Port Elizabeth to Zululand and Thanda Tented Safari Camp

Sunday 28 September Port Elizabeth to Zululand and Thanda Tented Safari Camp
After Breakfast, we went for a wander around the Boardwalk Hotel grounds and checked out the lovely gardens and the views.
Nando drove us to the airport and we said our goodbyes to him before catching our 11.05am South African Airways flight from Port Elizabeth to Durban. The flight was on a Canadian Regional Jet CJR200, which carried only 50 passengers. We had a smooth flight of an hour and a quarter and were given a snack box, containing a small packet of chips, a small packet of nuts, a small packet of dried fruit and a drink for “lunch”.
When we arrived in Durban, our new driver, Sam, picked us up and we drove for two and a half hours to the Thanda Tented Safari Camp, through Zululand, one of South Africa’s nine provinces. The area is known for its beautiful savanna-covered hills and stunning views and is home to the WWF Black Rhinoceros Reintroduction Project.
Thanda, meaning ‘love’ in Zulu, is said to be an expression of the magical union of powerful Zulu culture, wildlife, romantic decadence and exclusivity and the Thanda Tented Safari Camp is set in one of the country’s most diverse conservation reserves. The bus took us off the main highway, along a gravel track to the property gate, where we were transferred to three open four-wheel drive vehicles for our first three-hour African game drive. Our luggage was taken directly to the campsite and our tents.
Each of the three 4WDs headed off in different directions but stayed in contact with each other via walkie talkies. Within a short time of our driver Effram heading off, our spotter, Ronnie, who was sitting on a seat on the front of the vehicle, found a Hyena and then a White Rhino and her baby, who is 2 months and was having a feed from its mum. We saw lots of Nyala (a type of antelope) and lots of Impala but we did not get many photos of them as they ran off as soon as they heard the vehicle.
Our next treat was when we found some Giraffes, including a baby Giraffe and then we found a female Jackal.
Further on in our drive, Effram drove around a corner and there beside the road, right next to our vehicle, were two male Lions, who are not related but occasionally fight over the territory. Effram quickly reversed the vehicle back around the corner and up the hill so that Ronnie could get off the front so that he wouldn’t be the Lions’ dinner. He then drove us back around the corner so that we could take photos and watch the Lions up close – approximately 4 metres away. He explained to us that the lions don’t see us as food as we are in one large vehicle. One of the lions started to walk off up the track making an incredibly loud guttural roaring noise that surprised us all with its volume and depth of sound. We could also see some vapour/gases coming out of his mouth when he roared. Then the other Lion got up and starting following it at a distance. We followed the Lions for a while until they left the track and then we headed down into an old dried up watering hole and had Sundowner Drinks and nibblies that Effram and Ronnie served to us from the tailgate of the 4WD.
After an enjoyable drink and chat, we continued on our way in the dark with Ronnie using a spotlight to try and locate some more animals, but with no luck. As we made our way to the campsite, it started to rain, but we were so delighted with our first Game Drive in Africa and with the animals that we had seen that no-one cared about the rain.
We were taken in groups from the vehicles to the dining room by porters with lights. Thanda Tented Safari Camp only has a minimum of lighting, provided by solar power and a generator that is used from 5.00am until 10.00pm. Around the campsite there are oil lanterns on poles, so it was quite dark. We enjoyed a lovely African three-course dinner before being individually escorted by a porter to our tent, No 7. Our tent is on a timber platform and comprises of two segments: the main area is a canvas octagon about 8 metres across and the bathroom is a canvas square approximately 4 metres across. The main area has a king size bed and was lit by 4 candles and one upright torch. There is a light (fairly dim) in the bathroom, which only works when the generator is running. Our porter showed us where everything is, including a gas powered mini fridge and he showed us how to use our own gas powered hot water system for our bath. The porter also showed us how to use the walkie talkie which is in our room because there are no phones and they have a policy that “if you can’t see you cant walk” and if you need to go somewhere in the dark, or need something, then you contact the porters by walkie talkie and they are on duty overnight.
It felt very unusual to be settling into our tent and getting ready for bed in very dim light with nobody else around (all the tents are set out quite a distance from each other amongst the trees) and it was pitch black outside and very quiet. We needed a torch to open the combination locks on our suitcases and to find our PJs.
What an exciting adventure and wonderful beginning to our first African Safari!!

