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John Visits Phinda Private Game Reserve

Journey Specialist John recently visited the Phinda Private Game Reserve in South Africa. Phinda is located in northern KwaZulu-Natal and is a spectacular place to see the Big 5 and other wildlife. Read on as John shares more about his safari.

Driving into Phinda Private Game Reserve on a late evening arrival, I was almost immediately greeted by wildebeest crossing the dusty road causing a surge of excitement to awaken my senses to the special surroundings I found myself in. A bit further on, my driver calmly switched the engine off and cut the high beams down to point out a pack of hyena circling –a rare site! I found myself at home in a private game reserve of nearly 70,000 acres offering a vastly diverse landscape, from mountains to thick forest to flat grasslands, all of which fosters an ecosystem friendly to a wide range of animals including the Big 5, rare species of birds, and a variety of fauna.

Greeted by the manager and the chef, I was welcomed to Phinda Mountain Lodge with a cool glass of South African Sauvignon Blanc, hot towel, and a delicious meal of roasted chicken. The lobby and bar area reflect a classic African feel with modern touches in whites and grays. The lodge offers 16 suites along with three family cottages, each with outdoor showers and plunge pools. My suite was open and warm with soaring ceilings and sweeping views. I took advantage of an early morning outdoor shower in complete privacy, except for the family of monkeys who decided to come say good morning and take a sip from the plunge pool. I was hooked.

Morning breakfast included a full hot to-order menu along with a spread of cheeses, ham, fresh fruits, breads, and a mimosa and Bloody Mary bar. The view from the dining room perched at the top of the mountain was dramatic, and I could not stop staring out while thinking of what the day would bring.

Phinda offers morning and afternoon game drives, Zulu village tours, Maputaland beach adventures – including scuba and night turtle safaris (seasonal) – and even black rhino tracking on foot. It’s also a place for avid birders and those interested in walking. The variety of Phinda both within the reserve and considering its location just an hour and a half from one of the world’s best dive sites in the Indian Ocean make it a truly unique destination.

After breakfast, I was picked up by a friendly ranger, Brandon, who drove me down the mountain to Phinda Forest Lodge (30 minutes). Along the way, we spotted giraffe, as well as two cheetahs walking the road with full bellies. Brandon was excited, so I knew I was witnessing something special. We made a slight detour and tracked the cheetahs for a bit as they walked alongside our vehicle without a care in the world offering an up-close encounter a la National Geographic.

Upon arriving at Phinda Forest Lodge, I was warmly greeted by the wide smile of Eunice with a hot towel, drink, and a friendly hello. As with the rest of the staff at the lodge, Eunice knew my name before an introduction had been made. A special touch indeed. As the name implies, Phinda Forest Lodge is in the thick of a rare sand forest. The wood and glass structures make for a striking atmosphere. Eunice knew all about the cheetah. She was visited by one earlier in the morning and we had a laugh about it.

Forest Lodge features 16 suites made of glass walls with clean lines and a stylish, modern feel. A huge front porch offered a fully stocked mini bar that you had to be sure to close before leaving your room, as curious monkeys are known to come for a bite to eat or drink. I loved the feel of the lodge and its surroundings. At night, I could hear the roar of lions, the wild calls of baboon, and the rustle of leaves leaving much to the imagination.

For my afternoon and morning game drives, I was lucky to have Andrew as my guide and Dan “the man” as my tracker. Dan has been tracking game on Phinda for over 20 years. His keen eye and sense of smell led us to a pride of lion, zebra, giraffe, rhino, hippo, and even more cheetah! Andrew was a true gem whose bright smile and sense of humor kept me engaged almost as much as my wild surroundings. They made the perfect team and I relished just how lucky I was when I was having a sundowner by a waterhole where a hippo was showing off. After the drive, I ate a delicious rack of lamb accompanied by a superb Stellenbosch shiraz topped off with dessert.

After a hot breakfast on the game viewing deck and morning game drive that got a little wet (no worries as oversized ponchos were provided), I had to depart for the nearby airstrip for my flight (daily flights are available from Phinda to Johannesburg). As someone lucky enough to have traveled on all six continents, I can say that Phinda, without question, left a lifelong mark of endearment. I will be back, and I would encourage our clients to consider a stay in Phinda for its striking beauty, variety of wildlife and nearby activities, and most importantly, the graciousness of its staff. In the end, the smiles of the staff are what lingers the most.

Are You Ready to See What Phinda Has in Store for You?

It should be noted that &Beyond also offers Phinda Zuku Lodge set on a popular watering hole, the recently renovated Rock Lodge, the romantic Vlei Lodge, and the Phinda Homestead will reopen in September 2018. Currently, if you stay 3 nights or more at any lodge, you will receive a credit of R2500 (about $200 USD) per flight leg to and from the lodge of your choice. Phinda is so diverse, guests may want to split time between two lodges.

Some photos courtesy of &Beyond and Phinda Private Game Reserve

Categories: Best Accommodations South Africa, Big 5, South Africa
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