A South African safari will always be something of a bucket list tick, but with the private game reserves of the Cape and the gargantuan Kruger National Park ruling the roost (it is, after all, the size of Wales…) it’s easy to overlook its quieter provinces. In the second of our two part series exploring the eastern KwaZulu-Natal, we head north to &BEYOND Phinda Private Game Reserve and discover an experience we’ll never forget.
Despite its relatively little known profile compared to the Cape region, this area is home to the largest concentration of game reserves in the country; if you’re after the Big Five, they’re a pretty safe bet around here. Run by &BEYOND, Phinda is something else. As you enter the reserve, it’s binoculars at the ready as your drive up to the lodge is accompanied with zebra, antelope, warthog and giraffe skittishly hovering around the roadside. With a glimpse of a distant elephant through the treetops moments after arrival, it seemed to bode well from the off for spotting that aforementioned Big Five…
Heading closer to Phinda Mountain Lodge, our base for the next few days, the excitement was palpable. The reserve is categorised into seven different areas of distinct habitat, from the southern Thornveld savannah to sand forest and floodplain grassland in the north, meaning its diversity is home to an enormous breadth of species; it’s a birdwatcher’s paradise up here.
Phinda Mountain Lodge, one of seven different accommodations, sits resplendent on a hill with panoramic views of the Lebombo mountains; it’s the perfect spot to watch the sunrise and with an infinity pool, you’ll be sorely tempted to take in those views from a dawn swim. Greeted by its team of friendly staff with an ice cold cocktail, we instantly retreated to the open plan lounge (more of those unrivalled views…) with its cosy soft furnishings, piles of history books on the Anglo-Zulu war, board games and bar.
Each individual cottage surrounding the main lodge carries on the &BEYOND luxury; nothing is forgotten, from the handmade bath salts beside the enormous tub next to sliding terrace doors, to an elegant bottle of insect repellent for guests to use during their stay, a fully stocked bar re day for a gin and tonic enjoyed in your own private plunge pool and a handy guide left in each room with reserve maps and a tick list of specie to spot on your game drives. No detail is too much. I must admit, during our morning of free time I spent much of it drifting between plunge pool and bar… well they do say g&ts help keep the mosquitos away, don’t they? It’s also possible to combine accommodations during your stay, with a night or two at either end of the park, to make the most of the unique experience each property has to offer.
Of course we weren’t just there for the rooms; the game drives at Phinda are something else. While I’m sure all the rangers are brilliant, we lucked out with the incredible Holly Martin, her fizzing, infectious personality instantly exciting us for what we might spot. With drives at each end of the day and the possibility of a walking safari around the lodge in between, it wasn’t long before that list of the Big Five was well and truly ticked off. Holly’s also worth requesting for her iconic Mochachocorula – an Amarula laced chocolate coffee enjoyed during the morning game drive…
Phinda – meaning return in the native isiZulu language – is focused on its efforts to reintroduce native species to the land. From the rejection Ming of rescued pangolin, to the reintroduction of cheetahs to India and the transfer of some of its white rhino to a national park in Rwanda, it’s passion and purpose is to ensure the survival of these species for future generations. They also run a volunteer programme on site, assisting its rangers with such work, and it’s regularly booked up months in advance with former guests who got the big and want to return to get their hands dirty themselves.
This is a special place; it emanates from the very soil. While a safari down south might technically be a little easier to get to, it’s worth making the extra effort to discover KwaZulu-Natal and the magic that is &BEYOND’s Phinda Private Game Reserve. It really is an enchanting experience you’ll never forget.
&BEYOND Phinda Private Game Reserve
3936, South Africa
Laurel was a guest of South Africa Tourism. For more information visit www.southafrica.net.