I’d been enthralled by Africa’s incredible people and wildlife since my time on an overland truck through the east of the continent ten years ago, so I was thrilled when a quirk of fate recently took me back there. Rather than the ant-filled campsites and occasional cold showers of my previous trip, however, I got to enjoy my experience in an altogether different way; the luxurious surrounds of the Phinda Private Game Reserve, in the KwaZulu-Natal region of South Africa.
For a relatively small park Phinda has a huge diversity of wildlife. I saw all of the Big Five (elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo and rhino) during my few days there – including an incredible up-close-and-personal night encounter with a male leopard that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. The reserve’s smaller area means that the chances of spotting these amazing animals is much higher than some of the large parks elsewhere.
It’s not just the more dangerous animals that made Phinda so special, however. Thousands of antelope roamed the park, birds of all shapes and sizes filled the sky and hilarious warthogs and ever-hungry hyena made me feel like an extra in the Lion King. One of the reserve’s biggest success stories is the reintroduction of cheetah to the area after more than 50 years, and being able to regularly watch these beautiful cats playing and hunting was truly incredible. To see a family of teenage cheetah tracking and ultimately taking down a baby impala right in front of one of the lodges was a huge highlight of the trip.
The staff are absolutely incredible, from the chefs whipping up great food all day to the rangers that seem to know everything about everything on the morning and evening game drives, security guards, cleaners and all of the other people behind the scenes. The place simply wouldn’t operate without them and I take my hat off to everyone that works there for making it such an amazing place to visit.
Before going there, I honestly had no idea that places like this even existed. A few days at Phinda was a totally unique experience, even for someone like me who had spent time in Africa in the past. Great food, amazing wildlife, gorgeous lodges and wonderful people makes for a truly incredible mixture. There’s talk of a group of us heading back there in the next year or two and assuming it happens, I can’t wait!