Enjoying a vast piece of wildlife paradise amidst the Greater Kruger Park area, Thornybush Game Reserve has been the setting of choice for many wildlife documentaries – and for a good reason! This leading safari destination enjoys a pristine landscape of open savannah woodland and thorny thicket, brimming with an enthralling cast of wildlife – including the Big 5.
Together with safari experiences that rank as some of the best in Southern Africa, Thornybush has proved time and again to be on top of their game (pun definitely intended), with the reserve boasting a variety of community-based and conservation projects that add something special to your African adventure.
With a myriad of perennial rivers and varying vegetation, this 14,000-hectare reserve lures plenty of game, in turn also attracting predators. Because Thornybush is a private reserve, it grants an uncrowded Big 5 safari experience.
Involved in a number of initiatives, from education and agriculture to adult-skills development and sustainable living, Thornybush is devoted to uplift, empower and invest in the local communities – and guests are welcome to get involved too. Visiting some of the community projects can be a transformative experience – not only for guests but for the community and environment as well.
We've taken the liberty to answer everything you may need to know about visiting Thornybush Game Reserve
There are several ways to get to the reserve, each with its own cost and convenience factors to consider. Daily flights depart from Johannesburg and Cape Town to Hoedspruit, located a 30-minute drive from the reserve. The lodges in the game reserve will generally arrange a transfer for your convenience. If not, our Travel Experts will book one for you. This is the most convenient way to get to the reserve.
It is a 60-minute flight from Johannesburg, whereas it will take you just over two hours from Cape Town. We can also arrange scheduled charter flights taking you directly into one of the Thornybush Game Reserve Airstrips.
If you have a bit more time on your hands, you can self-drive to the reserve. The tar road is well-maintained with service stations en route, and it will take you roughly six hours from Johannesburg.
Based on your lodge of choice, time and cost, our Travel Experts will gladly advise you on the best way to get to your lodge of choice in the Thornybush Game Reserve.
There are several private game reserves within the Greater Kruger National Park. Each of these has luxury, secluded lodges and offers uncrowded, up-close game viewing experiences.
The key differences between a public and private reserve are that a private reserve like Thornybush allows you to go off-road, on night drives, and bush walks. In public areas, you have to stick to the main roads, follow set game drive times, and share the experience with many other game drive vehicles.
Like Kruger National Park, the Thornybush Game Reserve is a year-round destination, but it remains seasonal. Here is what you can expect throughout the year.
November to December: It's summer in the bush, so you can expect hot, humid weather conditions with afternoon thunderstorms. There are generally lots of newborn animals making their debut during this time.
January to March: Your drier months, you can expect very hot weather conditions. This is also a great time for birders as the beautiful migratory birds pay their annual visit. Game drives are generally scheduled for very early morning when it's cooler.
April: During this autumn month, the bush becomes more sparse, and temperatures start cooling down a bit, especially at night. Some thunderstorms can still be expected in the afternoons.
May to June: With winter's arrival, temperatures are cold, especially at night. You should therefore pack plenty of warm clothes. The bush is sparse, offering excellent game viewing opportunities. The elephant herds are very mobile during this time.
July to September: It's very dry in the bush with icy temperatures at night as well as early morning. Visibility is good for game drives, and the animals are usually congregating around water sources.
September to October: Spring has arrived, also known as the dry season. You can expect hot, dry winds and sparse landscapes. Water sources are low and limited, so animals tend to gather where they can find a sip, so you get good game viewing opportunities. The first bit of rain starts to fall towards the end of October.
Here is a rough idea of what you can expect on a Thornybush safari. Please note that this differs depending on where you stay.
05:00: Wake up to get your day started!
05:30: Coffee with your ranger and tracker before going on safari, most often on an open 4x4 vehicle.
09:30: Start heading back to the lodge for a scrumptious breakfast.
11:00: Depending on where you are staying at what time of the year, you can often embark on a bushwalk with an armed tracker. This gives you a chance to appreciate the smaller wonders of the bush.
13:00: Enjoy your lunch and unwind.
16:00: Meet for your afternoon game drive.
16:30: Your evening game drive promises different sightings than the morning, with nocturnal animals coming out to play.
18:00: Watch the incredible sunset while you drink a G&T.
18:30: Using a spotlight, take a peek into the lives of your nocturnal creatures.
19:30: Return and freshen up for dinner.
20:00: Feast on dinner while your ranger tells you stories around the campfire.
Unfortunately not. We are not doctors, so please note that you should always speak to your doctor about malaria prevention before travelling. However, on that note, it is entirely possible to have a safe, malaria-free holiday in Africa by using prophylactic drugs.
Tip 1: Repel the Mosquitoes
The female mosquito responsible for transmitting malaria is a silent mossy, so you will have to ensure you repel them. They can strike at any time of day but are most active at dusk as well as dawn. Always wear repellent as well as long-sleeved shirts and long trousers in the evenings and mornings. Please note that clothes alone won't protect you, as they can bite through the material. Most of our lodges will have screened windows and doors, air conditioning systems, and mosquito nets to further protect you.
