Thornybush Game Reserve

Thornybush Game Reserve Overview

Thornybush Game Reserve

Set within the Greater Kruger National Park, the renowned Thornybush Game Reserve, also known as Thornybush Nature Reserve, is a pristine 14,000-hectare private game reserve.

**The Greater Kruger National Park, also referred to as the Greater Kruger, is an area which covers a massive expanse of unfenced wilderness. The Greater Kruger consists of a group of private game reserves, one of which being Thornybush Game Reserve, that collectively form a protected conservation area that lies in and around the Kruger National Park.

The Greater Kruger covers an estimated 20 000 000 hectares of protected, unfenced, and unspoiled African bushveld, allowing wildlife to roam freely between the Kruger National Park and a vast number of private concessions, including Thornybush Game Reserve.

Beyond being one of the most sought-after game reserves in Africa, it is every bit as wild and untamed as its famous neighboring national park, the Kruger National Park, with the added bonus of sharing an unfenced border with Timbavati Nature Reserve and the Kruger Park.

By sharing an unfenced boundary with these premium reserves and national parks, those visiting Thornybush Game Reserve have the opportunity to experience the ultimate in African game-viewing, as wildlife are free to migrate between reserves, freely moving across much larger tracts of land, resulting in greater and more diverse wildlife sightings and superior African Big 5 encounters.

Game viewing in Thornybush Game Reserve ranks as some of the best in Southern Africa due to the sheer diversity and abundance of wildlife that call Thornybush home. Not to mention its glorious African Big 5 encounters and sightings. Together, it is has helped establish Thornybush Game Reserve as a leading safari destination in the Greater Kruger Park area.

Best time to go

May – September (Dry season)

High Season

October – March

Low Season

April – September


140km² / 54mi²


445-579m / 1,460-1,900ft


Greater Kruger Park | South Africa

Dry Season

May – September (Winter)

Best Weather

April – May | September – October (Mild weather & little rain)

Wet Season

October – April (Summer)

Worst Weather

June – August (Chilly mornings & nights) | December – February (Hot & humid)

Snapshot of Thornybush Game Reserve

  • Shares an unfenced border with the Greater Kruger National Park
  • Great Diversity of Wildlife
  • Easy Access
  • World Class Lodging
  • Game viewing ranks as some of the best in Southern Africa
  • Limited Lodges and Guests

Thornybush Game reserve is perfect for

  • Big 5 Safari Sightings & Incredible predator sightings
  • Leopard Sightings
  • Plains Game
  • Thrilling safari & African wildlife adventures | Family holidays | Romantic wilderness getaways | Photographic Safaris | Fly-In Safaris
  • Guided walking safaris

Thornybush Game Reserve Wildlife

Thornybush Game Reserve

As game viewing in Thornybush Game Reserve ranks as some of the best in Southern Africa, home to a vast and prolific diversity of wildlife and birdlife, visitors and avid wildlife enthusiasts and keen birders can expect exceptional and exciting sightings and encounters.

Sharing an unfenced border with the equally famous and game-rich Timbavati Game Reserve, which is open to the Kruger National Park and is, therefore, part of a large ecosystem, Thornybush Private Game Reserve boasts a prime big game habitat, consisting of massive open savannah woodlands with patches of tangled thicket and thorny scrub.

Thornybush Game Reserve

The abundance of perennial rivers, good groundwater levels, varied ecosystems, multiple landscapes, and distinct vegetation draws an incredible diversity of plains game to Thornybush Game Reserve, which, in turn, attracts a large variety of predators, including the legendary African Big 5. From trumpeting elephant herds along riverbeds, the roar of a lion pride echoing through the reserve, and the thrill of a close encounter with a stealthy leopard to rare and remarkable sightings of the mighty African rhino and the magnificent buffalo – Thornybush is the ideal place to see the icons of the African bushveld.

Thornybush Game Reserve

Black Rhino in Thornybush Game Reserve

The usually shy and secretive black rhino is spotted and tracked in Thornybush Game Reserve quite regularly – which is a real treat for wildlife lovers all around.

