Thanda Safari Lodge - so much to love

Thanda Safari Review

It was a sunny morning in the African bush, and we were tracking a pair of cheetahs – a hungry mother and a daughter on a hunt. The mother seemed totally oblivious of us but the cheeky little one turned around and snarled at us, barely a metre away from our vehicle. She then strode off and rejoined her mother. Alas, after scaring away the first herd of impalas they tried to ambush, the odds were stacked against them. The alarm calls from the tattletale birds sent all the other potential prey into hiding and they opted to relax under a tree instead.

It was incredible being able to observe these attractive teary-eyed cats at close range for so long, with no other vehicles anywhere in sight. We were at the five-star Thanda Safari, a 14,000 ha private game reserve, in Northern KwaZulu Natal, shared by the three Thanda properties only – a nine-roomed Safari Lodge, the owners’ luxury private villa and the tented camp with its colonial safari-style tents. The latter will be closing at the end of January 2021 and will reopen for exclusive use bookings and special events only.

Thanda Safari Lodge

The lodge from across the hills

“Thanda” means 'love' in isiZulu and there is so much to love here – and that’s not just in my humble opinion. A member of The Leading Hotels of the World, Thanda Safari Lodge has won The World’s Leading Luxury Lodge award multiple times and Villa iZulu, Thanda’s exclusive private villa, has been voted the World’s Leading Luxury Private Villa for the past 4 years. Thanda Safari was also ranked as one of the 20 Top Resorts in South Africa in the 2020 Conde Nast Traveller Awards.

Thanda Safari Lodge

Main lodge

The reserve was opened in May 2004 by King Goodwill Zwelithini, the reigning King of the Zulu nation. The design and décor of the lodges celebrate Zulu culture and staff are from the surrounding local communities. In non-COVID times, exposure to the local culture extends to community visits.

Thanda Safari Lodge

Master bedroom

The sumptuous bush suites at Safari Lodge, where we stayed, are shaped like traditional Zulu homesteads. The spacious bedroom was adjoined by a lounge area, which had a fireplace, beverage and snack stations, and a complimentary minibar customised to our requirements. Two beds were set up for our kids, still leaving copious amounts of space. Splashes of red – the colour of love – and beaded crafts spiced up the interiors.

Thanda Safari Lodge

Lounge cum kids' bedroom

The bathroom area was the size of a separate suite and featured a dressing room, an oval stand-alone bathtub with panoramic views, as well as indoor and outdoor showers.

Thanda Safari Lodge

The bathroom

The suite opened onto our private viewing deck, which was one of the highlights of our stay. It boasted its own boma, plunge pool with loungers, and a sala with a circular daybed. The endless views of the verdant bush stretched towards the horizon and we would have stayed there all day if the game drives and delicious meals weren’t equally enticing.

Thanda Safari Lodge

Viewing deck

The game drives were rewarding, with exceptional sightings. We got close to lions, elephants, (de-horned) rhinos, buffalos, cheetahs and so much more. Twitchers will be delighted to learn that there are more than 400 different bird species here.

Thanda Safari Lodge

Wildlife at Thanda Safari

Our guide, Buselaphi, was one of the funniest we've ever had and he kept us in stitches with his safari humour, while Wineth, our eagle-eyed tracker, scoured the ground for tracks and the bushes for wildlife. Even my easily bored kids were enthralled.

Thanda Safari Lodge

Game drives

Meals at Thanda Safari were feasts for the eyes and the palate, and our dietary requirements were well-catered to. We enjoyed most of our food al fresco and dinner was served under the stars.

Thanda Safari Lodge

Meals at Thanda

The evening before we left happened to be days away from my birthday.  On arrival at the dinner table, I found a birthday message, spelt out in pebbles. As we were awaiting dessert, I heard the strains of a melodious happy birthday and looked up to see the staff approaching with a birthday cake in hand. They said that they were celebrating early because I wouldn’t be there to celebrate with them on my actual birthday. I was so touched! This was just one more expression of the love at Thanda. And yes, after we had enjoyed the cake, we were still served dessert.

Thanda Safari Lodge

Main Lounge

In between meals and game drives, there are many options to occupy yourself. Thanda Safari is the first reserve I’ve visited with its own resident wildlife photographer – Christian Sperka, and you can book a complimentary wildlife photography lesson with him. More daring options include bush walks, rhino tracking and opportunities to participate in wildlife conservation programmes as a volunteer.

For more sedentary options, you can relax in your suite, or in the public areas. The latter are open, airy spaces accessorised with warm leather, dark wood and African art. The wraparound timber decks and well-stocked library overlook the waterhole. A herd of nyala consistently milled about at the lodge, attracted by the water and the surrounding foliage. They were frequently joined by waterbucks and impalas. Lions and elephants have also been known to visit occasionally.

