The Big 5, besides the leopard, were out and an about.
I had two options for what I was going to do for my birthday: I was either going to book a flight overseas or spend it in search of the Big Five at a private reserve just three hours away from home.

I chose the latter. Over the past few months, local travel has grown on me. There are so many treasures waiting to be found.

The opportunity to see Thanda Safari, a five-star safari spot in Hluhluwe, only comes once.

Despite the blistering winter sun creeping into my car all through the three-hour drive to the reserve, counting down to my bush birthday made it pleasurable.

Thanda makes sure that people feel welcome and are given the royal treatment when they visit.

The Safari Lodge was a beautiful spot to relax and unwind. Pictures: Clinton Moodley.

Although a popular hangout for international tourists, of late many locals have come from all across the country to enjoy this Big Five spot.

Our game driver, Zee, happily greeted us at the gate, taking in our luggage as we drove through to our tented camp.

On the way, we were spied on by nyala, impala and a kudu.

The Tented Camp proved to be a treat, having all the fixtures of what a home away from home should look like.

The cosy tent-like structure had twin beds, a bathroom, outside shower and a pretty terrace that overlooked the vast lands before us.

With minimal electricity and lighting, this set the tone for what camping would be like with an added touch of glamour.

At night we heard the hyena in the distance, celebrating a kill.

The next morning we headed to the Safari Lodge, a five-star private Zulu homestead-inspired accommodation.

The Safari Lodge where we stayed.

Inside our lodge were a private lounge stocked with family games, a fireplace, bookshelf and mini-bar.

The room was spacious. It overlooked the pool and dining area.

I loved the bathroom facilities the most.

There was an egg-shaped bath, his and her dressing tables and a rain shower and toilet.

The outside shower proved adventurous.

There is also a lapa where you can easily spend hours in nature or catch up on some reading.

I must admit Thanda kept us busy the entire weekend. Not that I’m complaining. I have never been so into nature as I was on this trip. Tracing a pride of lions, witnessing the buffalo in herds drink from the watering hole to hopelessly going in search for nature’s elusive animal, the leopard, it was a joy ride.

A safari is something that I love going for as each one is different from the other.

Like how we managed to watch as the daughter lioness and her mother tried to hunt a giraffe calf, but failed.

It was by far the most intense hour of my life.

The Big 5, besides the leopard, were out and an about.

While we didn’t spot the leopards, on a morning drive we saw prints from an adult and a cub.

Our guide, Themba, said they were fresh tracks.

I am hoping that on the next safari I’ll get lucky.

Besides the unique game drive offerings, Thanda is an absolute break from city life where you get to meet all sorts of delightful people.

We met a Swedish family who were excited about seeing four of the Big Five. The South African mother and daughter duo kept us entertained with their vast game knowledge.

During game drives, we got to connect with most of the guests during an early morning hot chocolate or late night wine in the bush.

The number of interesting people you meet will surprise you.

The dining experience at both accommodation venues were top class. The food was freshly prepared, keeping to South Africa’s unique flavours.

During one of the nights, we had a bush dinner, which happened to coincide with my birthday.

Boma dinners and bush dinners happen twice a week to give visitors the African experience. Bonfires and lamps set the tone for a memorable evening. Zulu dancers razzled and dazzled us with their African-inspired dancers.

We were told that the three neighbouring communities were close-knit to Thanda.

Exploring the views of Thanda Safari.

The food was equally delicious. I had some kingklip skewers, a tomato chutney that I loved and roasted veggies.

For dessert I tucked into my coffee birthday cake.

My “can’t stop talking about” activity was the photography session with photographer Christian Speka.

The session is inclusive of the rate. Christian bases his sessions according to the camera one uses and throws in some mobile photography advice.

It usually takes two hours.

The bush walk is another treat for guests who get to walk with some of the wilds biggest animals.

Guests said they saw the black rhino and buffalo’s during their walk.

My only complaint throughout the trip was that I wished staff at the Safari Lodge were more friendlier towards locals than they were to foreigners. Some dismissed us on several occasions. However, the staff at the Tented Camp were hospitable and friendly.

Since coming home I have been raving about going back, maybe this time I will see that leopard every one loves to talk about. 

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