Thanda Tented Camp – Review

 

Thanda Tented Camp

Thanda Pool Area

Thanda Tented Camp

Introduction

Our review, or trip report, of Thanda Tented Camp is different to the long-winded reports we usually write and we’re going to try something new.

Thanks to all our readers who suggested destinations for us to visit, in the end we decided on Thanda Private Game Reserve in KZN and all things considered, we had a magic week.

Below you can see the highs and lows of our visit. As soon as the new AfriShots Reviews site is ready, we’ll link to our detailed review showing you all the criteria we assessed the lodge on.

Thanda Tented Camp – Highlights

  • Very warm welcome by our guide and the lodge manager
  • Comfortable drive and easy access to the reserve
  • Beautiful lodge, modern yet rustic
  • For the most part, the staff was friendly and accommodating and added to the relaxed vibe of the lodge
  • Every evening was accompanied by an enormous bonfire in the communal area.
  • The view from most places at the lodge was beautiful to say the least.
  • They were very accommodating with our extra requests: chairs (see below), guided walk and elephant interaction
  • The game activities were excellent. The field guides are all very knowledgable and approachable. The game drives were the highlight of our visit.

Thanda Tented Camp – Needs Work

  • Aside from our arrival at the lodge, there was never again a greeting with towels to wipe our faces
  • If we wanted to sit at the tent, we had to sit on the bed as there were no chairs. They did bring us deck chairs once we’d asked for them.
  • Given the price per person per night, the food was appalling.  Dietary requirements were not taken in to account. The quality of the food varied from day to day and they catered strictly per head. Should they run out of bacon, as they did on one particular day, that was it. If you hadn’t had any, you’d have to fill yourself up on something else. The high tea, on a few occasions, was a weak attempt at recycling any leftovers from breakfast.
  • Staff were hard to come by. At night you may not walk around unsupervised due to the potential for wildlife encounters, however, trying to find a porter to escort you to your tent, or a waiter to order a drink, was an exercise in patience.
  • Staff has no control over individuals who made things difficult, or uncomfortable, for the rest of the guest population. The situation was left to sort itself out.
  • Our room wasn’t prepared before our arrival. We arrived early, by arrangement, and were told we’d have to wait in the lounge until 14:00. When we got to camp we were checked straight in and taken to our tent. No bath mats, no face cloths.
  • We had mixed signals when we arrived regarding electricity at the camp. On the first day it turned out that there was electricity, and with it, lights, that operated on a solar system. Unfortunately, and only for the first night, that meant that when the sun went down, there were no lights. Other than a few candles we had no other light source at the tent. This was rectified later by a porter who provided us with a torch and the rest of the trip we did actually have lights every night.
  • It is/was advertised that hot water bottles are provided on the game drives, yet we never once saw any sign of this. Not on our vehicle, nor the other vehicles. The quantity of snacks on the drive did not increase with the number of guests on the drive, again bringing us to the frame of mind of being rationed food.
  • Our last day we felt very rushed, almost as if they wanted us out as soon as possible so the next guests could arrive. This includes the end of the game drive, breakfast and packing up to head off to the elephant interaction.
  • We stayed in tent #7, which is the closest to the kitchen and the communal area. Every morning, afternoon and evening we were disturbed by loud laughter and raucus behaviour as the staff prepared the meals and snacks. Dont get me wrong, I know full well the noise levels involved in a kitchen, however, it is not for the guests to hear, and again I’ll mention, not for the price Thanda is asking.

Thanda Tented Camp – Our Conclusion

We had a wonderful stay at Thanda Tented Camp. Our expectations were based on other lodges we’ve visited in the same category, however, who charged a fair amount less per person per night and it’s with that in mind that we left feeling cheated.

Our visit was nothing like when we visited Black Rhino Game Lodge in Pilanesberg, there are just things that Thanda should consider working on in order to compete with lodges out there such as Thakadu River Lodge and Nambiti Plains.

 




Nambiti Plains Game Lodge

Background

When we made the decision to treat ourselves to a luxury bush holiday, we were incredibly nervous about what to expect. The nerves lasted right up until we arrived at the gate in fact.

