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Trip Report Trip Report, Thornybush, Djuma and Lion Sands

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I just got back from an amazing 14 days in the bush in South Africa. My trip consisted of 3 reserves, Thornybush, Djuma and Lion Sands.

This was my first stay at Thornybush Main Lodge and also the reserve. My stay was for 6 days. The rooms were large and well appointed. I was very comfortable right from the beginning. The reserve itself is a closed reserve which means that animals are not free to roam into any other areas. There are some animals that have found a way over and under the fences, however for the most part there is no game traversing. This means that they have to manage their numbers of certain species to prevent overpopulation. When I was there, there were no lion cubs and I think it was because they are trying to keep the population down. The game viewing was excellent with sightings of black rhino, cheetah and a hyena den, leopards and lions. The reserve is very large and because of dynamics of weather and rain, certain animals seem to prefer general areas to reside. For example, elephants and buffalo prefer the southern areas. What this means in terms of game viewing, is that if you want to see elephants, you need to drive an hour each way from the main lodge to find them. Of course you will see other stuff along the way, however if you are trying to find the big 5, it means driving for long periods just to go see some of them. I did find this a bit annoying.

The food was excellent with only one dinner where I found the food to be a bid "chewy" and tough. They do charge for drinks at the lodge, but not for water which I found to be OK as I drink a lot of water. The service was outstanding and I felt my ranger, Richard, did an excellent job of both game viewing and taking care of me personally as a guest.

On my last evening, there was a total of 5 guests at the lodge, 2 couples and me. The lodge staff announced that dinner would be in our rooms. I found this to be strange since I travel by myself and we had not been asked for our preferences. One couple graciously offerred to have me eat in their room which was very nice since they knew I was eating alone.

After I got into my room, within a few minutes, I got a phone call stating they had make a "mistake" with me and that I would be eating with my ranger, Richard. I was very happy for the change, however I had suspicions that the right people did not make the decision. When I met up with Richard, I asked him if he was the person who made the suggestion to eat with me and he just smiled and shrugged. This told me that he as a ranger, came to the conclusion I should not eat alone. Its a sign of a person who will do great at his job, but on the other hand, management should have figured that out also. All in all, I enjoyed my stay there, but because the reserve is a closed reserve, I think I will probably not be going back, but no regrets about being there either.

I was transferred by car to Djuma Vuyutela Reserve. I chose this reserve because ( broadcasts from there and I wanted to meet the folks there. I stayed only one night and I wished I planned for at least another. I did manage to get in front of the camera twice for Wildearth, once to open their segment and the other time on a drive. I definitely prefer to be behind the camera.

The room at Vuyutela was large and well appointed. I had one major problem with the room as they ONLY have outdoor showers. Inside, they had a tub where with tubes you can use showerlike functions. The reason this is a problem is if it is raining or cold (like it was for me), your choice is only to take an awkward shower inside.

Another thing that bothered me is that their drink policy. It is very normal to charge for drinks from the bar, but I was informed that bottled water was also to be charged to me. They did have a big bottle of water in my room, but I thought it was odd to pay for water when no other place that I had been to in 6 trips did so.

My ranger Charles, who has been there a very long time, was great. I got the best game viewing in 2 drives then I got for most of the rest of my trip. In one evening, I got to see a male lion courting a female, a female leopard and 2 separate prides of lions. Well done Charles! During sundowners, I was offered as usual, something to drink. I asked for Amarula and hot chocolate which he did not have. Then he offered me something else and I chose white wine. Nothing unusual about that until when I was checking out I found out that I was being charged $7 for the wine. Again, NEVER have I been charged for a drink on a game drive. For a 5 star reserve, I found this to be both very strange and very annoying. It was a BIG turn off when thinking about this and the shower regarding any returns to the lodge.

Dinner was excellent and I sat next to a young lady, Pinky who works there and was delightful. She even "hit" me on the shoulder for what I thought was no good reason. It turns out she spotted a small scorpion climbing up my back and she hit it to knock it off. She also informed me that this type was was of the more dangerous types of scorpion found there. Many thanks to Pinky for "saving" my life and of course being clobbered by such a nice person.

I definitely would consider going back to Djuma because of their quality rangers and the outstanding game viewing. I am still a bit turned off by some aspects of their
accommodation, but the game viewing there is enough to overcome those concerns.

I then was transported by car again from Djuma to Lion Sands Ivory Lodge via Kruger Park. Godfrey, from Go Thula Tours offered me the transfer through the park for no extra

charge even though it was twice as long, almost 5 hours. I did pay him extra because I felt he earned it for his extra driving. My final 7 day stay was at Lion Sands Ivory Lodge. This was my 4th stay there and it is still by far and away my favorite place to be. This lodge is very pricey and its much more expensive than the other places I stayed this trip. However I love the extra attention they pay to details and the way they treat me as a repeat guest. I cannot go into all the details as to what they did for me because I cannot guarentee they would do the same for others, however trip #7 again includes a long stay at Lion Sands.

I had two rangers at my stay, Jacqui who is both a great ranger and delightful as a person and Alan, who used to be the head ranger and is now in charge of training. Both did a great job of finding animals for me, in spite of the problems that we had rain for 2 consecutive nights. With the heavy rain, it meant that of roading was very limited and that did hurt game viewing, but protection of the land is more important.

The rooms (yes I said rooms) were spacious and beautiful. They overlook the Sabi River which was flowing strong. I saw ellies, buffalo and hippo outside of my room. When I was on the plane ride to South Africa, I met some great folks who were also staying at Lion Sands, but they were at River Lodge. When I mentioned to the staff if it would be OK if they were to join me on one or two drives, they not only said yes, but they had them join me EVERY drive. This is great to have friends with you when you travel by yourself. They even had the folks join me for dinner, even though they were at the other lodge. This to me shows the true sign of class that Ivory Lodge staff exhibits. They KNOW how to take care of guests. Many thanks to Trevor, Janine, Ollie and Lee (in reservations) for making this trip the best one yet.

The chef, Malcolm, cooks food like a master artist paints. He seems to love cooking more than life itself. When he prsents the food for dinner, he makes it sound like you are listening to a dramatic rendition of the menu. The food at Ivory Lodge is the best I have had anywhere. You have choices of a number of different types of game meat along with more traditional choices. Everything is wonderful.

Ivory Lodge has the reputation of being one of the best lodges in the Kruger area and they earned every bit of it. I am definitely planning to go back to South Africa in Sept 2010 and 7 days at Ivory is a definite must do again.

Photos of the trip:

Mike Moss

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