You’ve booked your first safari, your bags are packed and ready to go, and there’s nothing standing in your way of spotting the Big Five – but what actually happens during a “typical” day on a game reserve? Even though each lodge differs slightly, there are certain similarities when it comes to safari schedules and itineraries. We recently stayed at Thornybush Game Lodge (part of the Thornybush Collection) in South Africa’s Thornybush Private Nature Reserve and thought we’d spill the beans on what a typical day involves in this beautiful, 14,000-hectare wilderness. Here’s what you can expect… and expect to get hooked!
We aren’t kidding when we say early – the 05:00 wake-up call (05:30 in winter) is what many people consider to still be the middle of the night. It’s definitely not the type of holiday for leisurely lie-ins, but getting up at the crack of dawn is well worth it: you get to watch the sun rise while you breathe in the cool morning air from the comfort of your open Land Cruiser (which seats a maximum of six guests, so nice and small). And that morning air is a special kind of air, filled with the promise of what lies ahead…
Most importantly, animals are at their most active in the early morning, before the searing heat of the day sets in, so chances are you’ll get to spot at least a few of the Big Five (we were lucky enough to spot a leopard couple chilling in a tree – a pretty awesome sight). Plus, you’ll be rewarded with a bush coffee (with or without Amarula!) and traditional rusks during a stop in the African bushveld.
Your personal guide and tracker are often the ones to really make a game drive stand out – Thornybush guide Greg, for example, is highly experienced, and tracker July has been with the lodge for 22 years and they both know the reserve like the back of their hands. Their passion and commitment really show – they get as excited by tracks and sightings as you do and will go out of their way to make sure you have the most thrilling experience possible.
The beauty of a game lodge stay is that no day is ever really the same; staff like to keep guests on their toes and spoil them with surprises. At Thornybush Game Lodge that might mean breakfast back at the lodge around 09:00, or a surprise stop on the banks of a sandy river. This “impromptu” bush breakfast is no simple affair either – expect a feast of fresh juices, home-baked bread, nutty granola and pastries as well as eggs, bacon and mushrooms prepared on a portable braai.
Following breakfast, there’s the option of a walking safari expedition. Accompanied by your (armed) guide and tracker, you’ll set off on foot to discover the smaller creatures of the bush, follow tracks, and learn more about the flora and fauna of the region. The Shangaan trackers also have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the medicinal uses of plants – who knew that elephant dung was used for headaches and as a tea for pregnant women?
After an ample breakfast, you might be thinking about forgoing lunch back at the lodge – but the crisp salads, fresh-out-of-the oven quiches and delectable desserts (such as a traditional melktert) at Thornybush are hard to resist, so chances are you’ll give in at some point… Lunch is usually served in the main area or mess tent around 13:30 so there is time to digest the morning’s nutritional intake first!
This is your time to relax – lounge by the pool, catch up on sleep in your suite, or indulge in a treatment at the Amani African Spa.
After this, it’s time for Afternoon Tea, usually served at around 15:30. Whilst your sipping your cuppa and savouring a slice of cake, your guide will brief you on the afternoon’s game drive. On an average drive, sightings may include a herd of elephant cooling off at a watering hole, a pride of lion playing with their offspring, and a pack of wild dog relaxing in the shade – there are only about 150-200 of these incredible canine hunters left in the Kruger area, so it’s definitely a sight to behold.
Every evening should most definitely begin with sundowners in the bush! You might enjoy cool drinks from the depth of the Land Cruiser’s trunk, or a pop-up ‘Gin Bar’ complete with a roaring fire and tasty snacks might suddenly appear around the corner. But whatever it is, it’s fair to say that a G&T somehow tastes much better in the bush than at home…
Your game drive then extends into the evening for a spot of game-viewing by a powerful spotlight. This doesn’t happen in every reserve on the continent, but as Thornybush is privately-run, driving at night is allowed. This is the time to search for unusual nocturnal species and marvel at the brilliant night sky.
Then, it’s time for dinner which might take place in the traditional “boma” or in a secret location – every day is different. Afterwards, you’ll be able to reminisce about the day’s adventures around the campfire or in the lounge, before retiring to bed. Finish off your day with a starry outdoor shower or a bubble bath whilst gazing over the Monwana River. Come bedtime, you can hear the animal world come alive while you drift off to sleep – in preparation for another exhilarating adventure the following day.