“Would you like to go and have a look at a rather large African rock python?” game ranger Werner Miller politely asks the guests relaxing around the swimming pool at Thandeka Lodge. Simultaneous cries of “Yes!” give him his answer and in minutes his Land Rover is laden with passengers readying their cameras for the shot of the century.
We pull up to a dam on whose banks Thandeka manager Chris Herbst and a 3,75m snake are quietly minding their own business. Before we approach the snake, Miller gives us the rundown on how we should behave around it. It is shedding, he says, and usually snakes are quite aggressive when they shed, but this one is quite laid back.
Laid back is an understatement, because the python is exceptionally patient, allowing us to touch it and learn all about it from Miller before moving off into the bush. Unbelievable photographs in the can, we make our way back to the lodge, chattering excitedly about a top-class, out of the ordinary bush encounter.
Python aside, Thandeka is the sort of place where out of the ordinary becomes almost ordinary, but nonetheless exciting. The lodge is relatively new, it has only been open for about 18 months. It is located on 1 100ha of beautiful bushveld about 40km from Bela Bela in Limpopo’s Waterberg Biosphere. This is where the majestic Waterberg range starts. It is undeveloped, there are minimal tourists and it is easy to get to.
Thandeka has six tented chalets, four of which have been created for families with two rooms sharing a spacious and well-equipped bathroom. The main bedroom of each tent looks out over grassland and a waterhole, where giraffe and buffalo come to drink. The second bedroom has twin beds and overlooks bushveld and a cosy sala – a covered seating area on a raised deck surrounding the tent.
Big fluffy duvets and percale cotton sheets bely the fact that you are in a tent. It’s all five star, but thankfully without the price tag. The communal areas are spacious and attractive, with plump loungers around the rim-flow pool.
Although small, Thandeka is home to white rhino, buffalo, zebra, most of the antelope species, warthog and leopard.
Owner Hilary Bentel has spared no expense with the décor and has backed it up with a warm and open attitude to families and groups. His team of staff make Thandeka a place where children can enjoy and experience the bush.
“We wanted to build a place where children could have as much fun as parents,” says Bentel. “So many luxury lodges don’t allow children under 12. We wanted to be different and welcome them – and get them to experience things they wouldn’t normally; adventurous families can sleep on an open-air viewing platform next to the dam. The children love it.”
With Miller heading up the game activities as head ranger, at Thandeka children love learning, too. “Teaching them the small, interesting things about plants, animals and bugs is great,” says Miller. Watching them absorb the information and enjoy seeing, touching and tasting nature is fantastic.”
The tasting part is a hoot to the kids, as they try buck droppings, brush their teeth with wild pear leaves and find silver cluster leaves minty in flavour.
Sitting around a roaring camp fire, with the milky way glistening above, it’s hard to believe that the hubbub of the city is only an hour or so away. A rustling in the bush has the children rushing for their torches and chattering excitedly about snakes. “I like this place,” says one. “Me too,” comes the reply, as flashlights scan the bushes. “It’s way cooler than Sun City.”
Sharon van Wyk’s trip to Thandeka was sponsored by African Anthology
Thandeka Lodge is a two-hour drive from Johannesburg. Take the N1 to Polokwane, then the Bela Bela off-ramp. Drive through Bela Bela before turning left on to the R516 to Koedoeskop/Thabazimbi. The lodge is on the Rooiberg road, about 40km from Bela Bela.
Thandeka Lodge is part of the African Anthology stable of safari destinations, which specialise in independent, owner-run, family friendly lodges. For more information log on to www.africananthology.co.za or contact Norman Mann on 011 706 8781