Braving the bush in the rolling hills of Zululand

Posted by Anita Froneman on 7 February 2022

The first thing that struck me as we found ourselves slap bang in the heart of Zululand is going to sound cliché, but I’m going to say it anyway: the greenery seemed to have no end.

If you showed me pictures of the verdant hills without telling me where it was, I would have guessed many places. Perhaps the lush forests of Uganda, or the Scottish countryside after a wet winter. But I would have been sorely mistaken, as I so often can be with my own country. KwaZulu-Natal is still largely unexplored by me, especially the northeast. So I was more than happy to go on a bush break to Thanda Safari.

The restaurant and reception area blends seamlessly with the surroundings.

Waiting outside my chalet was a very friendly nyala, its eyes following me closely before deciding that I posed no threat and it carried on browsing the thicket around the boardwalk. Nyalas near the lodge mean we are safe, said Promise who was showing me to my room. It means there are no lions around. ‘So if you want to leave your chalet at any time after dark, please phone reception and we’ll send someone to escort you,’ she added. The lodge accommodation is not fenced at all, meaning I might wake up to a cat strolling past my window or an elephant drinking from my pool.

Thanda safari Anita Froneman

The daybed overlooks a vast valley, the ideal nook from which to look for giraffe necks in the distance (or take a nap).

No such luck for me, but we did spot various youngsters on our game drives. It was baby season, and so we saw everything from warthog piglets with upright tails crossing the road, to weeks-old elephant calves drinking from their mothers, and even a rhino calf barely taller than the grass.

Here’s what else is on offer at Thanda Safari.

Game drives

Every morning at 5am sharp you’ll get a wake-up call, and it’s worth dragging yourself out of bed to welcome a new day with Amarula coffee in the bush (apparently it’s perfectly acceptable to drink at 8am when on safari). Then again just before sunset, another game drive and wine or G&Ts as the sun goes down over the tree-clad koppies.

That flask is not as innocent as it seems.

Head guide Ephraim Mathe and tracker Ronnie Nsukwini outdid themselves. With eyes like a hawk, Ronnie would point to a small blur in the distance, to which Ephraim would nonchalantly say ‘oh yes, there we have two and a half rhino’, or ‘there is the herd of buffalo I spoke about yesterday.’

Like I said: green. The perfect backdrop for these striking zebras.

By the time I had figured out the binoculars, we were already there and Ephraim would share the most fascinating facts about every animal we saw, fountain of knowledge that he is. The trainee field guide on board was Ben Klunder from the Netherlands, ‘quick with a joke, or to light up your smoke’.

Several lions made themselves visible during my stay, lazily seeking out shade on balmy afternoons.

The reserve, a 14 000-hectare property, was proclaimed a protected environment in 2015. You can spot the Big Five, and various species of small game and birds, all the names of which Ephraim will gladly tell you in English, Zulu and Afrikaans.

Thanda Safari

There are a few cheetah on the reserve, all of them collared and monitored weekly. Picture: Christian Sperka


I heard a phrase thrown around in reference to a five-star resort in the Maldives once, but it’s definitely applicable here: barefoot luxury. Thanda’s chalets are at the same time opulent and comfortable, exquisite and truly cosy. Built to mimic traditional Zulu rondavels, these units exude warmth and have every little thing you can think of from bathrobes to a fireplace. In fact, it’s so royal that Princess Charlene of Monaco spent three months at the 10-sleeper villa during her famous extended stay in South Africa.

Fit for a queen!

A very firm favourite pastime of mine is soaking in a bathtub, and at Thanda I didn’t hold back. The bathroom also had a shower, but if you found yourself in the mood for some stargazing while washing away the dust after a game drive, the outdoor shower is a real treat.

Bubble bath with a view? Don’t mind if I do.

The lounge area is spacious, and home to a stocked mini bar and coffee station. Tastefully decorated in red, black and brown, this section is perfect for afternoon drinks or reclining with a book.

The patio is an extension of the interior’s elegance, with a sparkling blue plunge pool, deck chairs and daybed. All of course completely private, making you feel like you’re the only person in the bush.

The deck is great for soaking up the sun, but don’t forget the sunscreen!


Let’s just say I don’t hate spas, and this one was a slice of heaven. With views over the treetops and a tranquil pool built in a rock formation, I could while away several hours here if left unchecked. I can definitely vouch for the full body massage!

Perfect for a pre-or post-treatment dip.


At Thanda, you can enjoy meals under stars in the traditional African bomas or inside the airy restaurant that doles out otherworldly food. Most dishes are proudly South African, and I’ve never been more in love with Saffa cuisine.

It doesn’t get any better than a candle-lit dinner in nature. Picture: Thanda Safari


Thanda is actively involved in various conservation efforts, and guests can take part too. You can join the reserve’s specialist rhino monitors who locate and record data on black and white rhinos daily. You can also observe the darting procedure and assist the wildlife team in notching rhino for identification and research purposes, before release back into the wild.

Another great prospect is to join the wildlife team as they track and identify the cheetah on the reserve.

Thanda is a founder member of Project Rhino KZN, an intensive anti-poaching and conservation collaboration between KwaZulu-Natal’s leading conservation agencies. They also partner with several organisations like the Endangered Wildlife Trust on cheetah breeding and spotted hyena research.

The Ulwazi Research & Volunteer Programme at the reserve’s Intibane Research & Training Centre is perfect for those wanting to get into wildlife conservation. The programme is a joint venture between Thanda Safari and Africa Nature Training (ANT), who train field guides and trail guides.

Getting there

I travelled in style, with a marvellous Ford Everest Sport. This vehicle was not only comfortable to ride in, with a massive boot (five ladies and all their luggage for three days, no problem), it’s also pretty to look at.

We made good use of the convenient rear cool function in the humid subtropical climate of KZN, and the tinted windows helped to keep out the glaring sun. The nifty and user-friendly infotainment system with GPS got us there without a hitch, and the hands-free phone was well utilised along the way (you can never escape the office).

So, if you find yourself in need of a bush escape and you’ve traversed Kruger inside out, maybe broaden your horizons. The endless green awaits.

Combo special:

When you book two nights at Safari Lodge and Tented Camp, you will receive your second night at Tented Camp free.


Safari lodge: R 5,199 per person per night sharing (single supplement applies)

Includes two game drives per day with professional guide and tracker, all meals and selected local beverages (soft drinks, house wines, local spirits and beers), bush walks with specialist walking guides, in-room minibar, Wifi and laundry.

A Conservation Levy of R 220 per person per stay is excluded.

Tented camp: R 2,997 per person per night sharing (single supplement applies)

Includes two game drives per day with professional guide and tracker, all meals and selected local beverages (soft drinks available all day; house wines, local spirits and beers available from 1pm), Wifi in public areas.

A Conservation Levy of R 220 per person per stay is excluded.

Contact: Call +27 32 586 0149 or visit the website here.

Pictures: Anita Froneman


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