Thornybush Game Reserve

The Sabie and Sand Rivers, as well as their many tributaries like the Manyaleti River running through the reserve is another one of Thornybush Game Reserve’s secret attractions with regards to its rich predator, Big 5, and prolific wildlife activity. These prominent water sources are the lifeblood of the game reserve and attracts a wide array of game and predators all-year round.

Thornybush Game Reserve

Beyond the reserve’s exceptional predator and Big 5 activity, Thornybush Game Reserve is home to an abundant and incredible variety of wildlife species. From spotted hyena, giraffe, zebra, hippo, warthog, and several species of antelope, to wildebeest, cheetah, and sightings of genet, civet, porcupine, and caracal are frequently spotted on night drives, Thornybush Game Reserve boasts an extraordinary wildlife population.

Thornybush Game Reserve

The remarkable and endangered African wild dog often passes through the reserve, with viewing opportunities being especially good when they choose to den in the reserve. Another bucket-list worthy wildlife sighting is that of the extremely rare white lion from the neighboring Timbavati Private Game Reserve, which has been spotted on several occasions.

Thornybush Private Game Reserve Wildlife & Safari Highlight

Thornybush – A Private Paradise

Thornybush Game Reserve

Thornybush Game Reserve

As Thornybush is a private Kruger reserve and shares an unfenced border with the Greater Kruger, it affords guests the opportunity to enjoy activities and safari adventures not normally permitted in the Kruger Park itself. This means guests can freely explore all the wilderness and wildlife wonders of the Kruger completely unhindered.

Rangers and safari guides not only have unrestricted access to the public roads of the Kruger Park, but are free to drive and venture off-road, allowing guests and game enthusiasts to experience thrilling up-close wildlife sightings, getting you as close to the action as possible.

Another highlight of Thornybush Private Game Reserve is that safaris and game drives are not restricted to daylight hours as they are in the Kruger National Park, and exploring the Greater Kruger wilderness before sunrise and after sunset are not only customary, but a must. Once darkness falls, guests get to experience the thrill of an action-packed spot-lit night drive safari in search of rare nocturnal creatures and big cats on the move.

In addition to day safaris and night drive safaris, the Greater Kruger (and thus Thornybush Game Reserve) offers an array of exhilarating wildlife and safari adventures for guests to enjoy. Guided walking safaris are undoubtedly a fan favourite as avid nature and wildlife lovers get to experience the magnificent wildlife and untouched wilderness landscapes of the Kruger on foot.

Thornybush Game Reserve Birdlife

Sabi Sand Game Reserve

Lilac-breasted Roller | Photo credit: flickr

Although the primary draw and focus of Thornybush Game Reserve is its remarkable and vast diversity of wildlife, Thornybush is regarded as a great birding destination, boasting more than 280 recorder bird species.

If you are a particularly avid bird watcher / ardent birder who is especially eager to spot some sensational bird species on your day out exploring Thornybush and beyond, going on a wilderness safari or game drive with other guests can be somewhat frustrating, as most guests and visitors tend to be far more interested in exciting up-close wildlife sightings and spotting the famous African Big 5.

For enthusiastic birders seeking the ultimate African birding experience, it is advisable to book a private safari or game drive – giving you full control of your experience and what you want your guide and tracker to focus on.

Thornybush Game Reserve

If you’re looking to make your Thornybush birding adventure more exciting, going on a guided walking safari or exhilarating night drive, will undoubtedly add an extra dose of thrill to your bird watching experience. It will also significantly increase your chances of seeing a vast variety of bird species.

Notable birds in Thornybush Game Reserve include:

  • Blacksmith lapwing (common)
  • Fork-tailed drongo (common)
  • Groundscraper thrush (common)
  • Malachite kingfisher (common)
  • Martial eagle (common)

Birding specials & real treats for avid birders in Thornybush Game Reserve:

  • African green pigeon
  • African hawk eagle
  • Arrow-marked babbler
  • Black-crowned night heron
  • Chinspot batis
  • Common greenshank
  • Greater painted snipe
  • Jameson’s firefinch
  • Lesser spotted eagle
  • Little grebe
  • Pennant-winged nightjar
  • Senegal lapwing
  • Shaft-tailed whydah
  • Southern pochard
  • Stierling’s wren-warbler
  • Temminck’s courser
  • White-winged widowbird
  • Yellow-breasted apalis

Best time for bird watching in Thornybush Game Reserve

Thornybush Game Reserve

The best time to visit the Thornybush Game Reserve as it pertains to bird watching is from November to April when migratory birds are present.

