Tucked away in southeast South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal may be less than an hour away by plane from “Joburg” but it’s worlds away from its round-the-clock busyness. Its main metropolis of Durban, both a port city and a beach destination, is in itself an attractions hotspot, but what lies beyond hides the region’s most natural and extravagant showpieces, and where adventure and luxury marry so well.
“The KwaZulu-Natal Tourism Authority has been very active in the last two years, particularly in both the U.S. and Canada,” says Moira Smith, Goway Travel’s general manager for Africa and the Middle East. “What they’ve been trying to showcase is the fact that KwaZulu-Natal is a really great option for customers who want to do the ‘big five’…KwaZulu-Natal can offer a fantastic bush and beach experience, as well as a cultural experience.”
Indeed, KwaZulu-Natal is among the five most visited areas in the country, according to South African Tourism president Sthu Zungu. “It’s the culture of the Zulus, the fusion of the Indian culture, it’s where Mahatma Ghandi lived for several years, it’s the amazing beaches and the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, which are such a big draw—but also the ability to do safari within that accessible area,” she explains.
On a recent visit to this majestic area, we heeded the advice of the experts and took Highway 2—the longest in South Africa—north to the bushveldt, arriving in Thanda Private Game Reserve, a 35,830-acre property in Zululand protecting many of the creatures indigenous to the region.
It’s easy to see why Thanda is becoming a popular choice with Goway clients—its one-stop luxury-and-wildlife combo leaves little to the imagination. With Truman and Winneth serving as our guide and tracker, once we got on our open-topped Land Rovers it wasn’t long before we were running into regal elephants sauntering about, giraffe peeking out above the treetops and cheetah completely unimpressed with the visitors whose jaws were dropping. Early-morning and late-afternoon-to-evening game drives also revealed buffalo and wildebeest, funny-looking warthogs and a pride of lions lounging about, with cubs playing and getting into trouble as their mom looked on. You can drive for days on end around this expansive area and not come close to discovering all of its inhabitants, but we were lucky enough to also spot prized finds such as white and black rhino, a Mozambique spitting cobra—admired from a distance, of course—and a furtive leopard, eyes shining in the night. Mid-drive, there is a morning coffee- or cocktail hour-stop, with hot chocolate, beer and other libations warming up guests before the discovery continues.
The main building at Thanda, where meals take place, is not without its share of vervet monkeys and starlings hanging around—Thanda is a birdwatcher’s haven as well, with hundreds of species fluttering about. The main building is where fruit smoothies and a generous spread greet guests after morning drives, where afternoon tea and dinner under the stars take place and where a cozy library provides space for a quiet read. Outside of the daily show put on by nature, however, the standouts at Thanda are the bush villas—huge spaces with a fireplace warming up the bedroom and lounge area, bedroom-size bathrooms with both indoor and outdoor shower and an oval-shaped tub that looks out to the reserve, plus sliding doors framing the world outside. Each villa comes with an expansive deck from which to admire surrounding wildlife, complete with a circular outdoor bed and infinity pool; depending on which villa you get, you might wake up to spot an elephant looking in as it showers itself with the water from your pool.
Thanda also has a knockout 5-bedroom villa—fenced in to keep animals at bay—with a large pool that is ideal for families wanting their own huge home away from home, plus a newly refurbished deluxe tented camp opening this month that provides an intimate bush experience with added comforts such as beds and bathrooms. After a game drive or guided walk, head to Thanda’s spa for a heavenly massage or body treatment with Africology products.
A 2-night stay at Thanda through Goway, fully inclusive of all meals, game drives and transfer from King Shaka International Airport in Durban, starts at $1,127 pp dbl.