The “bush” is a magical place. I love returning to enjoy a safari time and time again… It’s a holiday I never get bored of. My only complaint? I don’t get to visit it nearly enough being from Cape Town!
In the April school holidays we were lucky enough to enjoy a family holiday near the Kruger National Park… We would be staying in 3 different private game lodges in the Great Kruger area – in both the Thornybush Reserve and the Balule Reserve.
For me there is no more authentic safari than one in the Lowveld or Greater Kruger area. I’ve been privileged enough to enjoy safari’s at many of the very best lodges located around South Africa and, although I always enjoy them, the game drives in this part of the world are something special!
After flying to Joburg and spending the night there we caught an early morning shuttle from OR Tambo to Hoedspruit with Ashton’s Tours (read more here) arriving in the heat of Hoedspruit approx 6 hours later at 1pm. From there another local shuttle collected us and we headed off to our first lodge – Waterside at Thornybush.
As I walked through the cool thatched reception area and enjoyed a refreshing towel and icy drink, I knew that we were in for a treat!
The communal areas of the lodge are tastefully furnished with high thatched ceilings and comfortable chairs that ask to be lounged in…
Open walls mean that you can watching the animals and beautiful scenery from shaded comfort while enjoying a gentle breeze blowing through the lodge. It’s bliss!
The view from Waterside’s central area is pretty spectacular. I made a mental note that I would be bringing my book back with me to this very spot to enjoy the view later in our stay and I did just that!
A whole afternoon of quiet contemplation and peaceful paging of my novel was exactly what I did – a true holiday indeed!
From my deck chair I watched the birds swoop, the hippo’s fight, the terrapins sunbathe and the monkeys play in the trees above my head – surrounded by all the nature noises that accompany such antics!
Another blissful few afternoon hours were spent poolside. We last visited this area during the South African Winter school holidays (June/July), when mornings were freezing and required beanies, gloves and scarves. Winter days are warmer, but the water, not so much!
I loved being on safari during this time of the year when the weather was much warmer. It made morning (& evening) game drives much more pleasant – think shorts and t-shirts, even after dark! And to be able to spend a day sunbathing and swimming while on safari was heaven. Before I’d never even packed my swimming costume but this time I was pleased that I did! There was something really lovely about cooling down and chilling out surrounded by the bush.
Our arrival coincided with lunch so we were quick to take up the offer of enjoying a meal under the shade of the fever trees before heading to our room.
The kids were thrilled to hear Spaghetti Bolognese was on their menu and devoured their generous bowls while we helped ourselves from the buffet.
Waterside really knew how to look after our kids – not only was their a full kids menu but they also arranged snack packs for the evening game drives knowing that their tummies might get hungry before dinner time at 8pm.
The room set up at Waterside was also really great for families – we had 2 adjoining rooms, each with their own bathroom and kitchenette area, and having the the interleading door meant our kids felt secure – even with the hyena’s “whooping” in the distance!
Our rooms were pretty perfect too…
How are these amazing mossie net canopies? Loving the romantic safari vibes!
Every afternoon at 3:30pm guests at Waterside met in the reception area for a high tea and safari briefing, before heading out on the open-topped 4×4’s at 4pm.
My kids thought this was the business – sweets and treats laid out for their choosing!
It also made for a nice way to meet a few of the other guests from around the world. During our time in the bush we met such interesting people, including some from Bahrain, Alaska, Trinidad, Belarus & China, which led to some very fascinating conversations.
And then it was time for the highlight of any safari trip: the game drive!
I’m a sucker for a game drive. I LOVE everything about it. The anticipation, the warm air, the bush smells, the bird life, the thrill of spotting your first animal.
Our game drives at Waterside were to offer up some of our very best game viewing ever….
First up… Wild dogs!
Now that is just unheard of. Wild dogs are some of the most elusive game to spot any where. And considering there are only about 3000 of them left in the wild we were thrilled to come across a pack parking off in the shade… Truth be told our rangers had seen them in the area the day before and had an idea they would still be nearby after spotting their kill on the morning drive but we were still very lucky as they could have very easily have moved on!
This pack didn’t look in a hurry however!
They were perfectly relaxed lazing around, only picking up their heads when an engine started. As this was such a rare treat we spent a fair amount of time just enjoying them – their unique markings, huge ears, dog-like behaviour!
On previous safari holidays this was the animal that had always been top of my husband’s wish list, so for him this was a complete highlight! To be honest it’s not likely we’ll have such a close wild dog experience ever again so I’m really grateful our ranger allowed us the time to enjoy this sighting.
But this wasn’t to be the main highlight of our first game drive at Waterside…
If you can believe it, things got better!
The problem is that my next batch of photo’s sharing one of the most incredible sightings I’ve ever had will make this blog post so much longer… and I don’t want you to miss out!
So, I’ve created a separate blog post dedicated to this extraordinary animal sighting which you will be able to read soon 😉
As I mentioned earlier the bush is a beautiful place… but even more so when the sun starts to set and dusk settles in! This this place really shows off!
The last few rays of sun hit the grasses and animals in a special way, living up to the Golden Hour nickname!
After our incredible sightings it was time to celebrate with a sundowner – enjoyed while watching the clouds turn pink and the sun set behind the Drakensberg mountains…
After our most successful game drive we headed back to our rooms to freshen up and then headed down to dinner in the lantern-lit boma….
A starry sky, warm weather and a traditional South African braai was the perfect way to end off our most magical day.
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Waterside Lodge at Thornybush
Images: Kathryn Rossiter