Thornybush Game Reserve Scenery & Vegetation

Thornybush Game Reserve

Set within the Greater Kruger National Park, sharing unfenced boundaries with Timbavati Nature Reserve and the esteemed Kruger National Park, Thornybush Game Reserve forms part of a very large and diverse ecosystem – which in turn attracts an exceptional density and vast diversity of wildlife and birdlife.

Thornybush Private Game Reserve features prime big game habitat, with the terrain largely consisting of mixed woodland, rolling lowveld, and expansive open savannah with patches of tangled thicket and thorny bush – hence the name Thornybush.

The reserve’s abundance of perennial rivers, good groundwater levels, varied ecosystems, multiple landscapes, and distinct vegetation draws an incredible variety of plains game, predators, and the African Big 5.

Thornybush Game Reserve

The Sabie and Sand Rivers, as well as their many tributaries like the Manyaleti River running through the reserve further contributes to Thornybush Game Reserve’s prolific wildlife activity. These prominent water sources are regarded as the lifeblood of the game reserve and attracts a wide array of game all-year round. The reserve is also bisected by several riverbeds.

Best Time To Go To Thornybush Game Reserve

Best Time To Go

May – September (Dry season)

High Season

October – March

Low Season

April – September

Best Weather

April – May | September – October (Mild weather & little rain)

Worst Weather

June – August (Chilly mornings & nights) | December – February (Hot & humid)

Thornybush Game Reserve

While Thornybush Game Reserve is regarded as a wonderful year-round wildlife and safari destination, boasting excellent all-around game viewing and safari experiences, each season offers travelers, adventurers, and nature and wildlife enthusiasts something unique and exciting.

Thornybush Game Reserve has two distinct seasons:

  • The Dry Season: May – September (Winter)
  • The Wet Season: October – April (Summer)

Despite being one of the top year-round private game reserves in South Africa, the best time to go to Thornybush Game Reserve is during its dry season (May – September). The cool and dry winter months of May to September offer the easiest, most hassle-free, premium game viewing.

Along with its exceptional game density and diversity and high concentration of animals clustered around water sources during the dry season, wildlife are far easier to spot during this time as foliage becomes less abundant, resulting in optimal visibility.

Here are some of the seasonal highlights you can look forward to during Thornybush Game Reserve’s dry season and wet season.

Dry winter season in Thornybush Game Reserve

Sabi Sand Game Reserve

Dry season highlights

*Prime time for wildlife sightings

*Optimal visibility & game viewing due to sparse vegetation

*Premium & abundant wildlife sightings & encounters as animals congregate around water sources

*Lovely days with mild – moderate day-time temperatures

*Minimal rain & low humidity

*The reserve is largely mosquito-free | Low risk of Malaria

*Thornybush Game Reserve’s dry season coincides with its low season which means the reserve is far less crowded

Wet summer season in Thornybush Game Reserve

Thornybush Game Reserve

Wet season highlights

*Lush green landscapes due to high rainfall

*Thornybush Game Reserve is filled with newborn wildlife

*Prime time for predator sightings

*Birding is exceptional during the wet season as migratory birds are present

*Wildlife are in excellent condition

*Incredible photography opportunities

Thornybush Game Reserve Weather & Climate

Thornybush Game Reserve

Dry Season: May – September (Winter)

  • Average day-time temperatures: 25°C/77°F – 28°C/82°F
  • Average morning temperatures: 10°C/50°F – 14°C/57°F
  • Rainfall is extremely scarce during the entire winter season in Thornybush Game Reserve. As a result, permanent water sources become the primary gathering place for wildlife and birdlife alike as water becomes extremely hard to find elsewhere
  • Lovely mild – moderate day-time temperatures
  • Low humidity
  • Mornings and evenings tend to be much cooler during the dry winter months | It is advised that you dress warm for early morning and late afternoon game drives / safaris due to the cooler temperatures
  • During the month of September (marking the end of the dry season), the heat index climbs to an afternoon average of 28°C/82°F and morning temperatures warm up to 14°C/57°F on average. Rain finally begins to fall during September, relieving the dry drought-like conditions of Thornybush Game Reserve

