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Thornybush or Timbavati Private Game Reserves?

Toronto, Canada
posts: 16
Thornybush or Timbavati Private Game Reserves?

We are looking to book our first safari for October 2013 and the agent we've been working with is suggesting Thornybush Game Lodge. The reviews on TA are excellent, including the game viewing. My concern is, it is a smaller reserve and from reading other posts, it is not connected to Timbavati and/or Kruger, so I'm wondering how much we might see (understanding it varies day-to-day what wildlife you will see). I've been researching accommodations in Timbavati, such as Tanda Tula and Ngala Tented Camp and wondered if these (and this location) might be a better option. I would appreciate any opinions on this.

We are also planning a few days in Sabi Sabi (at Lion Sands River Lodge) so we will have additional viewing opportunities, but like everyone else, we are trying to maximize our safari experience.


Johannesburg, South...
posts: 668
1. Re: Thornybush or Timbavati Private Game Reserves?

Hi peebeedot,

I would choose Timbavati over Thornybush. Your research is correct in that Timbavati borders directly with Kruger and allows free movement of animals, whereas Thornybush is a self-contained fenced reserve. It is also much smaller.

Ngala Tented Camp is superb and they offer a Pay 3 Stay 4 deal. The other option to look at is Kings Camp also in Timbavati.

With regards to Sabi Sands, Lion Sands River Lodge wouldn't be my first choice. It is a big lodge with many beds to fill, in addition to their other 2 lodges on the property. I would consider Exeter River Lodge, which is very nice and the benefit is that by booking Ngala as well, you can get a Pay 4 Stay 6 deal, which is a 33% saving. There are also other fanastic lodges that you could consider in the Sabi Sands like Savanna, Dulini, who also offer a Pay 3 Stay 4 deal, Londolozi Varty Camp, and slightly cheaper like Inyati. There are obviously many more, but those are my recommendations.

I hope this helps you and gives you more clarity.


Brett | Owner | Safaris For Me | South Africa

posts: 49
reviews: 12
2. Re: Thornybush or Timbavati Private Game Reserves?

Just left from our safari. We spent 3 nights at Thornybush Waterside lodge and 3 nights in Sabi Sand Notten's lodge. Both lodges has been great. As for game drives we have seen way more animals in Thornybush surprisingly.

posts: 1,001
reviews: 57
3. Re: Thornybush or Timbavati Private Game Reserves?


I would agree with Brett's comments about the positives of Timbavati over Thornybush - as Thornybush is fenced, it does 'contain' its wildlife - but having said that, 11,500 hectares is still a big area! I have been on safari in Thornybush, and had some great game viewing. But Timvabati still slightly has the edge for me, and again, as already mentioned, take a look at Ngala Safari - lovely lodge and offering the special Stay/Pay deal too.

Lion Sands traverse their own land in the Sabi Sand, so it is more of an exclusive safari experience in that the only other vehicles you will see out on drives will be Lion Sands vehicles. Lion Sands is actually one of my favourite lodges in Sabi, but again, you could combine Ngala with Exeter River (great location too) to get the further saving.

Wherever you go on safari, I am 100% confident that you will have a fantastic time. Your first safari is always special!

Tracey - Owner/ Director, Travel Butlers

posts: 2,358
4. Re: Thornybush or Timbavati Private Game Reserves?

I love visiting reserves and lodges that are part of the Greater Kruger National Park! Though the majority of the animals are very territorial, you just never know what the next game drive might deliver..... a new coalition of male lions may move in, perhaps a pack of wild dogs....plenty of exciting possibilities! I would therefore recommend Timbavati, where both Ngala and Tanda Tula are great options. Combined with a couple of nights in the Sabi Sand, this would be a great itinerary! I agree with Brett that it would be a good idea to consider a combination of Ngala and an andBeyond lodge in the Sabi Sand (Kirkman's, Exeter River or Leadwood), as you could then benefit from their pay 4 nights, stay 6 special offer.

Tanya * owner * Africa Direct

Phoenix, Arizona
Destination Expert
for South Africa, Sabi Sand Game Reserve
posts: 7,004
reviews: 44
5. Re: Thornybush or Timbavati Private Game Reserves?

I've just had two sets of clients in Thornybush in the past two weeks.. One sent me some of the most remarkable wildlife photos I have ever seen in my 25 years of doing this.. The other felt the animals were not as approachable as he had just experienced 3 days earlier in Sabi Sand at Simbambili Lodge.. So, Tanya's comments are spot on. You never know. Thornybush is not small, I should add - about 52 square miles. I use it and recommend it and will be there myself in October.

