|The Thanda tent experience (Photos by Willie Smit and Thanda Safari Private Game Reserve )
There should be eight deadly sins and included in this collection should be complacency, for it is indeed deadly. Sometimes I sail close to the wind with this one since the nature of my job takes me to far-flung, exotic and ultra-luxurious places. Ah, but then I discovered Thanda...
The journey by road from Johannesburg entails an exhausting six hours, so it’s with a thankful heart that we finally pull off the highway onto the few km of dirt road to the Thanda Safari Private Game Reserve main gate.
The Reserve is located in the heart of the beautiful Elephant Coast region near Hluhluwe, KwaZulu Natal in South Africa. With 14,000 hectares to explore, the Reserve hosts the Big-5 (elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo and rhino) and you might see more diverse wildlife, including cheetah, hyena, warthog and the occasional wild dog, as well as abundant bird and plant life.
What is more, it’s all exclusively yours. Thanda is a private game reserve and their dedicated staff members are the only people you’ll encounter on the roads while you’re here. As we are driven to the lodge by our ranger (you park your car inside the gates), the beautiful tents come into view, dotted along the cliff. Manager Linda welcomes us with a drink and wide smile as he leads us to the main reception and dining area with its beautiful pool overlooking the bush. The Camp has a contemporary design with clean lines but a pure African ambience. Unfortunately we missed the game drive but I am happy to have the whole place to ourselves for a couple of hours. We are then led to our tents. Now, when it comes to staying in tents I must confess to certain preferences. I don’t.
But this palatial contraption is something out of The Lawrence of Arabia and spectacularly fit for a king...or sheik. They are huge, sporting a massive double bed and en-suite bathroom with five star amenities as well as a glorious outside shower. The Camp is solar powered so there is minimal impact on the pristine environment here.
I finally relax in this splendid solitude after a very busy week. Soft, wispy clouds marks the sunset and somewhere a lone fish eagle cries on cue as I watch the astonishingly beautiful bush and sky change colors from my private wooden deck, sundowner in hand.
Just then, in the dying light, I receive visitors. Meters from me a gigantic regal Kudu and his wife languidly stroll past pausing to munch on a tree or two, with skittish baby in tow. A night jar makes his voice heard under the crescent moon smiling high above and a feeling of deep tranquility assails me...
We amble up to dinner and have sundowner drinks by the huge round fire pit, marveling at the millions of stars above.
Dinner is a feast - butternut soup, kingklip or eland fillet and panna cotta. And it’s all top-drawer.
We retire early and I do the coffin fandango as they say, in my stately bed, listening to the night creatures around me as I quickly drift off into a deep, dreamless sleep. If I had a super power it would be to get a good night’s sleep so this here place must be Planet Krypton...
The next morning after a delicious breakfast we drive for 10 minutes or so to the main lodge. Again we are welcomed like long lost family. I must just mention that the service at Thanda is superb in every sense. The staff have a wonderful generosity of spirit and they will gladly see to your every need. Thanda Safari Lodge’s public areas are colorful and drenched in light, with touches of beading, welcoming leather and authentic wood. They include an inviting library overlooking a waterhole that is favored by elephant and other game, a private business area, a cigar bar and an impressively stocked wine cellar.
There's also the lounge: guests' starting point for the steaming coffee and biscuits and delectable high tea that herald every game drive. Featuring African art, huge windows, fascinating books on African legends, plush sofas and dark wooden accents - brightened by rich hues - the lounge epitomizes African hospitality.
We are taken to our bush villa and I am immediately entranced as I enter wordlessly, eyes wide, taking in this picture of perfection, watching the various areas of the Bush villa unfold before me. The rooms have rooms! The villa is designed in the round shapes of the traditional Zulu hut, but three separate areas provide a lounge, bedroom and then the spectacular bathroom as well - all round.
Apart from the normal five-star amenities, there is an intimate boma dining area outside with a fire place - just for you!
We step outside onto our wooden deck and from your own private splash pool there is a deck leading to a huge, covered day bed area - read oval heaven. Painted ochre, the villa is decorated with African ambience while punctuated with bright red bed covers and lounge. The bathroom has a vanity, his-and-hers basins, egg-shaped bath, enclosed toilet as well as indoor and outdoor showers.Thanda is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World and multiple winner of World’s Leading Luxury Lodge.
Nothing, and I mean nothing, has been overlooked. Even the toilet paper has a silk ribbon around it. A majestic double-sided fire place is the center point of the villa and partially separates the bedroom and lounge area. There are only nine villas here so privacy is paramount. No wonder
After all this wonder we are hungry and stroll up to the dining area with more gorgeous vistas. The ice coffee, fish cakes and springbok pie for lunch are wolfed down and unanimously declared amazing. The Maldon salt on the table should give you further indication of the class of this establishment. We forgo the afternoon game drive and spend the time luxuriating in the lodge, running around taking photographs like there was no tomorrow, discovering a new gem behind every nook and cranny.
The Lodge also boasts a world award-winning luxury spa (as does the Tented Camp) in case all this luxury stresses you out. The setting here emerges from a bed of stone and rock, leading out to a relaxation deck and swimming pool. Among their many treatments and therapies, the Ndlovu Walk (ndlovu meaning elephant in Zulu) is one of their signature treatments which involves a deep lymph drainage massage, based on the deep but gentle pressure of the elephant’s footsteps.
Lukas calls us to the main area at about 6 pm to tell us that the evening’s entertainment is about to begin. Thanda is very aware of and involved in community projects and upliftment so they have arranged for a group of women from the surrounding areas to regale us with traditional song and dance - what an absolute treat! We are told that the songs are about Zulu culture and family life and there are some very playful moments where the women sing about their men - not in a favorable light.
Other songs are more serious and their mellifluous voices ring out in the African night - haunting, ancient yet ageless.
We have dinner by the fire-side in the boma and it consist of a tomato soup starter and delicious chicken, sausage and steak served at the buffet barbeque with various accompaniments.
The next morning we join Ephraim on a game drive and although we don’t see that much (the other guest saw a leopard and lion the previous night), we do come across many zebra, antelope and giraffe and he regales us with informative stories and facts of the veld. We finally have the privilege of watching buffalo males fighting. The sound of their clashing horns is quite visceral and a very special sight. We get back to the Lodge for our final meal of omelettes, eggs mornay, pancakes, the usual cold meats, cheeses, cereals and fruit choices as well as your choice of either white or dark hot chocolate!
Then, like all good things, our stay here comes to an end and we reluctantly drag ourselves away to face the real world.
Thanda means "love" in Zulu. And that is appropriate because this place will leave you smitten.
There are a few flights a week between China and South Africa with Air China. Once in Johannesburg, it is best to rent an off-road vehicle to get there. The Thanda website has detailed instructions of the route.
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