Wet Season: October – April (Summer)

  • Average day-time temperatures: 28°C/82°F – 40°C/104°F | On average throughout the season: 31°C/88°F
  • Average night-time temperatures: +/- 16°C/61°F
  • Hot & humid conditions with peak day-time temperatures often reaching up to 40°C/104°F or higher
  • High rainfall & frequent afternoon storms (all-day rainfall is rare)
  • December, January, and February are Thornybush Game Reserve’s wettest and hottest months. Torrential downpours are common during the afternoon, resulting in high humidity. During this time, day-time temperatures can reach 40°C/104°F or higher, becoming somewhat unbearable for most travelers and guests
  • Temperatures cool down during March & April, resulting in almost perfect clear-skied days (minus a few clouds), less rain and lower levels of humidity. Night-time temperatures are cool, but pleasant at about 16°C/61°F

How To Get To Thornybush Game Reserve

As Thornybush Game Reserve is located close to the Kruger National Park, visitors will need to travel towards the Kruger Park to reach Thornybush. Depending on your individual travel needs and preferences, there are various routes and modes of transportation you can take to your ultimate destination, including international flights, domestic flights, private flights, shuttle/chartered flights, and self-drives.

Getting to Thornybush Game Reserve by air

Whether you’re traveling from abroad or locally, flying is the easiest way to get to Thornybush Game Reserve and its range of luxury lodges.

Cape Town International Airport (CTIA) or O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) in Johannesburg is where visitors usually arrive from abroad. From O.R. Tambo International Airport and Cape Town International Airport both local and international travelers can make their way to Thornybush Game Reserve via scheduled flights to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA) near Nelspruit or Hoedspruit Airport (HDS).

There are generally 2 scheduled flights daily between Johannesburg OR Tambo International Airport (ORTIA) and Hoedspruit Airport (HDS) which takes approximately 55 minutes, and 1 daily flight between Cape Town International Airport (CTIA) and Hoedspruit Eastgate Airport, which takes approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes. Be sure to check all airports and scheduled flights traveling to your desired destination to find the one that suits you best.

From Hoedspruit Eastgate Airport as well as Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA) (or any airport you are flying to), private road transfers can be arranged on your behalf to transport you to your chosen reserve or lodge. This transfer typically takes approximately 30 – 45 minutes, depending on the location of the Thornybush lodge you are staying at. A lodge link flight on a small aircraft may also be available for exclusive transfer to your lodge, depending on the lodge you are traveling to / staying at.

Chartered Flights & Private charters

One of the most exclusive, hassle-free, and efficient ways to travel to Thornybush Game Reserve is by means of a scheduled private chartered flight. Thornybush has two landing strips on the reserve itself. The bigger of the two landing strips is a 1,2 km tarred runway and is able to accommodate up to a 16-seat aircraft. Private charters are also available through several reputable private charter companies.

Getting to Thornybush Game Reserve by road

Thornybush Game Reserve is very accessible and easy to reach when traveling by road. From Johannesburg, the driving distance to Thornybush Game Reserve is approximately 450km/280mi, which will take you about five hours. Thornybush is situated on the R40 near Hoedspruit, to the west of the Kruger National Park.

Directions from Johannesburg to Thornybush Game Lodge

  • Travel on the N12 towards Witbank, where the N12 highway links up with the N4 highway.
  • Continue on the N4 highway in the direction of Nelspruit.
  • Approximately 60km past Middleburg, take the R540 to your left.
  • Travel though the towns of Belfast and Dullstroom to Lydenburg
  • From there, take the R36 (which becomes the R527) towards Hoedspruit, passing through Origstad and descending down the Able Erasmus Pass.
  • Once you reach Hoedspruit, take the R40 south towards Bushbuckridge.
  • Carry on driving for approximately 6km before turning left at the Eastgate Airport sign / Argyle Road.
  • Continue driving 14km (tarred road) and turn right onto Guernsey Road (following the signs to Thornybush Reserve).
  • Continue driving until you reach your chosen Thornybush Game Reserve Lodge.