Phinda is a private game reserve in the Zululand region of South Africa, situated to the North-east of Durban. It is owned by CCAfrica ( www.ccafrica.com ), whose ethos is the development of ecosensitive reserves throughout the southern part of Africa. We spent what was essentially a long weekend at the reserve, comprising 3 nights stay at Forest Lodge. We flew to Johannesburg direct from the UK, and then the remaining 2 hour flight was made on a 60 year old twin prop plane to the private airstrip of Phinda. Although this seems a very short time in relation to the long journey we made to arrive at Phinda, so much was packed into the time there that it was a very worthwhile exercise. Morning wake up calls were at 5:30 to ensure that the most was made of early game drives, and evening drives continued until after dark for nocturnal species. Time spent between these was either on more activities organised by the Lodge, or walking and animal / bird watching around the lodge grounds.
The Phinda reserve comprises a 14000 hectare area, with a vast array of biohabitats in a small area, including the rare dry sand forest, in which our accommodation was situated. Of the four accommodation groupings within the reserve, we stayed at Forest Lodge – 16 superb stilted suites spaced out within the forest, containing a luxurious ambience, but with all round windows to soak in the tranquillity of surrounding habitat. The paths interlinking these and the main outbuildings were quite safe to walk through by the light of day, but a security guard had to be hailed after dark, since the lack of fences meant any animal could be present at that time.
Included in the accommodation package for Phinda are morning and evening game drives, when the animal activity is at its peak. These are made in open topped Land Rovers, driven by experienced and highly in-house trained rangers, with an expert Zulu tracker sitting at the front of the vehicle. The skill of both of these people is phenomenal. Since a lot of the reserve is wooded, broken by both small and large open plains, many of the animals need to be tracked down, and it is a pleasure being part of this process. I was also fortunate enough to be in the Land Rover driven by the head ranger, Mike, from the airstrip, since his particular passion is birding. While he paid more attention to the birds knowing that I was in the jeep (the other 5 were non birders), there were still limits to the amount of time devoted to these, since the interests (or boredom thresholds) of all had to be taken into account. This is probably true of all safaris taken by birders where there are mixed groups and full Land Rovers, however, although the reserve does offer specific birding safaris.
In addition to the game drives, other activities that we undertook were:
Getting around and precautions
All of our
transport had been arranged by Phinda. However, this is in addition to the
accommodation and meals packages that they do, but it is a lot more convenient
being flown in from Johannesburg straight to a private airstrip than hiring a
car which would be redundant while at the reserve. The timing of our visit was
in the dry season, and the local microclimate is even drier than the surrounds,
so the almost constant sunshine wasn’t a surprise, although there was a short
burst of rain during one of the nights. However, early morning and late evening
on the back of an open-topped vehicle does get cold! Temperatures through the
middle of the day were comfortably hot – April is at the end of the southern
hemisphere winter – but sun block was advisable. The timing, and possibly the
latitude we were at, may have explained the lack of mosquitoes and low risk of
malaria. Antimalarials are still recommended, and this means a prescription
tablet for this part of the world.