Joanna 400 johnny eve

Chat to an expert

Get advice and recommendations for your trip.

Or call us at:

Our guests rate us 5 out of 5 stars

Read what they say

Join us on a KwaZulu-Natal safari

We reunited with the wilderness and it felt so good...

After a long Cape Town winter, Timbuktu’s Content Writer, Holly, and Product Manager, Eve decided to get reacquainted with nature and rediscover some of KwaZulu-Natal’s top lodges for themselves…

Just as spring broke, we set off for a safari in two of KZN’s most well-known reserves: Thanda Private Reserve and the sprawling Hluhluwe-iMfolozi. The Big Five…Check. Gorgeous villas…check. And a much-needed serving of the quieting, South African bush…check!

Take a look at our wildlife-filled experience – it may just inspire you to add a return to Africa to your calendar.

KwaZulu-Natal safari
The palatial, private villas at Thanda.

Our arrival at Thanda’s private 14,000-hectare reserve was marked by a massive herd of buffalo who had chosen to block our path by gathering in a herd of shuffles and snorts – certainly a safari-suitable welcome! After a (more sedate) greeting of eucalyptus-scented hand towels and the barman’s specialty at the lodge, we set off with high expectations and binoculars ready.

On a memorable first drive, we spotted two sub-adult lionesses who were well-fed (the leftovers of dinner was hidden under a nearby tree) and snoozing by a waterhole. The sound of snapping branches and trumpeting sent us in search of a herd of elephant who came crashing through the foliage in front of us. Later on, we got wind of a pair of leopards over the hill and arrived in time to catch a glimpse of their flicking tails before they became perfectly camouflaged again.

KwaZulu-Natal safari
A rhino mother and baby at Thanda Private Reserve.

We saw the last member of the Big Five on our way to a secluded spot for sundowners – a mother and baby white rhino venturing across the clearing. And much to our surprise, after returning to the vehicle, we discovered the shadowy silhouette of a large male rhino watching from only a few metres away. Then, just as our safari was coming to a close, we saw a young leopard slinking into the bushes on one of its first solo hunts.

The weather was going to be dicey over the next few days, so a night swim in the private heated pool was worth sneaking in!

KwaZulu-Natal safari
A plunge pool with a view at Thanda.

The outstanding guides and trackers at Thanda showed us the landscape in exquisite detail. Highlights were definitely learning how to decipher cheetah tracks and carving a path through the bush to follow a hungry elephant, as well as all the fascinating tidbits they tell you as you go. Oh, and if you visit, keep an eye out for Fred, the resident wildebeest bachelor!

KwaZulu-Natal safari
Lions on the move in the afternoon light.

We woke at hoopoe’s call the next morning and, despite the drizzle, were rewarded with the sight of dark, shaggy manes and the enormous, yawning teeth of three adult lions lying in the grass. Much to our amazement, the pair mated twice in the space of 15 minutes.

Over our last morning feast of freshly-baked cookies and African hot chocolate (there’s a tot of Amarula added – excellent), our tracker shared the sacred Zulu tradition of the buffalo thorn branch.

KwaZulu-Natal safari
Zakes sharing the significance of a buffalo thorn branch as Matthew prepares drinks.

Next up, we headed to South Africa’s oldest game reserve, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi and settled in at Rhino Ridge, a beautiful lodge high in the hills. The sensational views are ever-present, from the expansive, open-front dining deck to your private patio where you might just hear the call of a hyena over your morning coffee.

The lodge certainly lives up to its name. We stopped for sundowners on a well-chosen hilltop and the more we looked, the more the rocks and shadows below became figures of rhino in twos and threes. Then, if that wasn’t enough, a one-hundred-strong herd of elephant moved in steady formation through the valley, seemingly out of nowhere. A moment to remember!

KwaZulu-Natal safari
Chic villa on the hilltop at Rhino Ridge.

Fancy something similar?
See the very best of the province on our Explore KwaZulu-Natal trip, from the stunning hiking hub of the Drakensberg to the sombre Battlefields, and ending with an epic safari. And why not combine a few days of Big Five-spotting with a horseback expedition along the mountain trails of Lesotho on this off the beaten track trip?