Thorny­bush The River Lodge | TRAVEL

HOED­SPRUIT, SOUTH AFRICA

Upscale Living Magazine - - Content - By Heléne Ra­mack­ers

She lifts her trunk aloft and trum­pets vo­cif­er­ously, shat­ter­ing the early morn­ing soli­tude. Her grey face is so close I can count her long eye­lashes one by one. Never need­ing mas­cara, the ele­phant gives me the once over, scowl­ing at our nearby pres­ence to her calf. Said calf is non­cha­lantly hav­ing his morn­ing meal, con­sist­ing of the green­est leaves in abun­dance.

Un­doubt­edly the most sparkling jewel in The Thorny­bush Lux­ury Game Lodge Col­lec­tion’s crown, The River Lodge is fla­grantly chic and stylish with­out scream­ing ‘sa­fari’. Ex­clu­siv­ity and lux­ury reign at The River Lodge and amongst the shaded canopies of trees, you will know that you have landed in utopia.

Few things ri­val Fri­day morn­ing rush hour in the bush when the traf­fic jam con­sists of a breed­ing herd of ele­phants. Right in front of our game drive ve­hi­cle, the young­sters are hav­ing a spir­ited roll-around. Sud­denly a very large bull ele­phant am­bles down the road and the lit­tle ones set off in search of mom. She gath­ers them to­gether and starts strolling in our di­rec­tion, led by the small­est of the calves. They in­ten­sify their pace and thank good­ness our ranger, Stan­ley Chiyasa knows where the re­verse stick shift is as they are now in hot pur­suit.

The ex­plo­sion of green in the bush her­alds the on­set of sum­mer, paired with the oc­ca­sional down­pour; the lush­ness of the bush is the ideal stomp­ing ground for the browsers and graz­ers. The an­i­mals look healthy and happy ex­cept for those who have to un­will­ingly sacri­fice their young to preda­tors. We are told that the Black Dam lion pride had gorged them­selves on not one, but two buf­faloes they had caught a cou­ple of days prior to our visit. Op­por­tunis­tic hunt­ing is un­for­tu­nately a re­al­ity when the bush is bur­geon­ing with new life, and even killing for fun has be­come a habit with the sur­plus of young­sters.

We find the Black Dam pride af­ter sun­set, re­plete from feed­ing on a kudu kill. The one cub is tug­ging at the top end of the car­cass while an­other one has his fo­cus on a dung bee­tle. Not know­ing what is rolling to­wards him, he ex­am­ines the threat and with­out much ado, gri­maces

at it and un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously squashes it. These guys have glut­tonized to the point of burst­ing. Their dis­tended tum­mies look like they’ve swal­lowed a foot­ball!

The food at The River Lodge is ex­tra­or­di­nary. To put it mildly. With the ex­pert culi­nary ge­nius of chefs Prince Mashele and Nomsa Methe­bula, every sin­gle din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is a mas­ter­piece. We dine on the most mouth­wa­ter­ing meals in the most ex­quis­ite set­tings imag­in­able – lunch in the Villa, con­sist­ing of cur­ried cau­li­flower salad, chick pea salad, fish cake with gar­lic aioli, chicken & veg­etable wrap, potato home-made fries and le­mon pos­set for dessert. But­ler Peter Maz­ibuko is al­ways ready to fill your glass or clear your plate. Din­ner in the din­ing room, break­fast on the deck watch­ing the wildlife com­ing for a drink at the wa­ter­ing hole and din­ner in the boma with a va­ri­ety of smoky bar­be­qued of­fer­ings. This is not the place to come to if you watch what you eat. Over-in­dulge. You only live once.

I am stay­ing in the Lim­popo suite, a spa­cious room with a view of the sea­sonal Mon­wana River. Right in front of my out­door area, the ele­phants come to quench their thirst while the gi­raffe climb up the em­bank­ment on the op­po­site side of the river to feed on some greens. I could spend hours in my re­cliner watch­ing the pass­ing of an­i­mals with­out hav­ing to go any­where, but my air con­di­tioned room beck­ons.

My bed is so high off the ground I al­most need a steplad­der. It is lav­ishly cov­ered in the most crisp, pris­tine white bed­ding and I love the eclec­tic mix of green and cream, adding smidgens of colour to the oth­er­wise stark­ness of white. The bath­room is a haven of in­dul­gence – a free­stand­ing bath that over­looks the bush through floor to ceil­ing win­dows and dou­ble van­i­ties. There is also an in­door and out­door shower should you want to cleanse un­der the stars.

Our game drives are event­ful with a myr­iad of re­mark­able sight­ings. We hap­pen upon a pack of wild dogs that must have fin­ished a kill as the leader rushes past us with a blood­ied face. Tracker Aberd Khoza thinks they are on the hunt again. They find a peak cap ly­ing in the road that must have fallen off some­one’s head and pro­ceed to play tug-of-war un­til only a few threads are left. Lots of squeals fill the air and off they go, run­ning amok.

Out in the clear­ing, the nyala fam­ily is sport­ing a brand-new baby and we all hold our breaths as the tot gets sep­a­rated from its mom, hop­ing it won’t be an­other meal for the wild dogs. We heave a sigh of re­lief when the two are re­u­nited.

The sun is start­ing to set and as we ap­proach one of the dams on the re­serve, the hippo fam­i­lies are sub­merg­ing them­selves un­der­wa­ter. There are lots of ‘oohs and aahs’ when we no­tice two hippo ba­bies along­side their moth­ers. Baby an­i­mals are so adorable!

Thorny­bush Game Re­serve is teem­ing with ele­phants and gi­raffe. We also stum­ble upon a few ‘dagga boys’, a ter­mi­nol­ogy used for el­derly male buf­fa­los. There are four of them sleep­ing right where we need to drive. Do we sim­ply nav­i­gate around them or take an­other route? The grumpy one in the group rises from his slum­ber and looks un­im­pressed by our pres­ence.

With an abun­dant birdlife, twitch­ers will think they have struck pure gold. Hel­meted guinea fowl, Egyp­tian geese, African fish ea­gles, Kori bus­tard, Hoopoe and a Wood­land king­fisher call­ing all con­tribute to the magic of Thorny­bush Game Re­serve. I could do with­out the in­ces­sant noise of the franklins in front of my suite, es­pe­cially at 04:30 in the morn­ing.

On our fi­nal game drive, a hyena comes rush­ing out of the bushes. He seeks refuge on the cool road sur­face, where he pro­ceeds to lie up­side down while look­ing at us. When Stan­ley starts the ve­hi­cle, the hyena comes to in­spect Aberd in the tracker seat. Sit­ting per­fectly still, Aberd is not phased by the hyena’s in­ter­est. The hyena runs in front of the ve­hi­cle for a lit­tle while, lead­ing us some­where. No­body seems to know what he wanted to show us, but he was cute as only a hyena can be. | Pho­to­graphs cour­tesy of Thorny­bush The River Lodge and by Heléne Ra­mack­ers

Views ex­pressed are the au­thor’s own.

Thank you to Nic Grif­fin for host­ing me and to Nicky Arthur PR for ar­rang­ing my stay.

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