Monday 29 September Thanda Private Game Reserve
After a good night’s sleep, we woke at 4.45am to the sound of heavy rain. At 5.00am one of the porters arrived at our door to give us our wake up call. At 5.30am, we set of on an invigorating early morning game drive through Thanda’s Private Game Reserve, which has 14,000 hectares of land. The rain had stopped but we put on the ponchos that were provided for us, just in case.
We searched for Africa’s elusive Big Five – elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo, lion and leopard. They are described as the Big Five because they are the most dangerous of Africa’s wild animals.
We spent the first hour driving around through various tracks but the only animals we saw were Impala and they rushed off into the bush as we approached. Eventually, we came across some Hyenas and a Wildebeest and then we came across the two male lions again, this time at least 5 kilometres away from where we saw them last night. Again, we were able to drive right up next to them to take lots of photos.
Effram drove us up to a clearing on the crossroads of two tracks and stopped the vehicle for us to have a cup of tea/coffee and some biscuits because at that stage we hadn’t had breakfast. We enjoyed a chat before heading off to find more animals. Not far away we found some Zebras and one of them had a little baby who was feeding from her – fantastic!
As we were heading back in the general direction of our Camp, we came across two beautiful cheetahs. We were told they are brothers and we were delighted to see them grooming each other by licking each others’ face and head. We watched them for a while, taking photos and marveling at how graceful they are as they moved around and sat up on a mound. Cheetahs can be recognized from a leopard by the “tear-stain” marks on their face.
We also saw some crested guinea fowl and several other birds.
We returned to the camp shortly after 9.00am and went straight into the tented dining area for breakfast. It was interesting to finally get to see the camp and our tent in the daylight. We have a lovely view out over the bushveld from our deck and we discovered that we have an outdoor shower area that is private but maybe a little cool to use at this stage. As well as the dining area and lounge/bar, the camp has a small gift shop, an outdoor boma and a swimming pool.
At 11.00am, we were entertained in the lounge/bar by a colourful group of Zulu women who sang and danced for us – most enjoyable.
After a light high tea at 2.30, we returned to our tent to catch up with our blog and sort photos ready to post when we get internet coverage at our next hotel, before returning to our vehicle for our afternoon three-hour game drive.
At 4.00pm, with threatening skies, we put on ponchos provided by Thanda and headed off for our 3 hour afternoon game drive. As we hadn’t had much rain during the day, the tracks had a chance to dry out a bit so we didn’t do as much slipping and sliding as we did this morning.
We saw lots of Nyala and Impala, both of which are types of antelope and then several Giraffes. As we travelled further, we came across a herd of buffalo that were crossing our track – we saw males with big horns, females and some young calves. It was awesome to be so close to them and they were not at all bothered by our large 4WD with 10 eager tourists, a driver and a spotter. The buffalo are considered one of the most dangerous animals as they are unpredictable and give no warning that they are going to attack.
By this stage, although we couldn’t actually see the sun, the light was disappearing fast, so we stopped for our Sundownder drinks and nibblies and a chat. It was good to stretch our legs as we had travelled a fair distance on some bumpy tracks and had been dodging thorn bushes that were encroaching on the seldom-used tracks. Occasionally, we went totally bush and pushed our own way through some of the shrubs in search of the elusive Big 5.
By the time we had finished our Sundowners, it was dark and we headed back towards our Camp with our spotter, Ronnie, using a spotlight to check either side of our track for animals. The beam caught sight of a female lion lying semi-concealed among some long brown grass. Without the expert eyes of our spotter, she would have gone unnoticed, so we were very lucky. After cautiously taking some photos, we headed back to the campsite for a lovely three course “BBQ/Braai” that was served in the dining room and not in the Boma area as planned as it was by then raining lightly and we could hear thunder.
We were in bed by 9.30pm, after having had a wonderful day of animal spotting and marveling at the beautiful Zululand mountains and plains.

