Wow, Wow, Wow!
Over the past 3 months, we thought we had seen it all, experienced it all, lived it all. We had already been so lucky, it didn’t feel possible to top off what we had seen and done already in Africa. Over the course of 2.5 months, we’ve seen countless amounts of wildlife, camped alongside hippos, stayed in rondavels, taken safari river cruises, trekked with rhinos on foot, played with orphaned cheetahs and driven for 1o hours a day through 2 National Parks but this experience at Phinda was the icing on the cake and a trip we will never forget.
We were very fortunate to be treated to this getaway by my second set of parents, family friends that hold a very special place in our lives and we were able to enjoy it with their son and his partner. I know you’ll both read this, so thank you again, from the bottom of our hearts!
Phinda Private Game Reserve
Phinda Private Game Reserve is a 170 km² game reserve situated in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa between the Mkuze Game Reserve and the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park. Inside of Phinda, there are six different lodges, all owned and run by &Beyond. All of the lodges are spread throughout the bush and are designed for different size groups or individuals. We stayed at Phinda Zuka Lodge and it was incredible, relaxing, spacious, and 10 x better than any hotel we’ve stayed in in the last 15 months.
Upon entering the gates at Phinda, you are immediately in ‘game territory’ and within the space of 5 minutes, out came the zebras, warthogs, wildebeests and impalas. Keeping our eyes peeled for any other wildlife, we drive slowly over the gravel, bumpy roads for the next 13 km towards our lodge, trying very hard to avoid puncturing a tire.
Shortly thereafter, we arrive to the lodge and are given a warm welcome by the staff and shown to our rooms. The rooms were absolutely stunning and had a bath we could fit in (this is quite a big deal), a bed that could sleep 6 and a verandah to watch the animals at the water hole right out front.
After exploring our rooms, we headed towards the common area to indulge in our first lunch. A short way down the path, we see a giraffe having a drink from our swimming pool. I don’t know who squealed first, Jacob or I but needless to say we rushed over to get a closer look. “There’s a giraffe at our pool, there’s a giraffe at our pool”!! We say it over and over unable to take the grin off of our face. This guy was a resident at Zuka and over the next couple of days, he often pottered around the lodge. Let’s name him “Rafi”.
The #1 Rule of Phinda
It’s vacation, you aren’t supposed to have rules but when it involves an open lodge to wild animals, staying alert and following the rules were very important. The lodges at Phinda are not fenced off, therefore, animals can roam as freely as they want, when they want. You are never allowed to walk alone at night without the security guard, this included accessing our rooms. Just a few nights prior to us being there, a pride of lions made their way right down the very path that led us to our rooms. I love lions but an encounter with a pride of them on foot, in the dark is a little too close for comfort!
A day at Phinda is like a day in heaven
Food, wildlife, food, sleep, food, wildlife, food, sleep. I believe this is a definition of a perfect day.
Our day starts early in the morning with a 5:45 am wake up call from security. Depending on the time of year you visit, sunrise game drive times do vary. Coffee, tea and a typical South African biscuit (rusk) are served before we jump on board the open-air vehicle and head out to start our safari drive. We are accompanied by one ranger and one tracker.
The tracker’s sole purpose is to spot any animals prints on the ground, decipher which direction they are heading and keep a look out in the distance for any game. Our ranger, Nik, drives us safely around the park answering everything and anything we threw at him. He was a very knowledgeable guy who has a real passion for his work and we were lucky to have him.
Game drives last for a couple of hours before we take a break for a mid-morning snack and hot drink. Without wasting too much time, we jump back in the vehicle, drive for another hour before making our way back to the lodge for our buffet breakfast. More food? Yes, please! The food was to die for and came in quantities to feed an army.
The afternoons are relaxed by the pool, often drifting off before waking ourselves up to make sure we didn’t have any fury friends by our sunbeds. After a fulfilling lunch, we head back out for another game drive and watch the sun go down.
Arriving back to the lodge, completely satisfied with what we have seen that day, we sit down, yet again, to a delicious meal cooked by the chef, and enjoy dinner by the fire. You’re now surrounded by bush and pure peace and quiet, and it’s now you realise how lucky you are to be where you are and the memories are embedded immediately.
Bush surprises at Phinda
Driving back to the lodge after one of our game drives smiling from ear to ear, our driver takes a slight detour and leads us to what looks like a scene out of a movie. Directly in front of us, is a bottle of champagne hanging in the tree surrounded by lanterns and champagne glasses. Say what?! This was such a special moment and so fun. I feel like someone needed to propose. Pitty both couples are already married!
So what did we see a Phinda?
Sheesh, what didn’t we see? The big 5? Tick! Stalking a leopard? Tick! Roaring lions? Tick!
Phinda isn’t as large as some of the other game reserves so it is slightly easier to find where the animals may be based on their past locations, however, there is still the thrill of hide and seek. We set out each morning with an idea in mind of what we wanted to spot and without meaning too, we ran into some of the best sightings our driver has ever seen.
It was high on our list to see lions, as we hadn’t encountered them very close before, but I think we got more than we ever expected too. Shortly into our drive, before sunrise, a loud noise echoes in the air, we switch off the vehicle and let our ranger work out where it is coming from. It sounds like it could be close but a lion’s roar can be heard up to 4 km away. Picking the location, we rounded the corner and right in front of us was one of the most beautiful sites I’ve ever seen. A male lion roaring as the sun rose above the trees. TIA (This-is-Africa)! Watching these animals in their daily habitat is a site for sore eyes.
Apart from seeing a male lion roar, we were also circled in our safari vehicle by 11+ lions, lionesses and their young. We nearly drove right into these lions as they lay in the road and bush. Our hearts were pumping the closer they came but with the reassurance from our ranger, we stayed very still and made no sudden movements. One by one, an arms reach away, they passed our vehicle and carried on with their walk. This experience was by far the highlight of the 2 days.
Spotting leopard is one of the trickier animals, these cats are timider than the others are often a little more nervous around the noises of the vehicle. Over the course of the 2 days, we spotted 2 leopards (big success) and one of them we followed for over an hour. Thankfully our driver was a confident off-road driver and we drove up and down drainage lines, over shrubs and through some seriously rugged terrain, barely losing track of him. It was like cat and mouse but it added to the excitement. We eventually left him when he set up camp in the long grass. It’s unbelievable how camouflage they can become.
In Africa, there are 4000-5000 wild dogs and 140 of them are located in South Africa. Finding wild dog is like finding a needle in a haystack so when we heard there were wild dogs in the area, our ranger put his foot down and within 5 minutes, we were head to head with a pack of 12. Without knowing too much about Wild Dogs, we learnt they will hunt in packs to attack their prey and regurgitate their food for their pups. They were showing unusual skittish behaviours so we followed them for about 45 minutes until it turned dark and we lost sight of them. We thought we were going to witness a kill!
Apart from the above sightings, we also spotted cheetahs, black and white rhinoceroses, zebras, a herd of buffaloes, elephants, nyalas, hippos, warthogs, impalas, kudos, wildebeest, and a variety of birds.
Africa, you have outdone yourself. These last few months have been the absolute best and this continent is phenomenal! The people of Africa are one of a kind and the wildlife is the best. Do yourself a favour and make Africa your next holiday destination. It’s on us if you don’t enjoy it!
Married days survived; 462