The AndBeyond 4-for-3 and 6-for-4 specials are NOT being offered for 2014. They do offer discounted rates for such longer stays, yes. But the new system of computing these rates is a little less generous. Of the lodges mentioned in the thread, I would certainly support Notten's and Dulini. Each is a special place, in my view.

Dave Patterson - Owner - The Africa Safari

Edited: 7:46 am, June 27, 2013
posts: 2,358
6. Re: Thornybush or Timbavati Private Game Reserves?

I think this traveller is travelling in 2013, as per the original posting, so the andbeyond pay 4 stay 4 night special offer would fortunately apply.

Tanya * owner * Africa Direct

Destination Expert
for Cape Town
posts: 3,516
7. Re: Thornybush or Timbavati Private Game Reserves?

I have often been to Thornybush Game Reserve. I much prefer the smaller lodges like n'Kaya or Serondella as Main Lodge can accommodate around 40 guests. Depends which scenario you prefer. We have always been treated superbly. We have seen the Big 5 on every visit. The rangers have an excellent system wherby they tend to head in the opposite direction to the Main Lodge vehicles so there never seems to be overcrowding. In common with most reserves they only allow two or three vehicles at any one time at a sighting and in the case of leopards usually restrict to one vehicle at a time. In addition to the prized big 5 we have seen plenty of cheetah, hyena, hippo, black rhino and many many others. They also have promotional offers from time to time. Well worth having a look at what they have to offer.

They fairly recently acquired a largish chunk of land from Kapama (neighbouring reserve), so the reserve certainly covers a good area.

Despite being a fenced reserve they also get "visitors" who get in through the fence. About 5 years ago they had no cheetah on the reserve then when we went for our annual visit we were delighted to find that not only had a female cheetah burrowed under the fence and set up "home" she had been pregnant and had just given birth to 5 cubs. Leopards certainly come and go via the same method.

Whilst the lodges in Sabi Sands undoubtably offer a great experience there are certainly other reserves worth visiting. Just my opinion.

Gold Coast
Destination Expert
for Kruger National Park
posts: 3,380
reviews: 22
8. Re: Thornybush or Timbavati Private Game Reserves?

Hi there

We are also fans of the Timbavati. We prefer the unfenced reserves that are open to Kruger, but that’s just personal choice.

We had our first visit there just last year which we combined with our usual lodge in Sabi Sand, and loved it.

We had great multiple leopard sightings, even more than lions. Also got lucky with wild dog, and of course many others including huge herds of elephant and buffalo.

The lodge where we stayed traverses with Tanda Tula, so had similar sightings. We did not get to spend long with the wild dogs, as an unusual sighting like this means all the lodges are waiting their turn for a look, which we did notice seemed to happen a bit more in Timbavati than on our visits to Sabi Sand. But that does depend on luck at the time, the sightings we came across ourselves we got to spend as long as we liked with.

Toronto, Canada
posts: 16
9. Re: Thornybush or Timbavati Private Game Reserves?

Thank you everyone for your replies. I will definitely look into the &Beyond pay 4 stay 6 deal as well as a some of the other sites mentioned. It seems like such a big decision, but I'm sure we will be pleased regardless of where we stay, especially for our first safari.

Another question I had, if you don't mind: In early October, are the mornings and evenings still cold? Cool? I would imagine a light to medium weight sweater would be needed, but not sure if we need something more? Conversely, during the day, does it get warm enough that air conditioning would be needed (something further to look into for our lodge selection).

I appreciate your feedback and your assistance with our planning!

posts: 2
reviews: 15
10. Re: Thornybush or Timbavati Private Game Reserves?

Don't rush to choose Timbavati. Most of the responses have been from marketing agents, pushing the higher priced lodges in the Timbavati. Yes, it is special, but as a travel writer who visits and re-visits game reserves in southern Africa, I have honestly NEVER had the game viewing that is on offer at Thornybush.

People who say that some reserves are fenced and others not, are talking rot. There isn't a reserve in South Africa that isn't fenced. It's just the length of the fencing that differs. Even Kruger is fenced.

As for the weather in October - superb. Hot days and the evenings are mild: always bring long sleeved shirts because of the mosquito factor, but they can be light cotton. VIsit www.accuweather.com and look for Hoedspruit or Phalaborwa and you will get a good idea of what to pack. If you haven't been to this part of the world before- hats and sunblock! The sun can be wicked, especially on open game viewers towards the end of a morning's game drive.

For an upmarket experience in Thornybush, try Royal Malewane. For an authentic bush experience in a simpler, smaller, unfenced camp, try Tangala private camp. Happy travels and welcome, in advance, to a special part of the world.

Edited: 2:56 am, June 28, 2013