Having had the privilege to experience many of the Thornybush lodges – eating the most delicious meals, going out on world-class game drives, not to mention the luxury of the hospitality, I had never thought to put a walking safari into my itinerary. Until now. And goodness was it the most complimentary experience to my safari stay.
This is my experience of walking into the wild with a professional field guide on a lovely wintery morning at Thornybush Game Lodge.
Unlike other walking safaris I have done in the past, this activity at Thornybush is so naturally positioned into your regular itinerary that it feels like the cherry on top.
Waking up at the crack of dawn with the morning chorus as your alarm bell I put on my walking safari outfit, layered with a winter jacket and beanie (which I must add was plucked from the curio shop as the day before’s game drive was chiller than I expected.) I hauled my camera, binos and water bottle into a light backpack and headed to the coffee station.
After a brief coffee, (and filling our pockets with rusks) we hopped into the game vehicle and set out at sunrise on our normal excursion to find the big five. Rounding each corner, eyes peeled, we saw incredible wildlife interactions. (Which by now I have come to learn that the Thornybush reserve really is the place to tick off the list of big five interactions.) We got an entire game drive experience, before our walking safari had even started!
Syd, our Guide, with Frank our Tracker, professionally tracked and drove us into a leopard and her cub, a naughty elephant bull who just wanted to play and show off his masculinity and almost found us the Monwana pride until their tracks disappeared into a neighbouring reserve. It was at this point that we decided that a bush coffee was on the cards and we settled under a big marula tree to warm up and fill our tummies with (more) delicious homemade muffins, rusks and biscuits. Chatting about the morning’s activities, it was hard to believe that our morning was just getting started.
After coffee we drove a bit more, sussing out antelope alarm calls and distant hyena ‘woop woops’, when Syd stopped the vehicle and told us it was time for our walk.
We were in the middle of the bush, and after our mornings sightings our adrenaline just hit an all time high. As our feet hit the ground I suddenly felt a wave of respect that we were just little humans in an unnatural territory. This wild belonged to wildlife, and with every step we were going deeper into their world.
We layered off, watched Syd load his rifle and within minutes were left by the game vehicle as Frank drove the other guests back to camp. Which way was home? Our trust and directional faith was now in the very capable hands of Syd, and off we went.
When you’re on foot your senses take on a whole new meaning. Every skwark from a Go-Away bird (formally known as the Grey Lorie) could be a sign of a predator lurking, every track is watched to figure out freshness and every sound of your voice is lowered to a whisper or a tap on the shoulder to ask a question. The silence is filled with tingling senses that are telling your body to awaken its fight or flight response, but knowing you’re in the hands of a professional slowly starts to relax you and allow you to take in the beauty of the big five wilderness.
What we enjoyed most about our time on this walking safari is the opportunity to get close and personal with the signs of the bush. Syd taught us the animals belonging to different tracks, from the towering giraffe, the slinking hyena to the smallest track of a genet cat. He showed us rubbing posts of rhino and occasionally picked up spoor to ask us what we thought had left it there. There was also a moment when we came across a herd of impala who hadn’t seen us and as we crouched into the bush were able to sneak up on them as the wind was blowing in our favour. Even though we didn’t see any of the big five, (which I think I was totally ok with that morning) I learned a lot about the environment that I wouldn’t have on a normal game drive.
As our walking safari ended, we started to see the signs that lead back to camp. This was the first time in 1.5 hours that my internal GPS knew where we were. This made me think, just 400m from camp you’re in the wild, totally on your own in a wild world and boy, did I not want to be out there alone without Syd by my side.
With breakfast waiting, our morning excursion had come to an end. With a full heart and whole new outlook on wildlife and their environment, I was ready to let my guard down and enjoy a well deserved meal.
Adding a walking safari to my future trips at any of the Thornybush lodges is now a mandatory excursion, and I am so excited for another opportunity to learn (and see) what the wild will show us next.
Want to know more about walking safaris at Thornybush? Here are some frequently asked questions and answers to help you plan it into your next visit:
1- 1.5 hours at a slow and steady pace. If you would like to have a longer walk, these can be arranged prior to your stay.
Between 4-8 people – your field guide will be able to tell you how many they are comfortable with.
Winter is a great time for walking safaris as the bush is less dense, allowing you to see more. The days are also generally cooler so you don’t end up walking in the heat, as walking safaris generally happen during the morning game drive. However, each season brings with it it’s own unique sighting opportunities so it’s really up to you.
The rule of thumb for a walking safari is to match your surroundings. In winter opt for clothing colours in browns, beige or cream. In Summer, khaki, green and blues are good. A good pair of comfortable walking shoes and a broad brimmed hat are always advised, plus a lightweight backpack to carry some water, especially in the summer months.