelo decides to stop by the cheetah boma to see if the cheetahs are visible. They are indeed present, and what a privilege to cast eyes on these stunning cats. Forming part of a Thanda rehabilitation program, the bomas are used to accommodate injured cheetahs from other reserves or ones that are being rehomed at Thanda and released back into the wild once they have become acclimatized to the reserve.
Dinner is served in the indoor dining room, and tonight’s menu consists of sole with rice cake as a starter, fillet in pepper sauce with potato fondant & seasonal vegetables for the main course, and my all-time favorite – chocolate mousse for dessert! Following a good night’s sleep, we head out on our early morning game drive after snacking on homemade rusks and sipping on hot chocolate.
It is misty and cold, with limited visibility and I reach over to grab my blanket and hot water bottle that will ward off the early morning chill, which does the trick. I had heard lions roaring at dinnertime, and during the night, but to find them might prove challenging as a lion’s roar can be heard up to 5 miles. Out of the mist, we see their outlines – a pride of nine lions, with one large male, and the rest are a mixture of females, sub-adults, and cubs. The cooler weather makes them very playful, chasing each other around, much to the delight of Thanda guests.
How to Get There: CemAir is a fully equipped carrier offering flights between 16 destinations within South Africa and Africa. With daily direct flights between Cape Town International Airport and King Shaka International Airport, passengers are flown in the comfortable Bombardier CRJ-900. To book visit www.flycemair.co.za