About 2 hours and some change North of Durban lies Thula Thula Private Game Reserve. The 4500 ha of sprawling Zululand bush is said to be the oldest game reserve in Kwazulu Natal. Having read The Elephant Whisperer, I was beyond thrilled to be visiting Thula Thula, to meet Francoise Malby Anthony and the herd. To make the trip even more exciting was the fact that it was my boyfriend’s birthday and his first encounter with elephants!
We arrived at the reception where we left our car and jumped into a game vehicle with two rangers. They loaded up our bags and we took off along the bumpy, bush road. The rangers didn’t waste any time imparting their knowledge, pointing out critters and creatures of the bush as we made our way to our accommodation
The Luxury Tented Camp was our home for the first night, it was ‘glamping’ on a whole new level! We were greeted with welcome drinks and shown to our mini mansion tent where our luggage had been delivered for us. The king sized bed draped in beautiful netting was the room’s centrepiece. To the left was the bathroom featuring an open air shower and ball and claw bath tub overlooking the bush.
After a delicious lunch by the bar, we cheered our first G&T of the weekend and got ready for an afternoon game drive. Our party was made up of a great mix of people, Swiss, German and a French, which made for great meet and greet conversation. The reserve is home to the big four: Rhino, Buffalo, Leopard, and of course the famous Elephants which accepted Thula Thula as their home and Lawrence Anthony as their friend. Thula is also one of the largest natural breeding grounds for the White-backed Vulture, which were circling the sky. I couldn’t put my camera down as there was so much to see and capture as we trundled along the dirt road.
Our game rangers stopped the vehicle next to the watering hole where we watched a family of hippos with the cutest little new born calf, Chocolat. A cooler box was brought out and each person was offered their drink of choice without having to be asked. I wondered how they knew that G&T’s were my favorite and then I remembered that’s what I had ordered at lunch. The attention to detail from the staff was outstanding!
All visitors sat under the stars that night and dined together, the mix of traditional South African flavor and French cuisine brought in by Francoise, was marvelous. Francoise mingled with the guests at the bar and to my delight brought with her a signed copy of “The Elephant Whisperer” for me to keep. We chatted about the reserve and the antics that went on, some of which she has detailed in her new book “An Elephant in my Kitchen” which will be released in SA in September. Dinner was served and we were treated to exquisite lamb curry and mouth watering side dishes accompanied by Spotted Dog red wine. We were excited to sleep under canvas and really feel at one with nature. With only 8 tents we felt isolated in the bush, it was the best sleep I’d had in ages!
The next morning we were up with the sun and off on a bush walk with our rangers, leaving the security of the tented camp behind, I felt safe in the knowledge that our guides were experts. We learned to identify animals by their spoor or scat and were challenged to a Bokdrol Spoeg kompetise which literally translates into dung spitting competition! We laughed till our tummies hurt at the faces everyone made trying to spit dried dung across the road into a hat – I don’t think it’s a sport I’m ever going to excel at!
Later in the day, we moved from the tented camp to the Luxury Elephant Safari Lodge, where we had our own private chalet and veranda overlooking the bush. We embarked on our second game drive of the trip and were absolutely spoilt at the sight of the herd of elephants playing and swimming in the watering hole. Their shenanigans were blissful to watch, play fighting and trumpeting like children, it was a truly magical experience!
As if that wasn’t enough, we were invited to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center to watch the release of Lucy, the little Duiker. The team from Four Paws Austria including the CEO were also in attendance at the auspicious occasion. Francoise addressed the crowd and mentioned that the volunteers camp attached to the rehabilitation center is due to open mid April and will be called Thula Thula Volunteers Academy. Such exciting times for Thula Thula!
That evening we dined around the boma, the Elephant Safari Lodge served fine dining in the bush, it was quite something to experience. After the meal, the staff came out with a beautifully decorated cake singing happy birthday to my boyfriend. We were truly blown away by the attention to detail and care that had gone into our trip, and couldn’t have asked for a better ending.
Thank you for having us!
You can find out more about the reserve at www.thulathula.com and book a bush weekend away for yourselves through email@example.com
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