February 1

Thornybush Game Lodge – Not what I Expected!


February 1, 2021

Having never been to Thornybush Game Reserve, I only knew it by reputation – and a favourable one at that. So, upon hearing that my colleague and I were going to spend two nights at Thornybush Game Lodge – I was giddy with anticipation! 

Polished, refined, and exuding an air of excellence that is hard to find, one could compare the Thornybush Game Reserve to a golden crown ornate with diamonds, emeralds, rubies and sapphires (a treasure trove for those serious about safari). And just like an impressive collection of priceless jewels; Thornybush has the equivalent in luxury lodges – each radiating their own alluring sparkle. 

However, reminding myself that Thornybush Game Lodge is the original establishment of the Thornybush collection, opening its doors back in 1961, my metaphoric (sparkly) jewel connotation quickly transformed into an image of something aged and somewhat oxidised. The word “antique” came to mind.  Little did I know that my ignorant and adverse assumptions were to be proven very, VERY wrong…

Sophisticated safari style with a contemporary twist

The entrance to Thornybush Game Lodge in the Greater Kruger National Park
Thornybush Game Lodge Reception Area. Photo Credit: Thornybush

Arriving at Thornybush Game Lodge, my gaze was greeted by a spacious and exceedingly stylish reception area. A configuration of wooden beams criss-crossed and towered above, supporting an expansive thatch roof. Below – sitting atop polished concrete and pebble embellished floors – various seating areas exuded a compilation of raw colours, natural materials and delightful pops of colour – my first introduction to a steady theme of contemporary sophistication. 

Absolutely absorbed with the lodge’s beauty, I was briefly interrupted by imperative Covid-19 protocols. It did not take long: temperatures taken, hands sanitized, a quick form filled in, and before I knew it, I was back in my world of wonderment. After a warm welcome, we were served icey pink lemonade (a much-needed elixir to remedy the African summer heat) and ushered to the gorgeous main deck and lounge area.

The main lounge area at Thornybush Game Lodge
The main lounge area at Thornybush Game Lodge, Photo Credit: Thornybush

Continuing with a note of sophistication in design and layout; the thatched lounge and deck area expanded over the seasonal Monwana riverbed, overlooking a busy waterhole (frequently visited by elephants). Every surface seemed embroidered with ornamental details, tastefully enriching the lodge’s aesthetics. There was something visually pleasing at every glance!

Small ornamental touches in Thornybush Game Lodge
Small ornamental touches in Thornybush Game Lodge, Photo Credit: Michelle Welvering
Natural materials and delightful pops of colour
Natural materials and delightful pops of colour, Photo Credit: Michelle Welvering

Privately posh with incredible views

Sipping our last slurp of pink lemonade, it was time to get acquainted with the rest of the lodge. Dispersed throughout the property, facilities include a library, curio shop, spa, dining deck and boma area. Everything is superbly well spaced and never feels crowded. Passing a seductive, shimmering pool – adorned with umbrellas, cushioned loungers and fresh towels – we followed a beautiful wooden walkway where 20 luxurious suites fanned out from the main area.

Refreshing pink lemonade
Refreshing pink lemonade, Photo Credit: Michelle Welvering
Pool with bush views at Thornybush Game Lodge
Pool with bush views, Photo Credit: Thornybush

The first thing I noticed when approaching my suite was a “Clean Seal” sticker placed on the door and its frame. This seal is part of Thornybush’s stringent Covid-19 hygiene and safety protocols. In addition to regular temperature taking, adhering to social distancing, providing ample sanitising stations and reducing guest capacity; every area is not only cleaned but disinfected regularly – including your room. It may all sound like a lot of effort, but to the contrary, the precautions do not compromise the quality of the safari experience, in fact, they allow for much needed peace of mind.

Clean seal on door at Thornybush Game Lodge
Clean Seal for your peace of mind, Photo Credit: Michelle Welvering

I was blown away when entering my room. Again, an air of breezy sophistication flowed throughout the design and decor, only this time, with softer undertones. I could melt away in this room. Spend the whole day here. Spend the rest of my life here. I pictured myself reading on the patio, observing wildlife along the riverbed. Taking lengthy bubble baths and sipping champagne. Enjoying private breakfasts with only the sounds of nature as company. I didn’t want to leave. And found myself wishing that I could stay at least a week (maybe a month) instead of two nights. It was hard to tear myself away from my newly discovered (decadent) dwelling, but there were many more surprises to come…

Interior of suite at Thornybush Game Lodge
Pure comfort, Photo Credit: Thornybush
Bathroom at Thornybush Game Lodge
Even the bathroom has a view!, Photo Credit: Thornybush

Eat, drink, safari and repeat

If you are looking to see the Big 5, Thornybush Game Reserve is the place to be! With an abundance of perennial rivers, good groundwater levels and a healthy dollop of varying vegetation, the 14,000-hectare Thornybush Game Reserve draws an exceptional density of plains game, which, in turn, attracts predators aplenty. The Big 5 reserve is also private, ensuring uncrowded encounters with wildlife and extended time on sightings. The animals are well habituated, and (when not hunting or being hunted) they behave in a very docile manner – perfect for photography!

