For many, an African safari is a bucket list item. I am privileged to have lived in southern Africa for over thirty years, and that means many weekends away in nature to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. Trips to South Africa aren’t complete without the help of &Beyond.
For many people, an African safari is a bucket list item. I am privileged to have lived in southern Africa for over thirty years, and that means many weekends away in nature to escape the hustle and bustle of city life.
Whenever we go on safari in South Africa, we always use the services of a conservation group called &Beyond. &Beyond is a unique Safari operator in that it caters to the luxury market, and at the same time, has facilities for youngsters and children. Further, it contributes a large portion of their proceeds back into conservation.
Most of the trips we’ve taken have been the Phinda Private Game Reserve. This reserve encompasses an impressive 28,555 hectares of protected wildlife land in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa. It showcases one of the continent’s finest game-viewing experiences, and &Beyond Phinda is home to Africa’s Big Five: lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino, as well as 436 bird species.
The Reserve is particularly well known for close sightings of the elegant, yet elusive cheetah, which has been successfully brought back from extinction on the continent, as part of the Reserve’s conservation efforts. Also back from extinction is the rare black rhino, one of which I have not been fortunate to see yet.
Phinda Habitat and Lodges
Phinda has seven distinct habitats, and is often described as seven worlds of wonder. A magnificent tapestry of woodland, grassland, wetland, and forest interspersed with mountain ranges, rivers, marshes, and pans, Phinda is home to 1,000 hectares of Africa’s remaining rare dry sand forest. The Reserve is situated in close proximity to the unspoiled beaches and spectacular coral reefs of the Indian Ocean, offering an unmatched combination of bush and beach adventures for those who want to put the two together.
Phinda is home to six magnificent lodges. Each has its own individual charm and character: Mountain Lodge, Rock Lodge, Forest Lodge, Vlei Lodge, and Zuka Lodge. And for those who want total exclusivity, The Phinda Homestead. Cathy and I have stayed at Mountain, Rock, Forest, and Vlei lodges, and hope to visit Zuka Lodge in the not-too-distant future.
They truly do have different characters. Mountain Lodge and Rock Lodge are the larger lodges, so you will encounter more groups of wildlife admirers and people from all walks of life. I find that at Rock Lodge, there are more children based there and it tends to lack the “out of Africa” experience that I personally look for. Forest and Vlei, however, are small and intimate. For a more intimate experience, I definitely recommend Forrest and Vlei lodges.
My personal favoUrite location is Forest Lodge, located in a rare sand forest. There are only seven or eight lodges at Forest, which gives you a lot more personal experience of being on safari evening. On one experience at Forest, one of the monkeys literally stole the sandwich out of my wife’s hand as we were eating lunch!
Getting to Phinda
Phinda is easy to get to, as it’s approximately three and a half hour drive from the city of Durban on South Africa’s east coast. However, if you don’t mind the small planes, you can also fly. Arrange pick up from Durban Airport, or you can fly directly from O.R. Tambo, South Africa’s international airport, onto the airstrip at Phinda. It’s approximately a one and a half hour ride on a single-engine sort of bush airplane.
The Phinda Experience
No matter where you stay, you’re in the lap of luxury at Phinda. A typical day in Phinda, where you will absolutely want for nothing, starts with handing your car keys to the host, as you arrive at your Lodge, and then you’re walked through the safety procedures. You sign their waiver (which I always find interesting but fully understand), and then the rules of the lodge are explained to you.
Rules are actually very simple in any of the lodges. Because the lodges are not fenced, wildlife can roam quite freely. So once sunset occurs. you are not to wander around the reserve without being escorted by armed security, for your own protection! They simply walk you back to your lodge, and then you stay there. If you need to leave for whatever reason during the night, you simply dial for security to escort you.
Game Drives at Phinda
The cost includes two game drives per day, one of which takes place early in the morning. A 4:30am wake-up call is arranged to meet for coffee at 5:00am, and then you’re off on open-top vehicles to go explore the wonders of the African bush and wildlife as the sun rises. What follows is hours of truly intimate wildlife spotting. The trackers and rangers at &Beyond are absolutely world-class, friendly, and will answer any questions you have. They’ll get you up close to pretty much anything-I’ve had a lion within three feet of my vehicle, staring at my wife and me. It was me that was trembling with trepidation!
It’s an experience that is humbling, because you begin to realize you’re in the middle of this vast expanse where you’d make a fine meal for a wild animal—but of course, are totally safe.
The rangers will stop and point out dung beetles, birds, contributing to the whole experience. During your morning drive, there’s always a stop at a very nice location (safely chosen by your ranger) where you can get off the vehicle. Coffee, tea, rusks, and cookies are brought out for a pre-breakfast snack. Then you return back to the lodge after three hours or so, in time to brush off the dust, shower, and change, and enjoy a sumptuous breakfast, either on the patio or in the lodge’s lounge.
Lunch is served at the lodge, though I am usually catching up on my sleep after the early morning wake-up call. Then I typically spend the rest of the day relaxing by the pool or reading a book.
Evening drives, usually beginning between 4:30 and 5:00pm, are a similar experience to the morning drives, except when the sun goes down, you will be looking for nocturnal wildlife, such as birds or juvenile leopards. Whatever animal-sighting takes place, it’s always with the aid of an infrared lamp so as not to harm the wildlife.
During the evening drive, there is always a stop for drinks along the way and on one special night, a surprise meal will be catered. Dinner is otherwise served at the end of the drive, back at the lodge.
Pricing at Phinda includes literally everything, except premium wine and spirits and any additional trips you may take. Heck, even the mini bar in your room is included and restocked daily.
Pro Tip: Malaria Zones
Phinda is located in a region that is a borderline malaria area, and for all the years I’ve gone there it’s never been a problem for me. My medical professional says if you’re there for seven days or less, it can actually be better not to take prophylactics. However, of course be guided by the reserve, the seasons (as the wet seasons can change) and your own doctor.
All in all, three nights in the bush make for a lifetime of experience and is worth every penny.
&Beyond operates a number of lodges, not just at Phinda, and I’ve heard good reports for the remainder of their lodges in the different parts of South Africa.
Interested in learning more about &Beyond experiences? We experienced &Beyond in the Serengeti as well.