Passion, expertise and luxury are combined at renovated Thornybush lodge
My heart is pounding so hard I can hear it in my ears. Brimming with excitement, I notice the unmistakable white tip of a tail flicking left-right, left-right in an almost hypnotic fashion. Spellbound, I reach for my camera to snap a photo of this magnificent beauty, when guide TJ indicates to me that he will try to get ahead of her so that I can see her beautiful face.
She pauses momentarily, changes direction and heads straight into the tall grass. Tracker Andries gestures for TJ to make a quick left as the tree she is inspecting might serve as an elevated vantage point from which to survey her surroundings, or even act as a lookout. As she scales the tree effortlessly, she meets my gaze, her green eyes glistening in the sunlight. “You have just encountered the darling of Thornybush, Saseka the leopard,” TJ tells me. He turns off the engine of the 4×4 Toyota Land Cruiser game viewer, and we sit in quiet wonderment as Saseka makes herself comfortable, eventually leaving her to enjoy her mid-morning catnap. When arriving at Serondella, their ethos of being part of the family is immediately felt. Warm greetings, bright smiles and efficient service are what guests can expect. Nothing is too much effort here; staff go the extra mile to ensure your stay is blissful.
Following a total reimagination in 2021, the lodge has plenty of wow factor, with sumptuous suites, dreamlike bathrooms, private heated plunge pools, a luxurious gym, a spa and deliciously healthy cuisine that’s impossible to resist, prepared by Chef Thomas. Options for dining are plentiful and sitting in the perfectly manicured garden under a blanket of stars is wonderful.
Taking pride in his job
Game drives are always a highlight, especially when you happen upon a pride of 14 lions at sunset. Occupying the road to soak up the last rays of sun, they eventually stretch and start getting active. One female walks right past the vehicle and her scowling snarl makes me wonder out loud why she reacted in this manner. “She hasn’t had any cubs, so the youngsters annoy her when they become too playful for her liking,” TJ explains. As night starts falling, we hear the sound of African wild dogs in the distance, and the only male in the pride, who is blind in his right eye, decides to make a run for it and chase them away. We try to catch up with him and find him in hot pursuit of a hyena, flushing him out of the area. I later find out that this striking specimen is affectionately known as Mapoza, the resident male of the reserve. There are varying stories about how he lost sight in the one eye, with the version about being kicked by a giraffe sounding much more impressive than being born with congenital glaucoma. He is somewhat of a celebrity in these parts and has a regal air about him. TJ is also famous in his own right, having clinched the coveted title of FGASA Safari Guide of the Year in 2021. Zimbabwean-born Togara knew from an early age that he has an inherent love for nature and started out tracking small animals in his native country. His gentle nature and love for interpreting animal behaviour soon saw him enter the world of guiding 12 years ago. It’s a job he does with great aplomb and enthusiasm. “Safari Guide of the Year was an excellent networking experience with other guides in the industry,” TJ recalls. “Together with the sharing of knowledge and learning from like-minded people, it was amazing. To be assessed In categories among guides who have been in the industry for 40 years or more was such an honour. And winning the title has changed my life – it has opened new doors for me and afforded me opportunities I have never had before.”