We were very excited to spend two nights in Thornybush Game Reserve as neither Van nor I had ever been there before! We had heard various reports of them dropping their fences to Timbavati (and thus becoming part of the Greater Kruger), but on the way there Van was confident the fences were still up, whereas I thought they were down. Guess who won? Me of course (if not I obviously wouldn’t be writing about it!!).
Over the past year it has been a bit of a process but from what we were told, most of the fences between Thornybush and Timbavati have been removed. This means that the animals of Kruger and the Greater Kruger reserves now have even more space to explore! Personally I think this is a great thing – the more wilderness we have for the wildlife to roam freely, the better.
For this trip we were staying in Thornybush Waterside Lodge, a five star property on the side of a small dam, which is home to a few hippos and very pretty. Our room unfortunately had no view, but it reminded me quite a bit of typical five star hotel rooms you would find in a city! This particular lodge doesn’t really have an African ‘lodge’ feel, but some people may think that is a good thing. We had the standard (very comfortable) king bed along with a very large room, sitting area, desk, mini bar and bathroom complete with bath and shower. Though in order to have my bath Van had to fill it up using the kettle as the hot water for some reason didn’t work (though it was fine for basin and shower) – I was a little surprised and disappointed that there was no urgency to fix it. Though I rang reception to report the issue they clearly weren’t in any rush to do anything about it and it wasn’t followed up for the rest of our trip. Hopefully it was fixed for the next guests!
My favourite thing about Thornybush Waterside lodge was DEFINITELY the food. It was one of the best lodges I have eaten at and you certainly don’t go hungry, with snacks on morning game drive, buffet/hot cooked breakfast, buffet lunch, high tea, snacks on afternoon game drive and three course dinner! So much food! Our first night we had a delicious grilled beef fillet for the main, which was cooked to perfection. Dessert (the most important meal) was a ‘lavender-infused’ crème brulee. Fancy. I also loved a bean salad we had for lunch one day so much so that we got the recipe from the chef! The second night was one of the best boma buffets I have had yet.
I was warned by a freelance guide that the bush at Thornybush was very thick, making game viewing a bit more difficult than most reserves. This proved to be very true! We still had great sightings, but the bush is THICK, and it means that off-roading to follow/view animals is made a lot more difficult. It also means it’s not the most ideal place for photography, although of course you can get amazing photos if you get the right sighting. My favourite was probably two leopard cubs (on the older side) hanging out one morning at a dam and trying to hunt a hamerkop! The lighting wasn’t great and they disappeared into thick bush relatively quickly, but what an awesome thing to see.
We saw the whole Big 5 in our four drives. We had one great elephant sighting, just a big bull right next to the vehicle hanging out, but no breeding herds. When we were hanging out with a lone buffalo at a waterhole we saw a martial eagle swoop in and kill a dwarf mongoose! The nearby fish eagle then flew over, attracted by the noise of the poor squealing mongoose, but quickly put on the brakes when it saw it was contending with a martial eagle! A very cool sighting. We also found a small herd of buffs in a little pan wallowing in the water, which was very sweet. On our second last drive we were trying to find a leopard and two cubs that were in the area (according to tracks) and just as the sun set Van spotted them (on my side, which I didn’t live down for the rest of the drive or week for that matter). The sighting was fleeting as they didn’t stick around and off-roading in the dark proved difficult, but it was exciting nonetheless. We then found these same two cubs the following morning (the ones trying to hunt the hamerkop).
The biggest surprise was one morning finding a WHITE LION! The giraffe pride had come over for a visit from Timbavati for the first time! Their remaining white lioness (the other one recently died) was there and it was very surprising and exciting – but also a bit worrying as we are spending a week in Timbavati in June at properties where the giraffe pride are frequently seen… so we hope we still manage to see them then! It turns out we were there a bit early, as it seems that they have wild dogs denning on their property now – another amazing outcome from the fences being dropped.
At Thornybush waterside lodge you need an escort at night because it is only semi-fenced, and apparently the hippos are frequently around at night as well as sometimes leopard. Indeed one night we heard a leopard calling quite close! I personally love unfenced camps for that very reason.
Over all I enjoyed our stay at Thornbush game reserve. It is very thick, but sightings are still good and it feels like proper African bush. If we return I’d probably opt to stay at one of their other properties that feel a bit more ‘bush-like’ – we managed to check some of them out and our favourite was definitely Chapungu, which is a more rustic camp perfect for couples with very luxurious ‘tents’ that don’t resemble tents too much as they have air conditioning and a bath on the deck overlooking the bush! The camp is totally unfenced and only holds about 16 people when full. Nkaya Game Lodge and Serondella Game Lodge were also great options for small groups or people looking for smaller, intimate camps still with very nice rooms. The Main lodge (Thornybush Game Lodge) was stunning and offered luxurious lodge-like rooms, but it will cost you more to enjoy the luxury there!
Our recommendation if you do not have kids would be Chepungu because it offers a great blend of rustic and luxury and encourages a more community feel without costing you an arm and a leg. If you are looking for something more luxurious then definitely check out Thornybush Game Lodge (and if you have a bigger budget).
Thornybush is definitely an option to consider for your next safari now that it is officially part of the Greater Kruger!
For more information and advice on Thornybush or other South African game reserves, and/or if you would like us to help plan and book your safari, please get in touch with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or messaging/calling on Skype: carapring.