Hlonipha – Respect
At Thula Thula we were wooed by the same gentleness that calmed the elephants, as described in Lawrence Anthony’s ‘The Elephant Whisperer’. Even the name Thula Thula refers to a quietening or calming, usually spoken or sung as a lullaby to quieten a baby. A deep respect is shown here for all things natural and these people are serious about conservation.
Elephant and rhino are allowed to wander right into the lodge grounds, and it is remarkable to witness them going about their feeding and interactions from the deep baths overlooking the open bush. The accommodation is African style, with French verve. Zebra stripes, thatch, cool screed floors and wafty white mosquito nets let you know you are in the heart of Zululand, Africa.
The lodge owner and the late Lawrence Anthony’s elegant wife Francine joins us at the bar and it is a privilege to meet her and ask her about her life. She is passionate about Africa, conservation and delicious food and the effects of her care are everywhere. The lodge is famed for its gourmet meals and we enjoy a superb 4-course meal, once again a creative fushion of French and African inspiration.
On an afternoon safari game drive we spend a happy two hours driving around the well protected game reserve. It is a thrill which is hard to explain to get close to the very elephants described in the book and each one is named and has an interesting story about its personality or past. They become four dimensional beings as we hear more about their interesting quirks and history. I have a sense that one can stay here for weeks and keep learning more about each one and developing a relationship with them.
Our guide is one of the best I have ever enjoyed being out with, and he is clearly passionate about the conservation of this natural heritage, as well as offering lively stories and fresh information. We stop for drinks at a watering hole and appreciate the privilege of being out in the African bushveld. We move on, passing a ‘tall horse’ (giraffe), silhouetted against the setting sun.
However it is on our way back that I have my heart-stopping moment. We round a corner and come across the two local rhino of the reserve. We stop and discuss their habits and history, and as we do so, one comes right up to the vehicle. He keeps coming and stops, not 20cm from my door and it is all I can do to stop myself from reaching out and touching his precious head. It is an experience I will never forget, made more poignant by the plight of these endangered great beasts. This pair of rhinos have their own private bodyguards, a 24 hour security detail to ensure that they are not poached for their horns. We are excited to hear that there is a newly opened Rhino Orphanage awaiting its first two orphaned baby rhinos in the coming week. It is yet another significant contribution to the conservation of this beautiful animal by the lovely people of this priceless safari lodge and game reserve.