Thanda also has a wellness spa which offers a wide range of treatments, combining western techniques and traditional Zulu practices.

From the rangers to the servers, the service was exceptional all-round. This was manifested in numerous ways, like how the staff knew very soon which drinks each member of the family preferred, special touches like sunscreen before game drives, bedtime fables for the kids and thought-provoking Zulu proverbs for the adults on turndown. This, combined with the stunning suites, great food and substantial expanse of wildlife-rich bushland almost all to yourself, will ensure that you fall in love with Thanda. We did.

Good to know

COVID protocols include screening when you arrive and daily temperature checking. Masks are worn in public areas and sanitisers are provided.

Rates include meals, game drives, selected local beverages and even laundry.

Children are welcome at Thanda Safari Lodge and Villa iZulu and those under the age of 16 can share with adults. Children under the age of six are not allowed at Thanda Tented Camp. There are special activities, programs, menus and nannies for younger kids.

For more photos, follow me on Instagram.

Thanda Safari

Art at Thanda

Special offers

Thanda Safari Starlight Productions (TSSP) will be launched in February 2021 and will comprise:

  • special musicals, concerts and artists performing in the bush (“Covid-safe” natural open-air ventilation and social distancing)
  • invited speakers covering a variety of topics
  • special events (Black Tie Ball, Valentine’s Ball, Masked Ball,  Great Gatsby Ball, Rat Race Ball etc)

All either by special invitation only, or available to select interest groups, or available to the public through special ticket sales and all out in the bush and open air (weather permitting). Special activities with guest speakers / featured guests may also be attended by guests staying at the Safari Lodge and Villa iZulu.  Guests will be able to socialise in a safe, protected, open air “theatre” with limited numbers observing all the Covid-19 safety protocols.

As part of its new direction, special Weekend Events are planned for February and beginning March 2021:

  • Friday 12 to Sunday 14 February – Valentine’s Weekend of Romance – meaning 'love' in isiZulu, Thanda Safari is the perfect place where couples can experience the bush, the Big Five, romantic turn downs, Valentine sundowner cocktails, romantic meals and on the Saturday evening, a Valentine’s Masked Ball in the bush - Romance with a capital R!

 

  • Friday 19 to Sunday 21 February - Pilates & Wellness Weekend with Tash B - popular Pilates instructor Tash B an international certified Pilates Instructor and owner of the successful studio Tash B. Pilates in Ballito, KZN is passionate about Pilates (a unique series of physical exercises designed by Joseph Pilates in the 1950s). This energetic yet patient teacher enjoys sharing her knowledge and her refreshing mind-body workouts have been taught across the globe including Morocco, London, Dubai, Salzburg and Hong Kong.

 

  • Friday 12 to Sunday 14 March - A Weekend with Rob Caskie - celebrated storyteller and world-renowned Zulu historian. Rob Caskie lauded as a legend in his own lifetime, is a master storyteller who shares human stories which engage audiences and challenges the way they interact, work and lead their lives – “epic stories of human struggle and triumphs of the human spirit create fantastic canvasses by which modern situations may be measured”. And what better backdrop for these epic stories than an ancient land in the northern reaches of Zululand, deeply steeped in Zulu history, where Thanda Safari is situated? “If you have an opportunity to see this extraordinary man in action, don’t miss it!”   John Fisher Burns - New York Times

These Weekend Packages from R6 500 per person sharing for a two-night (Friday and Saturday) stay at Thanda Tented Camp include:

  • two night’s accommodation at the luxurious Thanda Tented Camp (spacious safari-style tents, each with private viewing deck and en-suite bathroom)
  • four game drives with expert guide and tracker
  • all meals and selected local beverages

Excluded is the conservation levy of R200 per person per stay, gratuities and all items of a personal nature.

Rates for Thanda Safari Lodge and Villa iZulu are available on request. Booking for all weekend packages is essential. Terms and conditions apply.

For more information, visit Thanda Safari or contact [email protected], +27 (0) 32 586 0149.

Thanda Safari Lodge

Thanda Safari Lodge

Disclosure: 7

Thanda Safari Lodge - so much to love 3

8 comments on “Thanda Safari Lodge - so much to love”

  1. Gorgeous lodge! The view from that bathtub is EVERYTHING. I too, end up falling for the small things, like the bday surprise for example - what a lovely personal touch! saving!

    1. Haha, the small special touches make the biggest difference in distinguishing one beautiful place from another - and there were so many of them here!

  2. What's not to love about Thanda Safari Lodge! Such bliss and I can see myself lapping up every bit of luxury and adventure! What a treat. Such a special touch for your birthday as well.

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