Monday, January 6, 2014

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO SOUTH AFRICA, part 2, Phinda

The wilds of Phinda..

And endless wilderness beaches.

Continuing our safari and beach holiday in Southern Africa: two wilderness beaches, two urban beaches, and fascinating biodiversity in AndBeyond Phinda Private Game Reserve.

First the intimate game lodges. And then the wild joys of safari…


Our intimate homes in the bush


AndBeyond Phinda Private Game Reserve has six Lodges, each very different, making the most of the variety in natural vegetation and topograpy. We stayed in three Lodges: high on a hill at Mountain Lodge in southern Phinda, Forest Lodge hidden under the canopy of Sand Forest, and the luxury of a cottage at six roomed Vlei Lodge, with its views of  herds of animals from our private pool.

Vlei Lodge

We loved all the lodges. But exclusive six room Vlei Lodge was our favourite, a place of gentle bliss. 



Watch game from your own sparkling pool or
share it with the occasional elephant

In the cooler hours nyala, impala, warthogs and more come right in to graze off the acacias or the grass on the open area. This is safari as you dream of…if you prefer serenity to activity, floating in your jewel of a pool, lying on your sunbed, and seeing these animals in their wild freedom.

Nyala on view from our deck at Vlei Lodge




Above: a walk through room 6 at Vlei Lodge with its romantic 1920s safari lodge ambience...


Heavenly bed, with the world open all around
You can even view animals from your net draped bed through the wide glass doors, or from the shower or the feng shui bath tub. Elephants come up for a drink a couple of times or so a week.
In the heat of day the animals move off into the shadows under the trees, but now is a time to catch up on your wifi or just catch up on your sleep after all the hectic game watching by 4WD.  We suggest you may cry your eyes out if you don’t book at least 3 nights here, or 2 here and 2 at another lodge. A problem is that people seldom leave enough time to enjoy their gorgeous accommodation at the game reserves.

The head chef at Vlei Lodge is aptly called Happiness and was very typically happy to get personal instructions from Master Chef Stuart at Forest Lodge, regarding how to create delicious fare even for vegetarians and vegans. We were so touched at this caring involvement by Stuart in a special visit to instruct Happiness. And we appreciated also the greeting at the entrance by British manager Sara...



The hands on feel at Phinda is wonderful  …

Mountain Lodge

Mountain Lodge lies in southern Phinda in an area of tall hills and thick acacia veld or savannah. We had room/suite/chalet number 12, definitely one of the top favourites at Phinda Mountain Lodge, as it faces the most stunning views.

Our plunge pool with a view from
our extensive deck
The chalet is very chic with thick clean golden thatch as roof and ceiling, a spacious lounge area, lovely bathroom with long double vanities, Feng shui bath in the centre with morning views over green hills, and two showers, one out there on the extensive deck. Stepping outside on our first sunny day in South Africa, we saw the joy of golden sun spread over the green early morning hills, and play on the surface of our plunge pool.

Feng shui bathtub - in the morning it enjoys the views

The chic chalet - gorgous views from the bed
when the curtains are drawn

Bar and lounge at Mountain Lodge

One of the decks in the common areas - everywhere views

There are 25 chalets at Mountain Lodge which means 50 guests. The public areas are placed way up for the views, and the pool is a perfect place to be if you didn’t have your own pool too. It also has a conference centre.

Forest Lodge

Here at this somehow simpler but very special camp, there are 16 glass walled chalets deep in the sand forest, way under the canopy. You meander down past the tall trunks and curving branches in the leaf filtered  light over a sand path, in meditational quietness to get to your room. Built on stilts over the sand, the chalets can be relocated easily to spare this precious rare coastal rainforest that remains thanks to conservation efforts.

Lie in bed and see forest animals


Glass all around

In the room you see all around you into the forest underworld. We saw red duiker through our glass walls  and heard the cry of bush  babies and red chested cuckoos the locals call Piet Mij  Vrouw. Like the European cuckoo it repeats itself, in this case saying piet mij vrouw or Whip Poor Will.


Our private veranda has a sofa and 3 large candles and
a complimentary minibar to go with the all inclusive
This is a magical place to recline and let the sounds of the night enchant you. The chance of a leopard slinking by is not non existent. One was seen in the camp the next night when we had moved on to Vlei Lodge. 

At night they draw the curtains, for a sense of privacy in your glass house, though each glass cabin stands hidden in the bush. Come morning, you cannot wait to see out into the secrets of the forest milieu. One way to enjoy the view is standing in the shower. The door open wide… and from the bath too you have forest views.

The public area areas at Forest Lodge are charming. Wooden platorms with sofas and dining tables, overlooking parkland.

A great place to hang or dine...game watching
The hands on of management was remarkable: we felt we were just 2 there, not 32. The head chef Stuart met us to discuss our special needs with happy enjoyment at the challenge and Phindas organic garden and juice machine came into good employ.

Stuart - enthusiastic engagement
and creativity in meeting your dietary needs

The boma, a typical feature of any self respecting game lodge, does need good weather. And we were so lucky that the rain had cleared that day, allowing us to dine there in the light of fires, with the caterwauling of bush babies, and the flicker of warm light.




