With windows so large they form glass walls, maximum light penetrates into each of the 16 suites, set in a rare sand forest of Phinda Private Game Reserve, edging Maputuland, in KwaZulu-Natal. From your king-sized bed – with its crisp white cotton linen — you can watch red duiker walk in hesitant staccato steps across the leaf litter. While relaxing in your freestanding bath or indoor/outdoor shower, you see nyala browsing. Sitting on the sofa on the verandah – raised almost to canopy level – you listen to the melodious calls of forest birds. You can look down on solitary Suni, a tiny antelope barely the size of some of the exposed tangled roots of trees. Privacy is ensured, as suites are isolated in the forest and foliage screens the winding paths leading to dining areas, the rim-flow swimming pool and reception with Safari Shop.
Phinda Forest Lodge provides a truly five-star experience, with carefully selected staff discreetly seeing to your every need. After being warmly and smilingly welcomed with fresh juice and a scented towel, you are met by a safari hostess who shows you around the lodge, introduces your safari guide and notes your various preferences. Service is excellent and personalised. The restaurant manager remembers your name and how you like your tea. This is the height of luxury, in an eco-designed space.
Every meal and tea is a gourmet affair, with food being healthy, fresh, creatively combined and tastefully presented. Coffee connoisseurs will be pleased to hear that pure Arabica beans are sourced from the reputable company Bean There. A mix of Ethiopian and Rwandan beans is served, to make a perfect cappuccino, or espresso for the purists. As the day starts early, to ensure the best possible game and bird viewing, this epicurean kick-start – together with fruit, homemade muesli, yogurt and irresistible chocolate-chip cookies – is most welcome.
If the crisp early morning air and gorgeous sunrise were not rich enough compensation for leaving the cocoon of your suite, big cats are often spotted at this time. I am rewarded with the sighting of a mother cheetah with four tiny babies, after our guide and tracker find tracks on the dust road veering off into the bush. Following the big five off-road is one of the joys at Phinda Private Game Reserve. It is a great adventure to drive over young trees and see them pop up behind the vehicle, or to savour the pleasant fragrance of crushed wild sage. I observe these adorable furry cubs as they play, attempt to climb trees and interact with their mother, looking like little honey badgers with erect white fur along their backs. Reluctantly I leave these fluff balls when they move too deeply into the bush for us to safely follow them.
Our guide is an expert at finding exquisitely beautiful places for morning tea. He sets up a folding wooden table, with a flourish adds a linen cloth where muffins and tea are served. For the sugar lovers, there is hot chocolate with liberal dashes of Amarula liqueur. Nearby tracks are analysed and discussed. Stories of bush adventures are shared.
Phinda Private Game Reserve is home to Black Rhino and I am moved to watch one browsing, as they are notoriously skittish, aggressive and quickly disappear.
After a fulfilling game drive, breakfast is served at the lodge, on a raised deck looking out onto a marshy water hole, which sees a stream of game. Lanky giraffe males come to slake their thirst, as I, in turn, sip a mango smoothie and try to select a cooked breakfast from the chef’s menu. It is the sort of spot where people linger, as it is quiet, with panoramic views tinged with dappled light filtering through the trees. You could select a wildlife coffee- table book and read until tables are set for lunch.
Keen birders walk at this time, to try to find the elusive Narina Trogon, Back Backed Forest Weaver, Lemon- breasted Canary and other specials. On the afternoon game drive going into the evening, Southern White Faced Scops Owl can be seen. As over 415 bird species have been recorded at Phinda, even the most experienced birder is sure to tick something new here.
Dinners, accompanied by the finest South African wines, are splendid and are held in some imaginative places. You are likely to experience a few surprises during your stay. No secrets shall be revealed!
After a romantic evening meal, as the Big Five roam freely, a guard escorts you to your glass suite – through the moonlit sand forest – where nightjars call and hyenas whoop in the distance. The forest casts its spell and you drift to sleep, watched by a pair of endearing African Wood-Owls.
- Website: www.andbeyond.com/phinda–forest–lodge/
- Telephone: +27 (0) 11 809 4300
- Email: safaris@andBeyond.com
Scheduled flights on Federal Air depart at 10:30 am four days a week, from a comfortable, private airport lounge at OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg. Flights also depart from Virginia Airport in Durban North.