The first safari experience I went on was to Thornybush Game Lodge, located in the eastern part of South Africa, near Kruger National Park.
Thornybush is part of a boutique collection of hotels that offer an incredible, higher end safari experience.
You can get to Thornybush by flying on South African Express to Hoedspruit, and then taking about a 30-45 minute (bumpy) car transfer, or fly directly to the private air strip located at the lodge.
For the four of us, we opted for a chartered plane to the air strip, which was a great way to start this experience. They seem to be quite strict with the 15 kg, soft-sided luggage requirement. Every item is inspected and weighed during check-in.
Upon landing, one of the lodge's safari trucks arrived to transfer us, and our luggage, to the lobby.
LUXURY SAFARI EXPERIENCE
The lodge is situated on the bank of a river, which is dry for most of the year. The river flows only during the rainy season. There is a main building, about 20 individual cabins, and a spa facility.
Each cabin has a private bathroom with an outdoor shower, and a terrace, overlooking the river. Taking a shower outside while animals walked by was a fun experience. (Not to worry, there's an indoor shower too.)
The safari routine consists of getting up before dawn for the first game drive, coming back for breakfast, relaxing and napping through lunch, and then an evening game drive, followed by dinner.
Thornybush has a very limited number of guests they accommodate at any time, so it's all done quite nicely.
The food is fantastic. Each meal has a set menu which varies to include everything from pasta and salad, to an outdoor roast.
The evening game drives include a stop to watch the sunset, where the staff bring out wine and drinks, and a snack.
The only downside (or upside, depending on how you look at it) was that there's no cell service, and wifi is only available in the main building. This meant that any Facebook update with animal photos had to be done from there. On the plus side, it was nice to disconnect a little from everything.
We stayed for three nights, but I'd suggest that two nights is enough. Game drives start when you get there and go through the morning you leave. The park is fenced in, and (if you're lucky) you will see most of the animals within the first 24 hours.
Animals are everywhere. Including outside your door and terrace. The most common animal you see on the property is an Impala. And there's lots of them. Monkeys seem to come out while everyone is out on a game drive.
It's incredible to drive up and see a lion, zebra, or water buffalo just a few feet away, in its own habitat. The experience really can't compare to anything.
The animals don't seem to be afraid of you, as long as you remain seated in the safari jeep. Our tracker explained that's because they've seen jeeps since birth and have grown accustomed to knowing they are not a threat. A jeep will drive up to be right next to an animal, and it will seem the animal completely ignores it.
Thornybush Game Lodge is a wonderful way to enjoy safari, and I would recommend it as a great option to anyone visiting South Africa.