At Forest Lodge there is an attractive common pool - quite deserted when we were there.
.


You are either on safari, eating or sleeping – very little time to swim - but this is a lovely place to do it, with some game watching thrown in from the poolside.

Note: no private pools or wifi in the rooms.at Forest Lodge.

Sole use lodges

Zuka Lodge is nestled into a parkland area, oh so colonially thatched and spreading with old style verandas under cover. With only 4 bedrooms, it is the most delightful place to stay if you have an extended family, taken along with your own safari vehicle, ranger, tracker, cook and butler.  If you occupy 3 bedrooms they do not wedge in another couple, but leave the bedroom empty. Six is a good number as you will all fit on the safari vehicle together.

Comfortable sitting areas for the whole family
at Zuka Lodge

Open kitchen for your private chef  at Zuka
to do whizz wonders

Where your 3G family can dine together after an exciting day
on safari with your own safari vehicle

Colonial shady verandas at Zuka where you can
watch game on the lawn


Earthy feel to your private bathroom and modern bath tub

One of the Zuka bedrooms - all in separate cottages

Kenny manager at Zuka Lodge

Phinda Homestead is a manor house also perfect for sole usethe one we missed seeing due to the elephant visitor.

We missed also seeing Rock Lodge, which is an exclusive camp with only 6 lodges on a cliffside.

Wild joys of safari

At Phinda there is an intimacy about your safari, and a passion. You are given your own game ranger and tracker, usually sharing him with 5 other people. But we had the good fortune to have our game ranger Nick and our tracker Tom all to ourselves. It is certainly worth the extra money to try to book your own vehicle and ranger. 

Our ranger Nick - passion for both Big and Small


Nick took upon himself the earnest duty of finding all the big five just for us. Guided by the camp’s radio, we would head towards a spot where game had been sighted, watching for tracks over the sand roads. The tracker Tom could tell you just by looking how many hours ago a buffalo or elephant passed.


They are very careful not to disturb the game, or the beautiful terrain. No more than two vehicles are allowed at a sighting. Because of incessant rain weakning the surface we were not allowed to drive offroad. But there are many intimate tracks that take you deep into the stirring romance of the bushveld.

Phinda has seven eco zones, so part of the adventure is the changing scenery. Rocky mountain tops, down to lush wetlands then into the sandforest with its tight canopy creating a hidden world, and out into open parklands with beautiful trees dotted over grassveld, finally deep into thorn thickets….

And of course the look of everything changes as darkness turns to dawn  then blazing sun or silver rain. Later, the afternoon light dims into a flaming sunset and finally night. Perhaps night is the most exciting of all...


The Big Five

The Big Five are not necessarily the biggest – they are the ones the first hunters considered the most dangerous.

Our first of the Big Five were buffalo.

If they stand up watch out! Buffalo may look bovine but are
...not called the Big Five for nothing

Number 2 was the lion king, 

Sprucing himself up before trying his luck with two ladies


Number 3 was a herd of 40 elephants, on the glistening marshland, in a frieze against the sunset. 


Gradually they dispersed.  Not before some of the elders approached us giving signal that we should move off. 

Note the adorable baby. 
That elephant are one of the Big Five was dramatized for us the next day when we heard a bull elephant in musk had run amok, and we were carefully kept out of his way.


The next night we came close to cheetah, not considered as Big Five. But splendid big cats and a threatened species, a thrill to see.

Then driving the sand roads we spotted two lionesses just by the roadside

They stared with their powerful yellow eyes

Number 4. Now  night was falling and we began the most exciting hunt of all -  for our fourth of the Big Five - leopard.

Tracks showed that the oldest and biggest leopard had crossed into a block of dense bush. Tom predicted where he would emerge, and sure enough he came out of the darkness walking towards us along the road and right by the jeep. His muscles rippled and his spotted coat seemed alive and glowing…


Then he headed off down the road, with us following, and I got this little proof…



Next morning early we were up at 5am to do our last hunting. Nick was devoted to this triumph, and so we got to see Number 5, a white rhino. They looked very peaceful, almost bovine. Hard to imagine that they are dangerous….



But of course it is men, not the Big Five, who are most dangerous. In 2013 a total of 964 rhinos were killed in South Africa  by unscrupulous moneymaking poachers. Most rhino horn goes to North Korea.


As DH Lawrence wrote

‘MAN THE ONLY  ANIMAL ON EARTH TO FEAR’

Nick told us it is possible they will lift the ban on rhino horn and devalue the absurdly high rhino horn price by flooding the market. They will farm rhino for the horns; as if you cut off the horn it grows again.

To a kinder subject...

Next blog will be about White Pearl in Mozambique, some 3 or 4 hours from Phinda. If you dont have the time for a separate beach holiday Phinda will organize trips to the warm Indian Ocean beaches, a couple of hours drive, for diving, snorkling or beach walking. We were even offered a turtle watching expedition as in December the leatherback and loggerhead turtles come up to lay eggs.

Note that we flew direct from Dubai with Emirates to Durban, where we stayed at the enchanting Oyster Box. Then we were transported to two beachside wildernesses and to Phinda in perfect safety and silken courtesy by AndBeyond.


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