Thula arrivalI climbed out of the jeep that had transported me through hot and arid countryside and looked around me. Green lawns, a mass of beautiful trees spreading up and out, and in front of me, Thula Thula’s homestead. I was told to leave my case and go inside. On entering I was drawn instantly to the wide open doors that led outside.
three“You must be Gaynor?” a rippling French voice said behind me.
I swung round to find myself facing Francoise Anthony, the owner of Thula Thula. She was tall, blonde and beautiful, the sort of person one is instantly in awe of. Not so with Francoise. I was enfolded in her arms as she laughingly said: “How wonderful to finally meet you.”
“Gaynor, is that you?”
I broke away from Francoise, to see a stranger addressing me. Or was she a stranger? That smile, those wicked, dancing eyes……
Frances Park Ross!”
We had been at school together when I was 12 and 13 years old!
Old and new friends. I was going to enjoy my stay at Thula Thula!

I took my I-Pad out onto the balcony to read and write. As I sat sipping a glorious cup of tea, I thought to myself: You are finally here. You are at Thula Thula game reserve.
I smiled.

Ellie bookThula Thula is the game lodge that was started by Lawrence Anthony and his wife, Francoise. I had read his book The Elephants Whisperer in which I had met the herd of elephants with whom Lawrence had formed a unique bond. They had taught him about love, freedom and loyalty.
Lawrence Anthony died three years ago but Francoise has maintained his vision. Thula Thula is a home to the elephants and countless wildlife and Francoise has recently founded a rhino orphanage. It was all here.
Waiting for me.

monkeyA small monkey sat catching the evening rays of sunlight. He made such a perfect picture.Gently he picked at something on the ground and chewed contentedly. How I wished that I could capture his essence on film. All around him were clusters of monkeys eating, chasing one another or simply sitting in groups and, I would imagine, chatting!

A giraffe seemed to move with galleonic grace up the dried riverbed before me. He stopped, regarded me calmly and then the galleon moved on, swaying regally out of sight.

To my left a Nyala buck silently ate her evening meal. Her tail, like a pendulum, swung left, right, left, right, rigorously keeping time. I went forward, wanting to see her more closely. Her head slowly lifted and her eyes met mine. I didn’t move. Neither did she. A long moment passed. Then she broke the connection, turned and ambled off into the gathering dusk.

Thula Thula opened her wings and spread them softly around me.

ellies againOn safariThe next morning I was off on my first game drive. We turned a corner and there they were.
The elephants!
I couldn’t believe that I was looking at the elephants I had read about in The Elephant Whisperer. So many of them. And we were so close. They were aware of us but continued to do what they were doing. There was Nana, the wise matriarch and Frankie, her warrior sister. I was amazed at their calm acceptance of these gawking onlookers. I could have stayed there for a long time, watching and absorbing these incredible creatures but granting them their privacy, we moved on.

The rhino orphanage was fascinating. Francoise is ultra protective of these orphans whose parents were hacked to death before their eyes in the most grotesque and horrifying manner. I am not wanting to talk further about these baby rhinos and the terrors that have happened to them. I prefer to to let them savour the safety and care that they are now being subjected to by Francoise and her extremely knowledgeable helpers.rhino orphange
I remember going to a game reserve as a child. We would laugh and marvel at the rhino’s long horn on his nose before driving past and commenting on the mass of Springbok somersaulting their leaps in front of us. Those days of carefree laughter at the rhino’s long horn are over.
Rhino 2In Thula Thula, they have two adult rhino living on the reserve. These rhino are guarded 24/7 by a team of highly trained anti-poaching rangers. This is a war they are engaged in, and it is a war they are not prepared to lose. They are constantly raising funds for the training of the anti-poaching team with the Thula Thula Rhino Fund.

guidesI went for a five kilometre walk with Shandu and Shiva. Twenty metres into our walk I stopped and said apologetically to them: “I’m sorry, I am not going to manage this walk. With my brain damage, I find it very difficult not walking on a straight, smooth pavement-like surface. You go on and I’ll see you back at camp.”
They wouldn’t hear of me simply giving up and insisted I continue. I had Shiva to cling onto and Frances Park Ross to push me up the hills from behind. That’s what school friends are for! Those two men were encyclopaedic about wildlife. They were able to name every bush, flower, animal and bird. I even learnt which flower has little black seeds in it, which can poison an unwanted husband and leave no trace!

FrancoiseFrancoise is the most extraordinary person. She is a woman that simply lights up a room when she steps into it. She has that magical magnetism that draws people to her. They listen with interest to that delightfully low pitched French voice. She is the magic that enchants one at Thula Thula. Lawrence’s elephants are the draw card to Thula Thula. It is she, nevertheless, that holds together the wonderful world that makes Thula Thula cast it’s enthralling spell.

I first heard the words ‘Thula Thula‘ when my sister, Megan, was a baby, I remember Letty, who worked for us at the time, rocking her to sleep. Her rich Zulu voice would sing:

Thula thul, thula baba, thula sana,
Thul’u babuzo ficka, eku seni. (repeat)
Kukh’in khan-yezi, zi-holel’ u baba,
Zim-khan yi-sela indlel’e ziyak-haya,
Sobe sik hona xa bonke be-shoyo,
Be-thi bu-yela u-bu-ye le khaya,
Thula thula thula baba,
Thula thula thula sana,
Thula thula thula baba,
Thula thula thula san.

Keep quiet my child
Keep quiet my baby
Be quiet, daddy will be home by dawn
There’s a star that will lead him home
The star will brighten his way home
The hills and stones are still the same my love
My life has changed, yes my life has changed
The children grow but you don’t know my love
The children grew but you don’t see them grow

Thula Thula soothed Megan and put her to sleep. It has left my dreams rich with elephants, giraffe, zebra, rhino, delicious food and a laughing French accent…….




If you would like to learn more about the Thula Thula Rhino fund please click here!