We cam across Nambiti Private Game Reserve just outside Ladysmith and in particular, Nambiti Plains Private Lodge and after much discussion about which particular Nambiti lodge we’d stay at, made up our mind.

The Lodge

One of the things we were uncertain about was what to expect given the price. You can expect to pay well over R3,000 pppn at some five star lodges yet the mid-week special at Nambiti Plains was only R1,850 compared to their usual, slightly over, R2,000 price.

This fit our list of requirements for our 3 day getaway as it was affordable, especially for our first five star holiday, and the lodge and reserve had everything we wanted, or so we thought. In actuality, they far exceeded our expectations in every regard.

We were directed to the northern gate as this is the closest to our lodge (I believe there are 10 lodges in Nambiti’s 10,000 ha but more on that in a moment). Geoff, the lodge guide, met us at the gate and escorted us to the visitor parking. Nambiti is not a self-drive reserve.

We had covered parking to leave the car for our stay, transferred our luggage to the converted Land Rover Defender and were driven the couple kilometres to the lodge.

Arriving at the lodge we were met by Brent, the lodge manager, who welcomed us, showed us around and took us to our room. I can’t call it a room and chalet is a gross understatement. That thing was huge!

Nambiti Plains Game Lodge

Everything was build just right, far enough away to give you all the privacy you need, yet close enough that you don’t need hiking boots to get from A to B. King-sized bed, bath, indoor and outdoor showers, large windows on three sides with views into the surrounding bush and the hills and plains in the distance and scattered with nice little touches such as an umbrella stand…with umbrellas!

We had a large wooden deck with a great view, deck chairs and a table where we could have private meals if we chose to arrange them.

For winter, the “room” has under-floor heating and while we were there in summer, there are many doors that open up and allow fresh air to move through.

I had just worked a night shift and then we’d driven down so was exhausted, but didn’t have time for a nap. We lounged around the “room” for a bit and then made our way to the main part of the lodge.

The interior design of the place was superb; neat and befitting a lodge in the middle of the bush. A nice touch we noticed was instead of actual animal heads on the walls, there was a nice combination of carved heads, rough yet just right.

You walk past the lounge on your left, dining room on your right, out on to the deck. Large an very spacious. If the lodge is full to capacity (10 people I believe), you can all be on the deck without getting in each other’s way. Couches under large umbrellas, a few tables and chairs (this is where breakfast is served) and a very nice swimming pool surrounded by deck chairs and under a large tree. Sorry Brent, I forgot what tree!

Nambiti Plains

This all over looks a small watering hole and when we arrived, there were herds of Nyala and Zebra lounging around. The pool is frequented by elephant who, as it was explained, think the pool water (salted not chlorinated) is like Valpre compared to the reserve water. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see any at the pool but heard all about it.

Drinks are not included in the price however they don’t cost an arm and a leg as I expected. They will be brought to you while you lounge around or you can go to the bar and order them from there.

Nambiti Plains Food

Shew, where do I start with the food?

This was our first experience with fine dining so all we had to base our expectations on was what we’d seen on TV.

The meals were exceptional!

Wonder, the executive chef, would come to each table once we were seated and explain what the various courses were and answer any questions we may have. I am no food critic, I’ll eat pretty much whatever you put in front of me, yet I thoroughly enjoyed every meal. Even those with ingredients I don’t eat!

While the food, and dining experience were fantastic, both Jenece and I agree on one short fall with the food: the lack of variety.

What I mean by that is, I don’t eat olives…vile things! Our meals on the first day both had olives in them. Olives in the Cajun Chicken Salad for lunch and an Olive Risotto with the duck for dinner. It would have been nice to be able to choose an alternative.

There were a few negative comments about the portion size of the first dinner regarding there being too much. I wasn’t kidding when I said I’ll eat just about anything, and I’ll eat it all. I devoured what was in front of me, and helped Jenece finish hers…Olive Risotto and all! Thanks Wonder, maybe next time you’ll be the first person to get me to eat, and enjoy, spinach?

Breakfast was a mini buffet, each table got a large tray with cold meats, fruit, yoghurt and home-made muesli. Afterwards you could choose your hot meal which was either your preference of English Breakfast or the day’s special: Omelette on the first day and Salmon on Scrambled Egg the second day.

