Thornybush Game Reserve(Greater Kruger) Safari Guide

safarigo   South Africa  

Thornybush is a small private game reserve sharing an open boundary with Timbavati NR which has open boundaries with the world-famous Kruger Park. Animals can freely move in and out of the reserve, which is part of a very large ecosystem. Wildlife viewing is generally very good, but the thick bush makes off-road driving more limited than in the neighboring private reserves.

Pros & Cons

Good wildlife viewing with all of the Big Five present
Day and night drives and walking safaris available
Off-road driving in open vehicles
Lodges catering to different budgets
Wildlife less abundant compared to Sabi Sands and Timbavati
High density of camps, so less exclusive
Emphasis on checking off the Big Five species

Wildlife & Animals

Thornybush has dropped fences with Timbavati, which is open to Kruger Park and is, therefore, part of a large ecosystem. All of the Big Five are regularly seen as well as spotted hyena, cheetah and hippo. Wild dog sometimes passes through and viewing opportunities are especially good when they choose to den in the reserve.

Wildlife Highlights

The usually very shy and secretive black rhino is spotted and tracked in Thornybush quite regularly. Night drives are excellent with possible sightings of genet, civet and caracal, as well as porcupine. Lion are easily seen, and the very rare white lion, from neighboring Timbavati, has also been spotted on several occasions.


Thornybush has more than 280 bird species recorded. Although the focus tends to be more on mammals, Thornybush is a good birding destination. If you are a serious birder, sharing a vehicle with other guests might be frustrating. Therefore, it would be advisable to book private drives. Walking safaris and night drives both add to the bird-watching experience and increase the chances of seeing a variety of species. Migratory birds are present from November to April.

Best Time to Visit

May to September is the best time for wildlife viewing at Thornybush. These are the winter months, and they coincide with the Dry season. At this time wildlife gathers around permanent water sources and foliage recedes, making animals easier to spot. September is a particularly good time.

May to September – Dry Season

Wildlife is easier to spot as foliage thins, and animals congregate around water
Clear skies, plenty of sun
Comfortable temperatures and low humidity
Very low chance of malaria
The landscape is dry
Packing warm clothes is essential since morning and evening games drives will be cold

October to April – Wet Season

Lovely green landscape
Animals are in good shape and newborns can be seen
Migratory birds are present, and birding is very good
Wildlife viewing isn't as good as during the Dry season
It is high season, and the camps might be a bit busier
Days are hot and humid
Antimalarial medication is recommended

Weather & Climate

Thornybush experiences its winter and summer at opposite times to those seasons in Europe and North America. Winter (May to September) is dry with mild temperatures, while summer (October to April) is wet, hot and humid. Be sure to pack warm clothing for morning and evening game drives. Thundershowers are typical during the Wet season, although rain rarely lasts long.

Dry Season – May to September – Winter

Rainfall is scarce during the entire winter, and there is little humidity. Permanent water sources become a gathering place for animals as water becomes hard to find elsewhere.

May – May marks the end of the summer season. Average temperatures cool to around 12°C/54°F in the morning, while afternoons average 26°C/79°F.
June, July & August – Game drives in the early morning tend to be cold, with temperatures around 10°C/50°F, so it is essential to bring warm clothing. Afternoons tend to be sunny and pleasant with temperatures averaging 25°C/77°F.
September – The heat index climbs to an afternoon average of 28°C/82°F. Mornings warm up to a 14°C/57°F on average. Rains finally begin, relieving the drought-like conditions.

Wet Season – October to April – Summer

The heat and humidity of the summer can get uncomfortable. Temperatures can peak to 40°C/104°F and higher. On average, the daytime temperatures are around 31°C/88°F. Afternoon storms are commonplace, but it is rare for the rain to hang around all day.

October & November – The rain is more frequent, and temperatures hover between 17°C/63°F in the morning and 30°C/86°F in the afternoon.
December, January & February – These are the wettest and hottest months. Torrential downpours occur during the afternoon, resulting in high humidity. Average afternoon temperatures of 31°C/88°F are common, but temperatures can reach 40°C/104°F or higher and become unbearable.
March & April – It gets cooler, and it rains less. The month of April is almost perfect with clear weather, less humidity and few clouds. Nights are colder, but pleasant at about 16°C/61°F. Daytime temperatures of 28°C/82°F are common.

Getting There

O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) in Johannesburg is where visitors usually arrive from abroad. From here, Federal Air flies twice-daily to Thornybush.

Alternatively, you can take a connecting flight from Johannesburg to Hoedspruit Airport (HDS). This airport is close to the reserve, and a transfer can easily be arranged.

Another possibility is to hire a car in Johannesburg and drive to the park. Thornybush is situated on the R40 near Hoedspruit, to the west of Kruger National Park. The 450km/280mi drive will take about five hours.