Tip 2: ALWAYS Take Anti-Malaria Tablets
The most important thing you can do to protect yourself against malaria is taking Prophylactic tablets. Please note that you have to speak to your doctor before taking these tablets to ensure that you take the right one, as well as the correct dosage when entering the malaria area.
Tip 3: Keep an Eye Out for Symptoms and Finish Your Course of Meds
If you start to notice any flu-like symptoms, you must get a malaria test to be safe and catch it early because malaria reacts well to early treatment. Also, don't stop taking your meds until the course is complete!
The highlight of any safari in the Kruger National Park is exploring the bush and the wildlife by enjoying a game drive or bush walk. It's an incredible experience to see amazing wildlife in their natural habitat, but we do urge you to take note of the guidelines below that will assist in ensuring the long-term survival of South Africa’s beloved Kruger Park.
Some Safari Etiquette Guidelines
- Take back photographs and memories only! Do not remove natural objects (rocks, flowers, plants, etc.) from the Kruger Park or any of the reserves. It disrupts the ecology of the area.
- Do not try to attract the animals’ attention by imitating their sounds, clapping, throwing objects or any other means.
- Never tease or corner wild animals. This may cause an unpredictable response and a potentially dangerous reaction.
- The vegetation in Kruger Park is very sensitive, and off-road driving causes erosion. Only go off-road with a ranger and never on your own.
- Remember that you are a visitor to the animals’ natural habitat, so observe the animals silently and with a minimum of disturbance to their natural activities. Loud talking on game drives will frighten the animals away.
- Don’t litter! Besides being distasteful, litter thrown on the ground can choke or poison animals and birds.
- The African bush is very dry, ignites easily, and fires can kill many animals. So PLEASE abstain from smoking on game drives.
- Respect your driver/guide’s judgment about your proximity to certain wild animals. Don’t insist that they take the vehicle closer so you can get a better photograph. A vehicle driven too close can hinder a hunt or cause animals to abandon a well-deserved meal
- Always follow your guide’s advice – they are the experts! Don’t be afraid to ask them questions if you are unsure of anything.
- Never attempt to approach a wild animal on foot, especially near your lodge or campsite where the animals have become accustomed to humans.
Game drives are an exhilarating experience! Whether you are up with the birds before sunrise to view the bushveld’s early risers or tracking the nocturnal animals with spotlights at night, safari game drives in the African bush are an experience of a lifetime.
Private game reserves along the western border of the Kruger National Park like Thornybush offer the best game viewing experience. There is no fencing between Kruger and the reserves so that animals can roam freely between them. Game viewing in Kruger Park and neighbouring reserves is essentially the same, but there are some differences in the type of game drive you will experience.
The main difference between Kruger and the private reserves is that only closed vehicles are permitted in Kruger Park, whereas the private reserves offer open vehicle game drives. The advantage of open vehicles is that you get better views and feel a great deal closer to the bush and the experience. The ranger and tracker who accompany you on excursions in the private reserves are also in contact with other vehicles on game drives which significantly increases your chances of finding the animals you most want to see.
Off-road driving is forbidden in the Kruger, and night drives may only be conducted by park rangers in large park vehicles. In contrast, the private reserves offer night drives every evening. They may also leave the roads to follow animals into the bush and provide better opportunities to witness animal behaviour and interactions.
No matter where you are in the area, however, the scenery in the Kruger National Park is wild, unspoiled and breathtakingly beautiful. Heading off into wild Africa in a safari vehicle where there are no fences or man-made structures, you have the unique opportunity of enjoying Africa just as you had imagined it. Wide-open plains are alive with game and watering holes teeming with birdlife, herds of elephant and buffalo. You might get close to a pack of lions, watch giraffes grazing on treetops or see a cheetah on the hunt. Leopards are more elusive characters but can be seen frequently in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, adjacent to the Kruger National Park.
Your game drives will focus on the animals whose movement is determined by the season and the rainfall. Most South African safari lodges have a ranger and tracker accompanying all game drives. They are well trained and knowledgeable and can offer great insight into the various ecosystems found in the Kruger National Park. Having the trained eye of a tracker on board increases your chances of seeing something special and exciting.
On safari, each day is different. You could be silently watching elephants drink and bath one day, and the next day you could be following a wild dog hunt off-road. Whatever you encounter is sure to be a unique experience, and your guides and trackers will willingly answer all of your questions. Sundowners are an old safari tradition, and most game drives will pause at sunset for a cocktail and a quiet moment to listen to the shrill sounds of the bushveld.
Many game drives are on open vehicles, so you should remember to take sunscreen and a hat during the day (all year round), and in winter, you will need warm clothing in the evenings (May to August). The Kruger National Park is one of the world’s largest wildlife sanctuaries. Morning and evening game drives offer spectacular sights, sounds, and observations of flora and fauna that form part of the vast ancient African ecology network.