Lion relaxing in high grass
Laid back lion, Photo Credit: Michelle Welvering
White rhino spotted in Thornybush Game Reserve
Endangered white rhino, Photo Credit: Michelle Welvering
Leopard in the bush
Leopard (one of many!), Photo Credit: Michelle Welvering
Buffalo in Thornybush Game Reserve
Buffalo, Photo Credit: Michelle Welvering
Herd of elephants at Thornybush
Elephant family mud bath, Photo Credit: Michelle Welvering

Activities include morning and late-afternoon game drives on open 4×4 vehicles, as well as walking safaris with knowledgeable Shangaan trackers and guides. If you are looking for a change of scenery, guests can also request private dining, bush breakfasts and candle-lit dinners. 

And speaking of food…

It is safe to say that you will never feel famished. Each day begins with a friendly, early morning wake up call. Before departing on your first safari, tea, coffee and cold beverages are served with delicious sweet and savoury snacks. Returning to camp, breakfast is waiting, followed later by lunch, then pre-safari high tea, then (nearing the end of your second activity) sundowners, more snacks, then dinner, and finally… dessert. Phew! Now that’s a mouthful! (pun definitely intended!)

Candlelight dinner on terrace at Thornybush Game Lodge
Dinner by candlelight, Photo Credit: Thornybush

Doing good (as everyone should)

Involved in a number of initiatives, Thornybush is devoted to uplift, empower and invest in the local communities (from which many of their staff originate). The Thornybush Community Projects are multifaceted, impressively executed and wonderfully successful – evolving continuously with each triumph. And guests are welcome to get involved too.

We had the amazing privilege to visit Nourish Eco Village. Nourish is a community centre that promotes self-sufficiency, sustainable living and ultimately empowers the disadvantaged. It is a haven for people from rural communities and, even more so, for their children. They run several different projects ranging from early learning development and feeding schemes to literacy programs as well as adult skills development. The Village’s entire infrastructure has been developed in such a way that it can be replicated in a rural setting; everything from architecture to agriculture and even upcycled furniture – promoting integrated sustainable solutions.

Nourish Recycle Village near Thornybush Game Reserve
Nourish Recycle Village, Photo Credit: Michelle Welvering
Nourish Community Garden with lots of vegetables and herbs
Vegetable and herb garden – Nourish Eco Village, Photo Credit: Michelle Welvering
Recycled seating at Nourish Library
Upcycled seating in Nourish’s Library, Photo Credit: Michelle Welvering

Visiting the community added a completely new dimension to my Thornybush expedition, and really helped me to engage with the world at a deeper level. Feeling humbled and inspired – it was truly a transformative experience.

The Centre Stone

Upon returning home, along with life-long memories and unforgettable experiences, I also returned with a fresh perspective. Thornybush Game Lodge may be the first of its kind in the Thornybush Nature Reserve, but this does not mean it is any less exquisite. Just like an antique diamond ring – there is something magical about a precious gem with a past. And if it’s cared for, or even reset together with sister stones, (in this case, revamped with sister lodges), the centre stone will always remain the most significant. Polished throughout the years, shining brighter than ever, Thornybush Game Lodge remains the dazzling centrepiece in the ever evolving Thornybush crown.

Thornybush Game Lodge Highlights

  • Thornybush Game Reserve forms part of the Greater Kruger National Park
  • Authentic Big 5 African safari experience with game drives and walks
  • The first of its kind establishing a reputation for world-class game-viewing
  • Largest of the Thornybush Collection properties with the most extensive facilities
  • Additional activities include community interactions and bush dining
  • Covid-19 precautions in place providing complete peace of mind
  • Overlooks a seasonal riverbed and a private watering hole
  • Five-star service with warm-hearted staff, expert Shangaan trackers and guides 

Thornybush Game Lodge is perfect for…

The First Time Safari-Goers and Photographers

With more habituated wildlife, photographers and first-time safari-goers alike will be sure to go home with a number of exquisite close-up shots – providing an anxiety-free experience.

The Romantics

Carefully designed and spaced to provide privacy, the Luxury Suites offer a sense of solitude. Combine that with a private candlelit dinner –  and it is the perfect place for two.

The Whole Family

With two Family Suites, parents and children will love the extra space of the larger lounge and deck areas – they will even have their own plunge pool to enjoy on hot summer days. There is also a children’s programme and babysitting available.

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About the author 

Michelle Welvering

Growing up, Michelle always wanted to become a world-renowned artist, a kickboxing-champion and an eccentric explorer – aka a Kickboxing Exploring Artist! After pursuing an education in Fine Arts and opening her own Kickboxing gym in Pretoria, an unexpected twist led her to a six-year stint as a travel consultant in South African tourism. She believes that all things happen for a reason and, driven by adventure, she was eager to find a more “wild” and cultural space to call home. This led her to wander the Western Cape coastline, fall in love with the city of Cape Town and, of course, her workplace, Rhino Africa.

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