Game Drives

Nambiti Plains Game Drive

Included in the price are two game drives per day, morning and evening.

We have been very lucky lately in that nearly every time we have been on a game drive, even at national parks, it has just been the two of us. This has a lot to do with us preferring to go places out of season and during the week.

When we have had other people with us (yes with us, not us with them, we’re that self-important!), the drives have been cramped and difficult to get pictures from both sides of the vehicle.

That was not the case at Nambiti. The game-drive vehicle was by far the best we’ve been on. Arm-rests, blankets, flasks with ice-cold water and Geoff, our guide, was very knowledgeable, friendly and accommodating.

Each drive was two to three hours, depending on what sightings we had (we even ran late for breakfast on the last day due to tracking a lioness and her cubs, sadly we never saw them).

The reserve is truly beautiful with rolling hills, dense bush areas as well as open plains. It is a Big 5 reserve and we saw all except leopard.

One of the things we liked very much about how the guides conduct their drives is no sighting was crowded. All guides are in contact via radio (which is kept to such a low volume that as guests you hardly know they’re using them) and other vehicles will stay clear of a sighting until you have moved off. I don’t think we had more than one other vehicle at a sighting at any one time. One exception being the lion sighting on our last night, where all the vehicles wanted to have a look. As air traffic controllers we appreciated the sequencing and holding of traffic. No more than two vehicles near the lions, while others stacked up a few hundred metres apart in trail. When one moved away he’d give the all clear, and the sequence would move along nicely.

Side note to pilots: No, we will NOT let you do this!

When one vehicle approached another at night, headlights went off so as not to dazzle drivers and guests. This was a very nice touch I thought and not something I’ve seen before.

The catch-phrase our group used a LOT during our visit was “Jeep Jockeys”. I don’t think I was paying attention when it was first used so I can’t tell you the story behind it, but it was used to describe certain other guides that some of us had experienced in parks, and a couple we saw from other Nambiti lodges. If you read my Game Viewing Guidelines article, you will know exactly what I mean by Jeep Jockeys.

We didn’t have many encounters with them in Nambiti, however, we were very happy with Geoff. His knowledge of animal behaviour and experience in the industry showed through in everything he did.

Each drive stopped halfway through for sundowners in the evening, or coffee and biscuits in the morning.

During lunch Geoff would come round and ask everyone what their preferences were for the evening drinks. On the drive, he’d open the back of the Landy, lay out a table cloth and then pull out the snacks and serve the drinks. We only had to tell him once what we wanted and every drive after that, you’d get exactly the right drink served with a smile.

Jenece converted everyone in our group on the first morning drive. From then on, everyone had Choffee, our catch phrase for coffee with just the right amount of hot chocolate.

Nambiti Plains Atmosphere

The set up of the lodge, drives and, well, everything makes for a truly stunning holiday. We thought we’d have lots of down time to relax, but with just two nights and choosing to go on every drive, we were actually quite busy. A three night stay will be perfect to make the most out of everything.

We ended up on very good terms with the other guests and spent all our time enjoying the sightings and drinks on the drives, having fat chats around the lodge and even got to share in an 80th birthday where the lodge staff baked a cake and provided a nice bottle of bubbly for all of us to toast.

This, I think, is the perfect time to mention that two of the “guests” staying with us were in fact the lodge owners who’d come up for their monthly visit. Wally and Debbie, to you we’d like to say thank you for an amazing time! Jenece and I have often sat and spoken about having our own lodge one day and what you have with Nambiti Plains is spot on perfect as if you’d picked it right out of our imaginations.

Our conversations were always animated and filled with good humour. Wally, still no serval though! Next time…

Nambiti Staff

The staff at Nambiti Plains were all exceptional!

Wonder, the chef, was both very skilled and friendly. I can’t wait to try more of his food…remember I’ll be happy to help “take care of” any leftovers.

Brent, the lodge manager, is a real stand up guy. Incredibly experienced in the reserve industry and doing a very good job with the lodge.  If you give him a ladder, you can even see eye-to eye!

Geoff, field guide extraordinaire! Your knowledge and experience shows through. There was never a dull moment with you on drives nor around the lodge.