My colleagues at work have nicknamed me Safari Girl, since I spend every long weekend in the bush. Even I will admit that I earned the moniker when I went on safari two weekends in a row. But, what choice did I have? A friend from Washington, DC emailed me to tell me that she had accepted a new job in San Francisco and had negotiated a few weeks of vacation before she started. She had decided to come to South Africa and asked me if I wanted to go on safari. With 15 days of advance notice, I managed to secure a reservation at Phinda Private Game Reserve during high season. Fresh off a safari over the previous weekend, I returned to the bush. I was only there for two nights, four game drives, and one guided bush walk, but as always it was incredible. For me the highlight was finding a cheetah and her two three month old cubs. Our ranger and tracker were kind enough to drive over an hour on an extremely chilly morning to find them and since we were the only guests (the other two couples on our vehicle decided to sleep in), we were able to spend a significant amount of time with them. I have hundreds of photos, but will limit myself to these.
Other incredible animal sightings included lions snacking on a nyala, a lone young bull elephant sniffing every pile of dung along the road, stumbling upon cheetahs walking along the road, a morning that primarily entailed birding, and being surprised by cappuccinos and croissants already set-up for us on our morning game drive.
Phinda is truly a remarkable place because of the varied landscape and vistas. This is my second visit to the game reserve, although I stayed at Zuka Lodge on my first trip. The first night we were at the Moroccan inspired Rock Lodge, an intimate lodge with six rooms tucked into a rocky hill. Then, on the second night we moved to Mountain Lodge which lacked the seclusion of Rock Lodge and felt more like a bustling hotel, especially when everyone was gathering to depart for the evening game drive. That being said, service was impeccable at both lodges and the guiding was superb. Oddly enough, at Rock Lodge I had the same ranger as when I had visited a few months before and when we transferred to Mountain Lodge, I had the same tracker. What are the odds? I hope to be back soon.
Phinda is a private reserve located in KwaZulu Natal operated by &Beyond. It’s easily reached from Joburg now that Federal Air flies several times a week. You can also fly into Richard’s Bay and arrange to be driven 1.5 hours to Phinda. There are several lodges on the property. I have stayed at Mountain Lodge, Rock Lodge, and Zuka Lodge and while I preferred the later two, all of the properties have their own charm. I have visited several & Beyond properties in South Africa and Namibia and I cannot recommend the company enough, not just because of the impeccable service and quality guiding but also because of their emphasis on conservation and community engagement.