The call of the wild: Our family safari at Thornybush

If our first day at Thornybush Game Lodge was anything to go by we knew we would be in for a treat on our second day. We were not disappointed!

The day started with an early morning wake up call – but not the type you would expect. Instead, just before 5am, we were all awoken by the most incredible lion roar!

A quick dawn refresh in the outdoor shower accompanied by a choir of birdsong and then it was time to gather our things and brave the wilderness from our room to the reception area hoping we didn’t bump into that lion! Fortunately the short walk was uneventful aside from a few naughty monkeys…

Over the past few years I’ve found myself becoming more and more drawn to birds – identifying them from their colours and calls. Spending time in the lowveld during summer is paradise for twitchers as the sheer number and variety of bird life here is incredible. I love photographing wildlife and, on this trip, developed a keen interest in capturing birds. I don’t have all the correct gear (yet) but it was exciting to spend much of the game drive time looking out for species we hadn’t yet seen. We were treated to an abundance of bird sightings at Thornybush.

Below are a few of my favourite photos of the beautiful birds we discovered on our “treasure hunt”. Among them you’ll spot European Rollers, Burchell’s Starling, White backed Vultures, Woodland Kingfishers, Yellow and Red-billed Hornbill. We were even lucky enough to come across four Ground Hornbills – a very endangered species in the Greater Kruger area.

After a bountiful breakfast we spent the morning lounging in the beautifully furnished open-air boma area, enjoying the quiet of living life as close to nature as possible.

Lunch came around quickly and then we retired to read a few pages of our books before dozing off for a leisurely nap in the cool air-conditioned haven of our suite (those early mornings can catch up with you quickly!)

Energy levels restored we were once again eager to head out to discover what excitement awaited. Life continues in the bush while we rest and relax and you never know what you’re going to find when you head out to traverse the same roads – as we were to discover all manner of activities continue and on this particular afternoon we were to be treated to quite possibly one of the best game sightings we’ve ever had!

When you speak to safari enthusiasts who have the privilege of regular visits to the bush you’ll soon discover that it’s not the Big 5 encounters that draw them again and again… it is in fact the once-in-a-lifetime experiences, never to be forgotten wild animal encounters and interactions observed that keep them coming back. Top of most of their wish lists is to see wild dog – preferably on the hunt! These elusive creatures cover vast distances in a day as their territories are massive which makes them very difficult to track down or keep up with! Once they are on the run there’s very little chance of catching them again.

When our ranger caught wind of wild dogs in the area – even on the other end of the reserve – we gave him full permission to do whatever it took to get us there! After an exhilarating bundu-bashing experience we finally came to the area where the wild dogs had last been spotted… along with hyena attempting to steal their kill!

We spent a few adrenalin-fuelled moments listening to them fighting over the bones in the bushes just beyond our sight. The hyena laughing and whooping while the dogs growling and snarling filled the air with tension. And then, right in front of us, emerged a wild dog, victorious with a piece of spare rib clutched firmly in his bloody jaw, followed by a group of friends all eager for a share of the pickings, and then by an angry hyena who had lost out (despite it not belonging to him in the first place!) and was not happy about it!

We stayed as long as we could, observing this bush lore play out in front of our eyes. Wild dogs were running in every direction, some with full bellies and others looking gaunt and desperate.

It was hard to keep track of where they would turn next and so our ranger tried his best to keep up with them and find us the best vantage point. We we very fortunate when a few lay down to recover briefly, allowing for some great photo opportunities, although the hyena’s didn’t give us the same courtesy – they were far too desperate for their supper!

And before we knew it the whole battle was over and the losers limped off into the bush, disheartened and despondent…

Yet another incredible game drive at Thornybush Game Lodge that I’m so grateful to have experience with my kids! I know that the memories that we have made together on this trip will stay with us always and be a part of our family conversation forever.

During lockdown one of our regular conversations was focused around the fact that our eldest is now 14 and that there are only 4 short years (and possibly less) where he would actually still want to come on family holidays with us.

It made us really evaluate what memories we wanted to make together as a family of 4 in the next 4 years. Before we know it he will be 18 and heading off on holidays with friends instead of spending time with his folks and little sister.

We decided that for the next few years we wanted to make sure that we went on really awesome trips – regular weekends away, but most especially one really great annual holiday that would be the backbone of our family memories for a lifetime. We wanted to choose options that appealed to our teen and that would help us bond together as a family.

From our very first trip to the bush our son has been a big fan. He comes alive on the back of a safari vehicle, dreams about being a ranger and just settles into his happiest self in the bush. On the back of a really tough year (and his first in high school) we felt that a family safari holiday would be the best choice for us all and a really great reset button for him.

I can definitively say it was a great choice!

After some trying times over the past few months, time in the bush was the best thing for our son. For all of us in fact!

The Benefits of a Family Safari Holiday

Internet connectivity is possible at most lodges, however, it’s not always reliable and not very fast. This enforced disconnect from technology meant we had more time to reconnect with our kids. We all stepped away from our devices (after the long drive!) and the time offline was brilliant for our teen but also for us. The past few months our teen has been plugged in to his phone or Xbox for hours at a time so it was really great to spend at least 6 hours everyday out in nature, implanting a healthy addiction into his DNA for fresh air and wildlife.

As I mentioned he has had a love for the bush since he was young and it didn’t take long for the passion to reignite. As soon as he was able he was in the front seat chatting to the ranger, asking questions, sharing his own knowledge and even assisting with tracking! With no one to impress he was free to just be himself. It is always amazing as a parent to see your child truly come alive!

Every meal we enjoyed our time together reminiscing about the day’s incredible encounters. These shared memories and moments will remain with me as some of the happiest of my parenting years and I trust that the magic will also stay with my kids – and fill them with joy in the years to come!

Replacing our routine with something new, exciting and different, without any of the usual day-to-day stressors of screen time restrictions and Xbox, meal prep and working from home, meant that we were all able to fully unwind and destress… leading us all to be the very best versions of ourselves – and as a family! The all-inclusive aspect of our Thornybush safari removed all areas of friction and allowed us all to enjoy life together again in a more present way – and reminded we do actually enjoy being together!

Research suggests that experiences are far more valuable than anything money can buy and so for this, and all the reasons listed above, we discovered that a family safari holiday really is a great choice. When it comes to this interesting season of parenting tweens and teens a family safari is one of the best holiday options for family bonding and possibly even better than the beach when everyone heads off in their own direction!

Read more about our family safari holiday with teens at Thornybush  here:

Big 5 encounters at Thornybush Game Lodge

Memorable moments at Thornybush Game Lodge



P.S. There are currently some amazing special deals on offer to South African residents. Find out how you and your family can enjoy the magic of the bush at Thornybush!

Contact Thornybush Game Lodge

Thornybush Nature Reserve
Guernsey Road
Tel: +27 11 253 6500

Thornybush Nature Reserve Gate : -24.428404, 31.128351

Kathryn Rossiter

Kathryn is a South African lifestyle blogger and mom of 2 who has been blogging daily for over 9 years! She writes about travel, health, beauty, fashion, decor and family... but not food (unless it's food she's eaten made by someone else) as she is a hopeless cook. She only wakes up early for 2 things... a red-eye flight to somewhere exotic and early morning game drives. She has just finished an extensive home renovation and would prefer to never see another box again. She's never met a chocolate or glass of bubbles that she didn't like!

  1. that is such a great experience, and wow the kids must have absolutely loved it. Mine would. Pinned for further visits. Thanks you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.