Having read ‘The Elephant Whisperer’ by Lawrence Anthony, Thula Thula Game Reserve had been on my list of places to visit for some time. Please, if you have not already, read this book and you to will also want to visit Thula Thula. In early March this year I was extremely saddened to read the news of the passing of Lawrence Anthony. It crossed my mind that I had left my visit too late. However it actually inspired me to arrange my visit as soon as I could. It also made me think that I must not put things off in life that I seem to do too often.
I was not the only English visitor to the reserve, the day prior to my arrival several of the England rugby touring team had visited. And now my fellow gusts included the Fletcher family, Neil, Debbie & Louis, Neil a former Leicester Tigers rugby player. To keep the rugby theme going Jess Richards checked in, the daughter of former England back row legend Dean. There was some rugby talk over meals however the theme here is conservation and of course elephants.
Promise was our ranger and driver for our first game drive. And of course he was confident of elephant sightings, but promised nothing. He did not have to wait long though as he grinned and pointed out a large bull elephant several hundred meters to our left. “That is Mabula, we will have to keep an eye on him in case he sneaks up behind us” Promise told us. As we approached a water hole we caught a glimpse of flapping ears and there as we turned a bend in the dry dirt road were a small herd of elephants. For me this was a very special moment. Promise turned to us from the driver’s seat and said “This is Frankie and some of the reserves breeding herd” I had read the book and now I was meeting some of the cast. With Frankie were Marula and Mabula. I was actually a little overwhelmed and not listening to Promise as I watched the elephants feeding and moving towards the water. He was explaining that by looking at an elephants tusk you can tell if its right or left handed, or tusked in this case. Frankie’s right tusk is shorter than her left showing it has been used more than the left making her right tusked. A moment to savour and a memory created.
Thula Thula also had some of the darkest giraffes I had ever encountered. On one drive we encountered thirty giraffes of varying colours, shades and ages feeding together. Our guides on this drive, Andre and Ceaser, explained that a group of giraffes is known as a ‘journey’. Game was abundant on drives as was the bird life. The reserve has a breeding population of white back vultures. We also sat amongst small flocks of white fronted bee eaters, their colours of white, orange, red, white and blue glowing in the sun.
Above my thatched chalet I watched and listened to fork tailed drongos, crested barbets, hoopoes and wood peckers. Inside I could hear the wood peckers hammering at the surrounding trees. Each chalet stands alone and seems to have its own relaxed atmosphere. There is a four poster bed draped in a mosquito net, storage space and en-suite bathroom. Outside there is a patio with recliner chairs looking straight into the bush.
The main lodge is a short walk from the chalets and it is here that all meals are served. Before I go on and write about the meals I will again mention that I am not a culinary critic, just a lover of food. And here again I fell in love with food. Dinner may be served around an open fire but this is far from camp fire food. My entrée of fresh fruit and biltong salad with honey and honepoort dressing was stunning. My main of chicken roulade on petits pois with two mustard sauce was equally as good. Ian and Ardre, local guests, discussed at length who had actually ordered the seafood buoillaboisse when it arrived at the table! I did not need desert, but the passion fruit Chantilly cheese cake made a wonderful end to the evening.
On the subject of food I need to mention breakfast. This was very different from any reserve I have stayed at. There were the usual juices, cereals and breads. The main courses were what made the unique difference. I opted for croque monsieur with egg, bacon and cheese served in béchamel sauce.
Situated within the reserve there is another option on accommodation. Thula Thula has a luxury tented camp. This is an opportunity to sleep under canvas and really feel at one with nature. Strange how on visiting the tented camp there is a different feel to the atmosphere where canvas and bush meet. With only eight tents and dinner served under the stars it really is a reminder of times gone by.
Now it is time to sit down and read ‘The Last Rhinos’ by Lawrence Anthony and contemplate the very existence of a species reliant on us for its survival.