Last week we had the honour of staying at the Thakadu River Camp in the Madikwe Game Reserve. This is something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time and finally had the chance to do just that.
The trip out there was bitter-sweet at first. Jenece spent eighteen months living near Pilanesberg so the drive from Johannesburg along that route brought back all the bad memories but they quickly vanished once we passed Sun City.
It was about this time that I realised I’d forgotten to buy cigarettes for our three days. Trying to work out where I could get some and keeping our eyes peeled in every village we went through for a petrol station we finally came up to Geenflippennaamfontein (roughly translated it means I don’t know what it was called) and they had an Engen! So we jumped out, bought smokes and one of the attendants offered to pump my tyres. By the time we left, I had my smokes, my tyres were all pumped, my windows washed as well as the hood of my car. The people were incredibly friendly and that kind of eased our jealousy about not being able to attend the Put Foot Rally.
The rest of the drive was pretty much a non-event, most of the way there the roads were in excellent condition. We did miss our turn as we were looking for the signs in the wrong place, if you’re travelling to Thakadu, the sign for the right turn is AFTER the village, not in it like the directions state.
You don’t need a 4×4 to get there, however, the condition of the dirt road leading up to the lodge is not great and I would highly recommend a vehicle with good terrain clearance.
We arrived at the gate to the reserve and filled out the paper work while the guard radioed ahead to make sure we were expected. We drove on to the lodge which is a couple of kilometres from the gate. They are long kilometres though as the road isn’t wide and there are many twists and turns.
Pulling up to the lodge we were greeted by huge smiles from the lodge staff and made to feel very welcome right away. We wiped ourselves off with the hot towels they had waiting for us, offloaded the car and were walked to the dining area of Thakadu River Camp. Absolutely beautiful! The look and feel of the lodge was perfect, we felt like we were right in the bush yet there was luxury all around us. While we were being welcomed and shown around, drinks were poured for us to sip at while we had a look around.
The dining area is on a deck with a Lead Wood in it’s midst that is easily a couple hundred years old. There are many couches in the open lounge area for guests to relax on when they’re not on a game drive. There are two bars, one in the dining/lounge area and another up the stairs by the pool.
The whole time we were looking around, staff members came up and introduced themselves, all with beaming smiles. We’re from Johannesburg, it’s just unnatural to see such friendly people!
The pool, also with it’s Lead Wood tree, overlooks a riverbed, at this time of year it’s dry…well, muddy which leads into the Marico River which the lodge is built on the banks of. At the time we had no idea how much game used that riverbed as a highway to the water.
Thakadu is a tented camp and if you’ve never stayed in one, this would be a perfect introduction for you, however, keep in mind it may spoil the experience of other tented camps you visit after it.
Our “tent” was massive. We had a lounge, king sized bed and a beautiful bathroom with his and hers basins, a bath and shower. We could have had a very nice view of the river, unfortunately our unit had quite dense trees growing in front.
The camp is surrounded by electric fence which is small enough not to be an eyesore yet big enough to keep you safe.
During daylight hours we were kept company by the ever-present observers that frequented the lodge. The Vervet Monkeys around Thakadu were not such a problem for us, although the lodge staff did shoo them off every chance they could. We’ve definitely seen much worse behaved primates.
Thakadu is a community run lodge, which means that the local village (where the sign was NOT inside but just after) have a lease to run it. All staff are from the village and the proceeds go to the village too. We think this has a lot to do with how friendly and happy everyone seemed.
Please take a look at the album below to see what the lodge looks like. There are way too many for me to put them all amongst my writing, yet I wouldn’t be doing the place any justice to leave them out.
Included in the price are two game drives a day. We arrived about 1pm so had two hours to kill before we had to be in the lounge for drinks before our drive. We took the opportunity to look around some more and unpack our camera equipment. I swear, we take more camera stuff than we do clothes, and setting everything up takes a bit of time. Once that was done, we were off to the pool and a much needed beer!
At 3pm we were back at the pool where we had our choice of drinks and light snacks. We were the only guests at the lodge for the first night yet they spared no expense, I could have eaten myself full on the snacks alone. We met Thsepiso, our guide for the duration of our stay and again (I’m saying this a lot, I know), what a friendly fellow!
We hopped on the vehicle and after the introductions and the usual safety briefing he asked what we wanted to see. I’d heard recently about the Wild Dog (African Painted Dog) pups that had been born so mentioned that I’d love to see them. Other than that, we were very happy so see whatever we saw. I remember in Marekele spending twenty minutes watching dung beetles, so we’re easy to please.
Thsepiso is very knowledgeable about not only the area, but the inhabitants of the bush he calls his office. I have never seen such passion in a guide before!
