Tuesday, 17 August 2021 | Phinda, South Africa
We travel to South Africa each year to visit my wife's family. Previously my son had not been on safari before, but is obsessed with animals and wildlife. Having turned 7 years old, we decided he was old enough to join the experience. Phinda Mountain Lodge is close enough to Durban to drive, so we booked here for myself, my son and my father-in-law. Located within Phinda Private Game Reserve, it provides some of the best game viewing in South Africa. The Lodge is part of the highly rated &Beyond group, which has a number of properties throughout Africa and Asia that provide unique safari and adventure experiences.
We flew directly into Durban from Dubai on Emirates airlines. You can also fly via Johannesburg with internal connecting flights. Phinda Mountain Lodge is just over 4 hours drive North of Durban, passed Jefferies Bay. It is a relatively easy drive and the lodge sends straight-forward directions. Close to the property it does change to unsealed roads, but they are not difficult to navigate. You can also drive from Johannesburg, which is roughly 6 hours.
On the drive in, you will start to see many species of wildlife, so have the camera handy and not packed away in the trunk of the car!
Some guests, especially those short on time, can arrange for small domestic chartered flights directly into the airstrip at the reserve. I spoke to one couple who were visiting several game parks in a short period of time and they suggested the time saved made up for the costs involved. This may be worth looking into if you are tight on time.
Different game reserves throughout Africa vary in terms of the services they offer, the accomodation options and the variety of wildlife. Many visitors are desperate to see either a) a certain species of animal or b) the largest variety possible. Phinda is renowned for a great variety, with all of the Big 5 in the reserve. Of particular interest, Phinda has significant populations of White and Black Rhinoceros and cheetah. It is worth asking around and getting advice on the likelihood of sighting particular species at various reserves if you have a special request. If you are looking for a great variety, somewhere like Phinda is an excellent choice!
Phinda Private Game Reserve is a massive reserve of 170sq km and has 6 separate lodges, providing a variety of accomodation options. We chose the Mountain Lodge as it is a family friendly lodge, with great accomodation and access to excellent game viewing.
The private huts are extremely comfortable - essentially 5-star accomodation in the bush. The interiors are beautifully fitted out and full amenities are provided. We had a private plunge pool which was great for cooling off during the day.
The lodge has large common areas that are great for socialising with other guests and chatting with the guides. There is a swimming pool and a spectacular view out over the bush.
Mountain Lodge has a "kids room" and structured activities for children. Children over 6 years are allowed to go on game drives, which our son loved. In between time, he also went out making plaster casts of animal footprints and made traditional african crafts.
You are personally welcomed on arrival by extremely friendly staff and this carries through to the time they say goodbye. The atmosphere they have created at Mountain Lodge is honestly something that will leave a lasting impression - truly genuine hospitality.
Travel to South Africa, with the current conversion to the Rand, is relatively affordable for the most part. The luxury game reserve safaris however are one thing that is quite expensive. That said, if you are travelling to Africa, doing a safari should be really high on your list and spending a little extra to stay somewhere as nice as Phinda could certainly be seen as money well spent.
For me, there are few things that compare to the magic of African safaris. Each drive has the excitement of what you might see and each interaction is completely different to those before. It was particularly special to share this experience with my son and father-in-law.
I have been on drives at many game reserves in South Africa and would have to say the variety at Phinda was probably the best I had encountered. Whilst we didn't spot any leopard (the only member of the big 5 that continues to elude me), the range and quality of other species was out-standing. The complete list of species we saw across the 4 days would be too long to list and the photographs in the gallery barely do justice. Personally the highlight of my experience would probably have been the amount of time we were able to sit and watch a family of cheetah. Or maybe it was the lion cubs? Or the enormous bull elephant? Its really impossible to choose.
For those who haven't been on safari before, most lodges operate in a very similar way. You start each day with a morning drive around sunrise, there is always tea/coffee and some cakes at the meeting point so you don't leave hungry. At Phinda Mountain Lodge, you will also stop for a morning tea break, with snacks and drinks all provided. The vehicles are comfortable and provide great viewing. We had a tracker, Cebu, whose knowledge of the bush was incredible and had an innate ability to spot even the most camouflaged animal. Our guide, Andy, was fantastic in explaining all that we needed to know about the lodge, the animals and the conservation work undertaken by &Beyond across its many properties across Africa.
You will return to the lodge for a well earned breakfast that the chef prepares - the meals are served in a common dining room which is a great opportunity to share stories with guests from other vehicles. I really enjoyed the social atmosphere at Mountain Lodge and the guides also made an effort to get around and talk to everyone.
