Phinda Forest Lodge is a very special place, and the perfect location for first-time safari goers to spot the Big Five and enjoy the luxurious amenities available at andBeyond resorts.
It’s January 1, 2023, and I’m sitting at the forest lodge at Phinda on the patio looking out at the wide open expense of the reserve. And I’m asking myself why I have returned. Why am I here? Hopefully my musings shed light on what makes this one of the special lodges at Phinda and why Phinda itself is a very special place. So let’s start with the reserve.
This private reserve of 70,560 acres, home to four luxury lodges and two villas, is the best safari experience in Kwazulu Natal, and one of the top in southern Africa. It promises a marvellous diversity of wildlife and landscapes, superb guiding, luxurious accommodation and food worth gaining weight for.
The proximity and quality of the safari experience–just three hour’s drive away from King Shaka International Airport–are unbeatable.
In Zulu, Phinda means “The Return”. Phinda is one of the continent’s most successful rewilding projects, with seven habitats supporting a great variety of species. Aside from encountering the Big Five, your chances are fairly high of spotting free-roaming cheetah–uncollared, which is so much more thrilling–as well as the elusive and critically endangered black rhino.
Northern Zululand is a great area, and it is possible to add excursions to your traditional safari: the reserve is neighbour to iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Africa’s largest estuarine lake, and the coast close enough to arrange a trip to witness the mad dash of baby turtles heading for the safety of the sea (November to January is hatching season).
As those who follow the Luxury Wanderer know, we have been to Phinda numerous times, so the fact that we were back for New Year’s Eve was kind of special as it was our first return since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cathy and I thought it would be good to head to our favourite forest lodge in the north area of the reserve and reunite with some of the staff for New Year’s Eve.
Forest Lodge comprises 16 zen-like cottages carefully placed within a 2,500-acre spread of rare sand forest.
We were met on our arrival by Thandiwe, who made us immediately feel at home and part of the forest family. We would be introduced over lunch to Luke who would be our guide and Ranger for the three nights that we intended to stay, and his colleague Josiah, the tracker whose knowledge of the reserve was impressive.
We were staying in cottage number three, close to the main lodge, which is tastefully decorated in a blend of Zulu traditional colours and in keeping with the forest environment in which it’s located. The patio is expansive and this is where you will meet for coffee in the morning, lunch and occasionally dinner.
All of the staff at Forest are welcoming professionals without being overbearing and truly make you feel part of their family. They’re interested in you, not just doing a job, and their care and attention is far from superficial.
The cottage is comprised of an exterior patio with a sofa, two chairs, and a table where you can while away the day between game drives whilst making full use of the mini bar and the mini bar fridge located on the patio, all of which is included in the cost of your stay.
The open plan cottage includes an indoor fridge and coffee station, a small table, a comfortable sofa, and the enormous king size bed with a heavenly mattress.
The bathrooms are huge, with a shower that you could fit four people in comfortably. Luxurious amenities abound and for those who prefer a bath, the tub is also enormous.
The cottages are fully air-conditioned and screened for mosquitoes. Unfortunately the lodge is located in an active malaria area, so a prophylactic treatment is advised for staying here.
The operations are that of a typical andBeyond world-class safari conservation. Wake up calls are at 5 AM, then guests gather for coffee and then out to spot whatever Mother Nature decides to show you, sometimes with coffee break stops, sometimes without because the wildlife viewing is just too interesting to pause. Guests then return to the lodge for an enormous breakfast and the menu caters to all tastes. Spend the rest of the day relaxing or by the pool. Lunch is served at your convenience, anytime between noon and 3 o’clock and then gather again for the afternoon/evening drive. A sumptuous dinner, often at surprise locations, is a peaceful end to eventful days.
The actual New Year’s Eve celebration was in the Boma
Abela, a round gathering place in Zulu tradition where everyone meets around the central fire and a buffet style multi-course meal was presented. Being New Year’s Eve, guests were entertained by traditional Zulu singing and dancing from some of the members of the communities that encircle Phinda. Guests could also join in at various parts with dancing, and a special festive celebratory event was had by all.
Ncobo, our butler, was sheer perfection; he was friendly, attentive, and a great host at meal times.
As we mentioned at the opening, we believe Phinda is a very special place and that’s the answer to the question why are we here. If you are considering an African safari look no further than Phinda and our ultimate recommendation for first time visitors would be to divide your time between Rock or Mountain in the south, and Vlei or Forest in the north, thereby seeing different landscapes without spending hours in the game vehicle.
If any of you find yourselves at the special place drop us a line and let us know if your experience. Until then, happy new year and happy travels.
For Andrew, travel is so much more than just learning history or taking photos. Rather, the value of travel is witnessing a lifestyle, bonding with locals, and gaining rich cultural experiences. That’s why he founded the Luxury Wanderer; a place to share itineraries, offer advice, swap stories, and foster a like-minded community of curious travellers.