Undoubtedly the most sparkling jewel in The Thornybush Luxury Game Lodge Collection’s crown, The River Lodge is flagrantly chic and stylish without screaming ‘safari’. Exclusivity and luxury reign at The River Lodge and amongst the shaded canopies of trees, you will know that you have landed in utopia.
She lifts her trunk aloft and trumpets vociferously, shattering the early morning solitude. Her grey face is so close I can count her long eyelashes one by one. Never needing mascara, the elephant gives me the once over, scowling at our nearby presence to her calf. Said calf is nonchalantly having his morning meal, consisting of the greenest leaves in abundance.
Few things rival Friday morning rush hour in the bush when the traffic jam consists of a breeding herd of elephants. Right in front of our game drive vehicle, the youngsters are having a spirited roll-around. Suddenly a very large bull elephant ambles down the road and the little ones set off in search of mom. She gathers them together and starts strolling in our direction, led by the smallest of the calves. They intensify their pace and thank goodness our ranger, Stanley Chiyasa knows where the reverse stick shift is as they are now in hot pursuit.
The explosion of green in the bush heralds the onset of summer, paired with the occasional downpour; the lushness of the bush is the ideal stomping ground for the browsers and grazers. The animals look healthy and happy except for those who have to unwillingly sacrifice their young to predators. We are told that the Black Dam lion pride had gorged themselves on not one, but two buffaloes they had caught a couple of days prior to our visit. Opportunistic hunting is, unfortunately, a reality when the bush is burgeoning with new life, and even killing for fun has become a habit with the surplus of youngsters.
We find the Black Dam pride after sunset, replete from feeding on a kudu kill. The one cub is tugging at the top end of the carcass while another one has his focus on a dung beetle. Not knowing what is rolling towards him, he examines the threat and without much ado, grimaces at it and unceremoniously squashes it. These guys have gluttonized to the point of bursting. Their distended tummies look like they’ve swallowed a football!
The food at The River Lodge is extraordinary. To put it mildly. With the expert culinary genius of chefs Prince Mashele and Nomsa Methebula, every single dining experience is a masterpiece. We dine on the most mouth-watering meals in the most exquisite settings imaginable – lunch in the Villa, consisting of curried cauliflower salad, chickpea salad, fish cake with garlic aioli, chicken & vegetable wrap, potato home-made fries and lemon posset for dessert. Butler Peter Mazibuko is always ready to fill your glass or clear your plate. Dinner in the dining room, breakfast on the deck watching the wildlife coming for a drink at the watering hole and dinner in the boma with a variety of smoky barbequed offerings. This is not the place to come to if you watch what you eat. Over-indulge. You only live once.
I am staying in the Limpopo suite, a spacious room with a view of the seasonal Monwana River. Right in front of my outdoor area, the elephants come to quench their thirst while the giraffe climbs up the embankment on the opposite side of the river to feed on some greens. I could spend hours in my recliner watching the passing of animals without having to go anywhere, but my air-conditioned room beckons.
My bed is so high off the ground I almost need a stepladder. It is lavishly covered in the crispest, pristine white bedding and I love the eclectic mix of green and cream, adding smidgens of color to the otherwise starkness of white. The bathroom is a haven of indulgence – a freestanding bath that overlooks the bush through floor to ceiling windows and double vanities. There is also an indoor and outdoor shower should you want to cleanse under the stars.
Our game drives are eventful with a myriad of remarkable sightings. We happen upon a pack of wild dogs that must have finished a kill as the leader rushes past us with a bloodied face. Tracker Aberd Khoza thinks they are on the hunt again. They find a peak cap lying in the road that must have fallen off someone’s head and proceed to play tug-of-war until only a few threads are left. Lots of squeals fill the air and off they go, running amok.
Out in the clearing, the nyala family is sporting a brand-new baby and we all hold our breaths as the tot gets separated from its mom, hoping it won’t be another meal for the wild dogs. We have a sigh of relief when the two are reunited.
The sun is starting to set and as we approach one of the dams on the reserve, the hippo families are submerging themselves underwater. There are lots of ‘oohs and aahs’ when we notice two hippo babies alongside their mothers. Baby animals are so adorable!
Thornybush Game Reserve is teeming with elephants and giraffe. We also stumble upon a few ‘dagga boys’, the terminology used for elderly male buffalos. There are four of them sleeping right where we need to drive. Do we simply navigate around them or take another route? The grumpy one in the group rises from his slumber and looks unimpressed by our presence.
With abundant birdlife, twitchers will think they have struck pure gold. Helmeted guinea fowl, Egyptian geese, African fish eagles, Kori bustard, Hoopoe and a Woodland kingfisher calling all contribute to the magic of Thornybush Game Reserve. I could do without the incessant noise of the franklins in front of my suite, especially at 04:30 in the morning.
On our final game drive, a hyena comes rushing out of the bushes. He seeks refuge in the cool road surface, where he proceeds to lie upside down while looking at us. When Stanley starts the vehicle, the hyena comes to inspect Aberd in the tracker seat. Sitting perfectly still, Aberd is not fazed by the hyena’s interest. The hyena runs in front of the vehicle for a little while, leading us somewhere. Nobody seems to know what he wanted to show us, but he was cute as only a hyena can be.
*** Views expressed are the author’s own. Thank you to Nic Griffin for hosting me and to Nicky Arthur PR for arranging my stay.
– The closest airport to Thornybush The River Lodge in Hoedspruit.
– Thornybush Game Reserve is situated in a low-risk malaria area.