Thornybush Game Reserve is the second oldest commercial Game Lodge in South Africa, with the first bricks being laid in 1961. It spans 14 000 hectares and its close proximity to the Greater Kruger National Park makes it the ideal venue for animal viewing.
After a complete rebuild in 2001 and a name change to The Thornybush Collection, the lodge has become synonymous with luxury accommodation, great service and up-close Big 5 encounters.
We arrive late in the afternoon, famished after our long journey. “We have kept lunch for you,” a friendly voice informs us. We are escorted down the wooden walkway towards the elevated lookout deck where our table is beautifully set up. After a quick and delicious lunch, we head out on our late afternoon / evening game drive.
Our ranger Joe and tracker Orlando go in search of what animals they can locate for us. A shrub hare hops off into the twilight and with the onset of darkness, the only illumination is the light cast by the vehicle’s headlights. We enter a very dense area and Joe suddenly switches the Land Rover’s engine off. Orlando plugs the search light in and suddenly we hear a deep and primal snarl, followed by a skirmish and then we spot the rosettes. Can it be or are my eyes playing tricks on me? We wait fifteen minutes and there it is again – leopards mating! We leave the sighting to give them privacy and head back to camp.
Dinner is a delectable feast in the boma with a braai (barbeque) and all the trimmings. Meals have a distinct South African flavour and there will always be something traditional on the menu, whether it is Springbok shank or the ever popular Malva pudding for dessert.
It is time for bed, but not before indulging in the opulence of our stunning suite. Upon entry, there is a lounge area where you can browse through the wonderful variety of magazines that have been put there for your reading pleasure. From the vantage point of your wooden deck, complete with your own plunge pool, you might find an animal browsing the leafy surrounds. The view from the bathroom is incomparable, with the outside shower being the perfect cooling off spot for the naturist in you.
A very large bed draped in mosquito netting awaits your sleep and don’t be surprised when you are serenaded with some nocturnal animal sounds.
Refreshed from a great night’s sleep, we embark on our morning game drive. The sun has risen over the airstrip and the animals are basking in the glow of the warmth and the promise of a new day.
The leopards have probably taken a respite from their mating antics, I wonder out loud when a snarl penetrates the silence of the bush. We hear them, but cannot see them. Then he struts into view, tail erect, looking for his lady. She is taking a catnap. He does the same. We wait in anticipation. She gets up, strolls over, parades herself in front of him, willing him to mate with her again. He obliges unwillingly and she gives him a good smack across the nose. This ‘honeymoon’ phase lasts between three and five days with mating occurring every fifteen minutes. These solitary animals will then go their separate ways and if conception has occurred, the female will raise her litter on her own.
A delicious breakfast follows our incredible sighting after which we retire to our posh accommodation. Lunch consists of mouth-watering chicken pie, an array of salads, home baked bread, scrumptious pasta and sticky finger-licking ribs.
Our early evening game drive takes us to another part of the reserve. With its sheer size, you are spoilt for choice in which direction to venture. We pass by a herd of buffalo grazing and the light is starting to fade.
Joe is driving up the embankment and pauses for a moment, consulting with Orlando who seems very interested in the tracks he has found on the ground. The tracks reach a dead end and as we look up, we see them – two lionesses and three cubs. The cubs are playing on the dry riverbed and the lactating female rolls over on her back to allow the cubs to nurse. After their fill, they carry on playing and the curious one of the three comes to within four metres of the vehicle.
Joe joins us for dinner, regaling us with tales of his time as a ranger. Sleep beckons and my dreams are startled by the sound of a lion calling. The following morning, we set off in pursuit of the lion. I ask if we could perhaps find the cubs as it would be wonderful to see them in the daytime. With about five different ranger and tracker teams trying to locate them, we eventually give up as Joe explains that she is probably on the run. The lion was calling for her and she would do anything to keep her cubs safe from a suitor who would either love them or kill them. She wasn’t going to take that chance.
Driving back to camp, we spot the ever graceful giraffe, three of them expecting babies. We leave hoping that all the babies at Thornybush Game Lodge will stay safe from harm.
Thank you to The Thornybush Collection for making our stay possible.
Views expressed are the author’s own. www.thornybush.co.za/lodges/thornybush-game-lodge