Tuesday 30 September Zululand to Swaziland
This morning we were up bright and early again as we were treated to an extra game drive for those who wished to take this opportunity. There were only 10 of us so we climbed into 2 vehicles, again with ponchos to ward off the possible rain. It had poured with rain overnight and we were woken by loud claps of thunder and bright flashes of lightning at 2.00am.
Effram told us that this morning we were off to find elephants! We headed off to a different section of the park and as we climbed up onto a ridge, we could see back to the Thanda Tented Camp site with each of the tents nested into the bush. As we drove up one of the better tracks, there in the middle of the road, were two male lions! Effram explained to us that they were on this better, drier track because they would not want to lie in the wet grass. We watched them for a while and took lots of photos and then, when our driver tried to drive around them, they got up, gave us a filthy look and strolled over to the grass at the side of the road, where they settled.
We continued our hunt for the elusive elephants – we could not believe that an animal that is so big could possibly hide from us. Eventually, Ronnie, called out to say that he could see two lots of huge elephant prints and worked out what direction they were heading in and we followed after them. We came across two elephants – an older large male and a “teenage” male and Effram told us that they are together, away from the herd, so that the older male can teach the younger male all about being a good elephant. We watched the teenager, who was about 20 years old, for some time as he grazed from the trees and shrubs. The older male wandered off and soon disappeared in the shrubbery – it was then that we could see how easy it is for them to camouflage themselves and be so hard to find.
We finally tore ourselves away from the elephant and headed to an area where we found lots of Zebras and Giraffes. On our way back to camp, we also found some Kuzu, another type of antelope.
After breakfast, our bags were collected from our tent and we were taken via our 4WD back to Thanda’s Main Gate, where we boarded our bus for today’s travel and adventures.
Although we were only at Thanda for a short time, we managed to get in 4 game drives, totalling 11 hours and saw 4 of the Big 5!! We thoroughly enjoyed this amazing experience and would have loved to stay longer.
Our adventure started much sooner than we had expected because about 1 kilometre from the main road, while still on a dirt road, the bus slewed slowly sideways when going up a slippery hill and became bogged in the muddy edge – this all happened very slowly and we were in no danger. Delia, our tour director phoned Thanda, who sent a tractor, which took one hour and 20 minutes to reach us and then it pulled the bus back on to solid ground and waited until the bus had reached the top of the incline to make sure we were ok. Everyone had been asked to walk up the muddy, slippery hill carefully to reduce the weight in the bus. Good humoured, everyone cheered when the bus arrived at the top of the hill to pick us up.
We headed off towards Swaziland and then the next part of our adventure began – the bus was having mechanical issues, so we stopped at a Service Station with restrooms and a Wimpy Burger restaurant attached so that Sam, the driver could have a look at the problem. It was decided to arrange a mechanic to come and see if he could fix it but at the same time they arranged a replacement bus to be dispatched immediately from Durban. The bus arrived before the mechanic at 4.00pm so our luggage was transferred and we continued our trip on the new bus with a new driver, Shuran.
The scenery on the way to Swaziland was quite different – much greener and we passed a fairly large dam the Jozini Dam, with Ghost Mountain in the background. We drove through the Phongola Nature Reserve and arrived at the South African side of the border, Golela Border Control, an hour later, We had to physically go in and have our passports checked and stamped as exiting South Africa. We then walked across the border and into Swaziland Immigration, Lavumisa Border Crossing and again had our passports checked and stamped. We then got back on the bus and headed to our accommodation
Swaziland ids a Kingdom and it is a small landlocked country in southern Africa that is bordered to the north, south and west by South Africa and to the east by Mozambique.
We finally arrived at the Royal Swazi Spa Hotel at about 20 to 8 and went straight in to dinner. We had a quick bite to eat and came back to our room to get organised for tomorrow, as we are both very tired.
Because of the issues with our bus, we were not able to visit the Swazi Candle Factory or the Ngwenya Glass Factory, which were planned for today.
Today has been one of those days that happens from time to time when travelling and we were impressed with our Tour Director, who organised the bus to leave Durban straight away and also with the rest of the tour group, who were quite good natured about the whole thing. Some of them spent the afternoon playing cards and others bought a jigsaw puzzle that they all sit and worked on.
As we have been up since 4.30am, we are going to head off to bed as soon as we can and dream about our animal sightings in Thanda and the ones we hope to see tomorrow afternoon at Kruger National Park.
Once again we will be without internet coverage for at least two nights.

2 Responses to “Port Elizabeth to Zululand and Thanda Tented Safari Camp”

  1. Katharine says:

    LOVE the photos. I’ll show Patrick in the morning xo

  2. Janet says:

    That’s some serious glamping! 😛 But it looks like a great experience. Hope you get to top off your big 5 list soon 🙂

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