One of the many passions Nick and I share is the bushveld.
Having spent a large portion of my life at our lodge in Limpopo, I have developed a deep connection with the African bushveld and there’s no place I feel more at peace than on a game vehicle. (Cue the song Africa by Toto)
It was for this reason that Nick and I decided to do a Winter Honeymoon to one of South Africa’s best private game reserves, Phinda.
Situated in Northern KwaZulu-Natal, the &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve is a mere 3 hour drive from Ballito (where we were traveling from) and is home to the Big 5, Cheetah and even the endangered and very rare Black Rhino. With 4 main lodges to choose from we decided to book at the bigger of the lodges, Phinda Mountain Lodge, situated on the side of a mountain with panoramic views of the beautiful landscape below.
With this being our first luxury safari holiday together, Nick and I both couldn’t contain our excitement for this trip. We may as well have been jetting off to Europe given how excited we were, and our expectations were greatly exceeded!
From the moment we arrived at Mountain Lodge we were welcomed by friendly staff and received exceptional service for the duration of our stay. As you enter the lodge you are greeted with the most beautiful view of the reserve that seems to go on forever and within minutes of being there we both felt completely relaxed and could feel the stresses of life slowly slip away as we breathed in the beautiful bush air (the MCC definitely helped too)!
I couldn’t wait to see our suite as I had spent hours staring at pictures on the website of the large beds and free standing baths, leading up to our trip. And for once, it looked just like the pictures! The rooms are spacious and the extra extra King sized bed looks out onto a decked verandah with nothing but bushveld in front of you. It was here where Nick and I spent a lot of time napping after our morning drives and catching up on some reading after lunch. It was a bed from my dreams! The bed was so big that at night I had to literally send Nick an email requesting his cuddles on the East side of the room 😉
The bathroom is light and airy with an entire ‘wall’ of glass sliding doors giving you the perfect view of the bush from the huge free standing bath, as well as from the indoor shower. I am totally obsessed with baths and this was the biggest bath I’ve ever seen. More than big enough for two (sorry TMI), it’s a bath I could easily have lay in for hours if there weren’t so many other exciting things to do!
The bathroom opens out onto a large outside shower which makes for the most invigorating of experiences. This was another favourite of mine, especially after an afternoon dip in our private plunge pool that sits at the end of the decked verandah overlooking endless greenery and grazing Nyalas. We also spent a lot of our downtime lying by our pool reading and just full-on RELAXING which was exactly what we both needed, and this was the PERFECT spot to do just that!
Mountain Lodge is total African luxury without being over the top and still maintaining that rustic, outdoor African feel. The decor is simple but appropriate and it lets the surrounding wilderness do all the talking.
One of the many perks of the lodge was the “all inclusive” package. This meant “house” wines, bubbly, mini-bar, mixers, sundowners and all your meals! So basically my dream come true 🙂 And we certainly made the most of this. From MochaChocaRulas (a delicious concoction of hot chocolate, coffee and amarula) on our morning drives, to bubbly with breakfast, mid morning beer shandies in our suite, lunch time Rosé on the deck, sundowner G&T’s and of course my standard white wine with dinner, we had no shortage of drinks during our stay. We were also pleasantly surprised with the food. All our meals were fresh, delicious and creative and the chef, Andries, was so friendly and always checking if we were happy with our food. My favourite meals were the Ostrich fillet at our first lunch and the mind blowing lamb babotie we had at our Boma dinner.
Game drives are twice a day, one in the morning at 6:30am and one in the afternoon at 3pm. This was what I was looking forward to the most – looking for animals! Nothing makes me happier than tracking, spotting and searching for animals and I get even more excited when there are cats involved. On our lodge in Limpopo (next to Mabula) we don’t have any Lion or resident Leopard and they only recently introduced Cheetah, so I spent most my life appreciating things like Impala, Nyala, Roan and then of course the thrill was finding either Elephant, White Rhino or Buffalo. All of which I love and enjoy game viewing, but there is something so incredibly exciting about a “Big Cat” sighting! And Lion and Leopard are two of my favourite animals, so this was top of my “Hope To See” list, as well as a Black Rhino, having never seen one before. And well we saw it all!
We were blessed with such a great Game Ranger, Tayla, who was as passionate about the bush as I am and I was so impressed by her abilities and Ranger skills. It makes a HUGE difference to get a great Ranger, especially a knowledgeable yet humble one like she was. We also got the best tracker, Busani, who really was phenomenal! His ability to track and find animals left me in absolute awe and it was his impressive skills that resulted in lots of our epic sightings.
One of the things I love about reserves like Phinda is the ability to go “off-road”, as in take the road less travelled and head straight into the bush in search of the animal whose tracks were spotted leading off the road. This enables you to have incredible sightings and get the best views of animals in their natural habitat. It also allows you to see things that you can’t see driving on tar roads in the Kruger. And this is something I absolutely loved about our game drives.
We were truly blessed with the most incredible sightings and during our 4 days and 8 game drives, well we pretty much saw it all (all credit to Tayla & Busani)! To give you an idea, we saw White Rhinos with calves, a Black Rhino, Elephant, Buffalo, Cheetah brothers, a lone Cheetah female, a Cheetah female with 2 cubs on an impala kill, 2 leopards (the first we saw within 10 minutes of our very first game drive), 2 separate Lion prides, one which had 3 small cubs and was on a Zebra kill, the elusive Male Lion of the Southern Prides, a Tawny Eagle, a Bateleur, Fish Eagles, Martial and Crowned Eagles, Large Spotted Genets, Red Duiker, White Tailed Mongoose, Waterbuck and a Greater Bushbaby. And that’s not even mentioning things we saw every day like Nyala, Impala, Giraffe, Warthogs and Zebra. So the reserve was teaming with game and we were astounded by all that we saw!
One of our highlights from the trip was our last evening game drive. Tayla and Busani surprised us with sundowners on a ridge where the Mountain Lodge staff had set up lanterns, MCC and snacks for us because it was our last night. We sipped on bubbly in the last bit of light listening to the heart-stopping call of the Male Lion in the valley below – an experience I will never forget for as long as I live. This was one of those “gooseflesh moments” for me! After we’d finished our bubbles we went in search of the Male Lion who we found purely thanks to his reverberating call which enabled us to track him off road in the dark. We were the first vehicle to see him that week so I think we all felt pretty proud of ourselves (even though it was all thanks to our epic Tracker and Ranger duo).
Once we’d watched him for long enough we headed for what we thought was home. The next thing we knew we were pulling up to more lanterns and realized we’d be having our Bush Dinner (and I mean bush dinner, out in the middle of ‘nowhere’ with nothing but lantern light and the night sky). The Mountain Lodge team had set up proper toilets (a massive win for someone with a small bladder on 3 glasses of MCC), a suspended bar, fires and long tables in order for our ‘team’ to eat together. This was such a special experience and something I’ll never forget about our trip.
I also have to personally mention Ayanda who looked after us for the duration of our trip. She was phenomenal and she could not do enough for us! From bubbly delivered to our room, to serving us at every one of our meals and to organizing us a private, lantern-lit dinner on our suite deck, she went out her way to ensure our trip was special and so very memorable. Her smiling face and willingness to always help made our stay very special.
We had the most fabulous time and when it came time to leave we both felt very sad! I hope that we will one day get to try out some of the other Phinda lodges as well. But to the Phinda Mountain Lodge team, thank you for giving us such an unforgettable holiday and for spoiling us from beginning to end.
Until next time…
Amber Denae xxx