There is some down-time to have a dip in the pool, catch up on emails/photo editing or have a nap. There is also an option on one of the days, to go for a walk through the bush, which can put a completely different perspective on watching the animals - actually standing next to a lake with hippos or walking through grassland only 50 meters from grazing giraffe.
The chef prepares a gourmet lunch back in the dining area, then, its back in the vehicles for an afternoon safari drive, with a quick stop for afternoon tea and sundowners.
If you enjoy nature, wildlife or animals, you will absolutely love safaris in South Africa. It is truly the best way to see these animals. There are no guarantees regarding which animals you will see or what they will be doing - but for me, that is probably the greatest part. You will see the animals in their natural state - sleeping, playing, hunting. Some will be so close you are convinced they have no fear of humans, others will be almost impossible to see, they are so timid. When you go on drives in reserves like Phinda, you do get an incredible opportunity to sit for extended periods of time and watch some of thee animals just go about their daily lives.
The lodge does offer a number of other activitiesthat you can look into doing. These include; rhino tracking on foot, scuba diving at nearby Sodwana Bay, leatherback sea turtle nesting, photographic safaris and spending a night out under the stars in the bush. Essentially they are capable of tailoring a safari experience to suit your needs.
All meals at Phinda Private Game Reserve are provided, including breakfast, morning/afternoon teas, lunch and dinner, with consideration to any dietary requirements. The chef prepares wonderful dishes, using a lot of local ingredients and recipes. On one of the evenings we had dinner by candlelight at a bush camp, which was a memorable experience.
If you like to have some of your own snacks, you can bring them also, but generally speaking there is plenty and even during the day the common areas have something to snack on.
It goes without saying that going on safari drives is the "must do", however there are some huge advantages of going on drives in places like Mountain Lodge. The guides at reserves like Phinda are experienced to know where the animals are likely to be and have an incredible eye to be able to spot them from a distance. Many people opt to go for cheaper self drive options in South Africa, but you will potentially end up missing out. I have always found that going on drives with the experts gives you a much better chance of seeing animals, getting in great positions to watch them and also learning a lot more about them. The staff at Phinda are really committed to ensuring you get the most out of the time you spend with them and the guides especially are fantastic. If like myself, you have limited time available when you visit South Africa or even if you are living in SA and have a set amount of time, it is well worth speaking to the team from &Beyond about the lodges and packages that best suit your situation. We dealt with Susie from their booking team and she was fantastic from arranging the best accomodation options through to ensuring we had the right directions to get us to the lodge.
The obvious answer here are the stars of the show - the animals. But I would also encourage you to ask about going out early for a sunrise. At Phinda Mountain Lodge, there is a beautiful lookout not far from the accomodation that has a stunning view over the bush at sunrise. It is an incredible way to start your day!
When visiting the African bush, people become safety conscious of the obvious lions and hyenas, however, it can be some of the smaller creatures that can be a concern. It wasn't until after returning home that we discovered a small tick had hitch-hiked on my son. As well as being uncomfortable, ticks can be carriers of disease. To avoid any issues, you can take measures to prevent ticks (repellants, sensible clothing) and also be vigilant in checking and removing any ticks that do climb aboard. It isn't recommended these days to burn off ticks. Rather, correct manual removal or actually freezing them off using the nitrogen wart sprays were the methods recommended to us.
For those looking to stay in contact, I did find the wifi connection at the lodge was relatively poor. You may wish to look into 3G mobile phone coverage as the reception was adequate. Whilst nobody enjoys peoples phones ringing out on safari, if you like to be contactable for work or family reasons, then you will get local reception around the lodge.
One of the many things that I was really impressed with at Phinda, was the significant work they do in conservation. The &Beyond group is fully committed to supporting both the local community within which their lodges operate as well as the animals that have made their reserves famous.
In all of the &Beyond lodges, they make a concerted effort to employ members of the local community, as well as invest back into those communities through purchasing of produce and leasing of land.
Africa has long had issues with illegal hunting and poaching of wildlife, to the point where certain species are on the brink of extinction. &Beyond puts significant efforts into breeding and conservation work, to promote the sustainability of species that are currently threatened. At Phinda, the rhino and cheetah conservation projects have been particularly successful. Whilst it is sad learning of the situation populations of these animals are in, it is encouraging to know groups like &Beyond are working on solutions. They place an emphasis on educating guests during their stay and then carry this through to breeding and anti-poaching programs on the ground. It is nice to know that some of your money spent staying at these lodges is being re-invested back into the conservation of the animals!
I did not receive any financial discount or benefits from &Beyond or Phinda Mountain Lodge to write this review. The information provided is completely independent of &Beyond.
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