By the end of our first drive, and on nearly every subsequent drive, we saw not only four of the Big 5, but four of the Baby 5 too. On the first drive we saw a massive herd of African Elephant by a waterhole; juveniles play-fighting with each other, running and chasing one another. It was dark by the time we got there and I must admit, there is something surreal about turning off the lights and engine and hearing all that going on around you.
From there we drove a few hundred metres down the road and came across a pride of lions all huddling together to keep warm. Jeez it was cold once that sun set!
The only one of the Big (and Baby) 5 we didn’t see was Leopard, however, we saw things we’d forgotten even existed. Polecat, Genner, African Wild Cat and Bush Baby. Those game drives will live on in our memories for as long as we live.
All the vehicles are in two-way contact via radio so the chances of seeing what you want to are pretty good. The guides have an intricate queuing system there so no sighting is ever crowded. This is not only good for the guests, but doesn’t put extra stress on the animals either.
On the second day we got to see the Wild Dog pups! All twelve of them were out of the den and playing with each other. We watched them for ages and Thsepiso kept positioning the vehicle for the best views possible. If you missed our Facebook post earlier this week, every time a pack member went back to the den, all the puppies would run, squealing, and go through an amazing and playful greeting ritual. It was incredible!
Morning drives all had a coffee stop, and the evening drives had a sundowner stop. The say the drives are between three and three-and-a-half hours yet I think we only had one drive that was that short. We had lots of time to talk to Thsepiso about his job and life at Thakadu and we both learned so much about the bush. Much more than we ever have in any one trip.
Blankets in the evenings and hot water bottles in the mornings made the Out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere-cold manageable and we always got back to hot drinks waiting for us.
I can only say the food was exceptional! Before we even got to the lodge, as part of the booking procedure, we were asked about our dietary requirements. After our Nambiti trip, NO OLIVES went down for me and for Jenece it was no onions. They confirmed this with us when we arrived and they held to that for the entire stay. The food was delicious! There is no breakfast or lunch, but rather brunch and high-tea.
After your morning drive you are welcomed to a buffet breakfast with both continental and English tastes. You order your egg, cooked the way you like it, which arrives shortly afterwards and you eat as much as you can…er, without pigging out that is, that would just be rude…right?
High-tea is a few snacks, each day we had Canapés and there were biscuits, rusks, one day had Tempura Prawns and again, enough there to fill you up nicely.
The big meals were in the evenings and I’ll say fine dining at it’s best. Good, tasty food that was enough to fill even me up.
On our second night was dinner by the bonfire in the boma and they couldn’t make it big enough…did I mention how cold it was after sunset?!
Our Special Occasion
On the second day, while celebrating our two year anniversary, I decided I wasn’t yet ready to have our last day. As discreetly as I could I organised for us to stay another night but the surprise was ruined slightly when I had to get Jenece to go through the booking agency to confirm everything.
Towards the end of our afternoon drive that day Thsepiso was very talkative on the lodge frequency and in Tswana. This was a first so we suspected they were up to something as they were aware of what we were celebrating. He asked us to please, after the drive, go back to our tent instead of going to the lounge. He said when we got there, to relax for a while, have a shower and then join them at the boma for dinner.
We figured they were setting something up at the boma, there was a lot of secrecy going on so we knew something was up…but not what…
When we got back to the tent, we put the camera equipment away and I went for a much needed bladder-pressure-reduction. When I walked into the bathroom I was dumbfounded! Candles everywhere, along the edge of a full bubble bath. Lead Wood seeds on the floor mat, lilies, leaves and all. A bottle of French Bubbly in an ice bucket with a beautiful note to use congratulating us and wishing us well for the future. I cant describe how everything looked, see the pictures!
We had a wonderful, scented, bath before making our way to the boma to join the new guests and to thank everyone. I’ll admit, I was humbled to the point of tears. They did a fantastic job of giving us the perfect ending to a perfect day.
This has been one of my longest posts yet so I’m going to end up here. There is a lot I have forgotten to include here, I could seriously write a full length novel on our four days at Thakadu. Thank you so much to the staff for making that a trip we’ll carry with us to the end of our days and we WILL be back!
Thakadu doesn’t have a star rating, however, based on our experiences we don’t think they’d have to do much in order to obtain a five star rating.
One of the things we’d love to see from them is use of the social networks to promote themselves and touch base with past and future guests. Thsepiso, maybe a tweet once a day about what was seen on the game drives?
If you want a truly unique and memorable experience, please go and visit Thakadu. It is roughly 3,5 hours from Johannesburg which is closer than Kruger Park and your experience will be ten times better!
If you’ve been there, are thinking of going or have any questions, we’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment here or on Facebook