Having two young couples in the game viewing vehicle I was offered the front seat. Muzi our ranger at Thanda obviously knows people as well as he knows animals. I think he could sense I was hesitating about where to sit. So here we were, Muzi driving and our tracker Zakes perched on the front of the bonnet in his spotters seat.
I could see they were both studying the dry dusty road and exchanging comments in Zulu. “Ibhubesi” I thought I herd but it is not a word on my, teach yourself Zulu CD. It means lion. When Muzi slowed and Zakes unbuckled his seat belt and slowly climbed onto the back seat I had inkling we were approaching something special. I could make out pale coloured bodies in front and then Muzi dropped down and gear and said “lions are on the edge of the dam, and they have made a kill”
We stopped within a few meters of the feeding family. Muzi quietly talked us through the scene. The mother is not feeding and is keeping a few meters away allowing her three, nine month old, cubs to open up their prey. Her four year old daughter is lying with them but not helping them. Their kill is a sub adult zebra and I cannot help but notice that the sun is glinting in its visible eye. Somewhere to from the surrounding bush I can hear another zebra calling. I have never been this close to a kill in terms of time and distance. We sat, watched and listened for some time. It was not long before the cubs were into their prey. Heads bloody, they feasted on the internal organs. At one point one of them was almost inside the zebra carcass. And from time to time the lions stood up strolled around, stretched and sharpened their claws on a nearby tree. On returning to the scene the following morning all that remained were four black and white, hoofed, lower limbs. The lions were gone and a lone black back jackal was sniffing the area.
There was no shortage of cats during our drives. We followed two cheetah’s, brothers, walking a dirt road adjacent to one of the reserves boundary fences. The early morning sun illuminated their coats and reflected like a flame in their bright orange eyes. I read that an individual cheetah has more spots on its coat than there are cheetahs left in the wild. A fact that makes a cheetah sighting all the more special.
Game was plentiful as Muzi and Zakes combined their observational and tracking skills. A journey of twenty plus giraffes, a huge herd of wildebeest and a herd of well over one hundred buffalo. We followed the buffalo to a dam where one by one, young and old, they entered the water and drank. They were followed by dozens of red billed ox-peckers who seemed to land on mass on individual animals.
The lodge itself is an African work of art with a team of staff who compliment their surroundings. Intricate beadwork is prominent including beaded chairs on smooth clay floors and chandeliers hanging from the wooden beamed thatch ceilings. All meals are served in the main lodge, unless you opt for something more intimate such as dinner in the bush. Breakfast is shared with fellow game viewing vehicle guests plus ranger and tracker. Afternoon tea is a feast and social gathering prior to the afternoon’s game drive. Dinner for us was in the main dining room around the fireplace and proved to be a safari through tastes and textures.
I must also mention the bush bar. Normally prior to afternoon game drives you are asked by your ranger what drinks you would like him to take along for you to enjoy at a designated stop for sundowners. Muzi did not ask me, and I assumed I just looked like a beer drinker so he had taken an educated guess. When he told us we were getting close to our stopping point I could see lights in the distance. As we got closer I could see lanterns on the ground marking a pathway. Disembarking we followed the lanterns on foot and there in front of us, in a clearing, were a ring of lanterns surrounding two large camp fires. At one end of the clearing was a fully stocked bar, with snacks including dry fruits, biltong and meatballs. The Thanda team in attendance made this a very special occasion.
Each room or bush villa is set on a wooden walkway with views into the private reserve. Spacious is an understatement, once through the double front door there is a lounge, stone fireplace and open plan bedroom. My four poster bed was positioned to look across my deck and private plunge pool and into the African bush. Beyond the bedroom is a bathroom, separate WC and through the last door is an outdoor shower. Each room has a large deck with a separate solarium complete with round bed thatched shade roof.
Thanda in the Zulu language means love and this is a place to fall in love with.