Arriving at Waterside at Royal Malewane — a fabulous safari lodge that’s recently opened in Thornybush Private Game Reserve bordering South Africa’s famous Kruger National Park — we were delighted to see several spiral-horned nyala antelopes wandering through camp, many with babies in tow, making themselves at home as they browsed on the indigenous flower beds and took sips from the suites’ private pools. Shaded by a grove of towering fever trees, and beside a broad waterhole where wildlife come to drink, the lodge is unfenced and game animals can, and do, pass through freely.
Waterside is an ultra-luxurious lodge, a spacious sanctuary, and one that has been meticulously planned and executed. It ensures maximum comfort, privacy, and a truly unforgettable safari experience. For anyone contemplating an African safari, this is a destination that should be right at the top of your wish list.
Why We Chose Waterside
We chose Thornybush Private Game Reserve, where Waterside is one of a dozen lodges, for our visit. Thornybush, renowned for its focus on conservation, stretches 29,000 acres and is home to such an abundance of wildlife. Here, you’re almost guaranteed to spot the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo) on your visit — making it an ideal safari destination for experts and novices alike. It’s even been the setting for a number of wildlife documentaries.
The Lodge Itself
The exterior of this safari lodge is cleverly designed to blend into the surrounding scenery. Meanwhile, the interiors are colorful, contemporary, and full of carefully curated artworks and décor.
It’s Family Friendly
Waterside welcomes multigenerational families and accepts children of all ages. There’s an excellent kids’ program to keep the little ones entertained between game drives.
Pro Tip: While the kids are otherwise occupied, a visit to the lodge spa for a soothing wellness treatment is highly recommended for parents and grandparents.
Dining at Waterside is a memorable experience. The menu changes on a daily basis. Every meal is special — and made even more so by the exhaustive wine and cocktail list that includes an impressive range of craft gins, whiskies, and South African wines. Enjoy it all while the sunbirds flit in nearby aloes and the weaver birds chatter in the trees overhead.
Activities And Amenities
From twice-daily game drives to spa visits, world-class wine tastings to spending time in the gym or the yoga/meditation room, curling up with a book in the library to simply unwinding by the pool, Waterside offers endless opportunities to relax and reconnect.
If you feel like venturing a little further afield, various other activities can be added to your itinerary, including helicopter flights over Blyde River Canyon, the world’s deepest green canyon; golf at Leopard Creek, Africa’s most exclusive bushveld golf course; or perhaps a visit to Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre for injured and abandoned wildlife.
Waterside’s Guides And Wildlife Encounters
The safari guides at Waterside are some of the most qualified, passionate, and experienced in Africa. The guiding team has over 300 years of African bush experience between them, and Waterside, combined with its sister lodge Royal Malewane, has three of only seven living Master Trackers in the world. The Waterside guides are also passionate about photography, and have the patience, dedication, and knowledge to anticipate the behavior and movements of the creatures you are hoping to photograph.
On a game drive, you’ll experience the thrill of encountering wildlife in its natural environment. Case in point: We were on a morning game drive at 8 a.m., and my husband and I were seated in the game drive vehicle. Our binoculars were trained on a herd of 200 or more buffaloes, all making their way down to the waterhole. Big and small, adult and calf, male and female, the herd approached the water. As they lowered their mouths to drink, something startled them and they raised their heads in alarm. A pack of 11 African wild dogs also approached the waterhole, hoping for a drink. The wild dogs were nervous about the buffalo and decided to detour around them. Reaching the other side of the waterhole, they spotted a group of six hyenas lying in the mud. Coming to a sudden halt, the wild dogs looked uncertainly at one another before slipping away into the bush. They were clearly planning to return to the waterhole only once the “crowds” had moved on!
Between the waterhole encounter, finding a pair of lions feasting on a zebra, a leopard stalking an impala in a dry river bed, and another pride of lions lying bloated and full around the carcass of a buffalo, we had incredible wildlife encounters here. Elephants were plentiful, both coming down to the lodge’s waterhole to drink and when we were out on drives. Tracking a pair of rhinos — mother and calf — on foot was another highlight of our visit. Colorful birds, towering giraffes, and a family of warthogs running through the grass with their long tails sticking up above the grass like antennae — the wildlife experiences here were fantastic.
Pro Tip: Alternatively, going on a guided walking safari will give you a detail-focused experience that gets you up close to creatures great and small.
If birding is your thing, and you’ve got a bird bucket list to work on, you’ve come to the right place. There are over 300 different bird species that call this place home.
Children will find this the perfect place to get an exciting introduction to nature. And for those interested in something extra spectacular, there is also the option of taking to the air and flying by helicopter over the reserve, looking down on the landscape and wildlife below.
More On Kruger National Park And The Greater Kruger
At 4.8 million acres (7,580 square miles), Kruger National Park in northeastern South Africa was the first national park established in South Africa and remains the country’s largest. It is the sixth largest of all of Africa’s game reserves. Originally founded as a nature reserve by Paul Kruger in 1898, it was enlarged in 1926 and made into a national park. In 1927, the park was opened to the public and an entry fee of one British pound was charged (the equivalent of around $100 today). Only a handful of cars visited the new park that year, but by 1935, around 26,000 people were passing through the gates annually. Today, the total number of visitors is around one million a year.
With a size roughly that of Israel or Wales, all of Africa’s iconic safari species — elephant, lion, leopard, cheetah, rhino, buffalo, giraffe, hippo, and zebra — can be found in Kruger. The park is home to over 12,000 elephants, 27,000 buffalo, 2,000 leopards, 2,800 lions, and around 2,500 rhinos. Kruger National Park offers a wildlife experience that ranks among the best in Africa.
Need To Know: The area known as the Greater Kruger comprises Kruger National Park and a cluster of private game reserves on the park’s borders. While the national park itself is perfect for self-drive safaris and budget package tours, the adjacent private reserves offer more exclusive safari experiences, with excellent trackers and guides and expertly guided game drives in open vehicles.
There are several private game reserves in the Greater Kruger area, the main ones being Balule, MalaMala, Sabi Sand, Manyeleti, Klaserie, Timbavati, and Thornybush. The fences between these reserves and the national park itself have been removed, forming one vast ecosystem and allowing for the free movement of wildlife. The area is home to the widest diversity of wildlife in South Africa, and some of the finest game viewing on the continent.
Why A Private Game Reserve?
You may be wondering, Why choose a private game reserve over the actual national park? Public parks tend to be more crowded, meaning you can well find yourself stuck behind a convoy of other vehicles out on safari. It can be frustrating and sometimes mean you miss out on some animal sightings. There are also strict times when you’re allowed to be out on the roads in public parks.
However, staying in one of the private game reserves that share an unfenced border with Kruger National Park gives you a more exclusive experience. Lodges in the private game reserves tend to be more luxurious, and because they are on private land, when you go out on drives, you can go “off-road” for a closer look at special wildlife sightings. With no set opening times, you can even head out after dark should the fancy take you. Private game reserves also limit the number of vehicles that can be at each sighting, meaning you’ll have an uninterrupted view.
Whatever your reason for planning a safari, Waterside is the perfect destination for couples and families who value memorable experiences and the opportunity to reconnect, relax, and spend time together. Fantastic wildlife sightings are right on your doorstep (quite literally at times!) and the guides are some of the best in Africa. Combine this with a great year-round climate, wonderful personalized service, gourmet food, and the beautifully stocked bar, and Waterside is the ideal African safari holiday destination, providing everything you need for a truly memorable safari.
For more on safaris and wildlife in Africa, consider