We’d just passed the main gates of the &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve when we spotted something moving stealthily through the tall grasses. Someone in the van yelled “STOP” and the driver hit the brakes. We trained our eyes on the patches of tall grass that lined the road, alert for any movement. Several moments later, we saw the grass shift ever so gently again. Binoculars were whipped out of bags and as we zoomed in, we noticed a sleek body with distinctive spots, striding confidently through the grass. Our first wildlife encounter was of a cheetah! We spoke excitedly in a hushed tone and watched the cheetah disappear into the thick bushes. It only took a few seconds but we were awestruck by this majestic appearance. I knew then, this Phinda Private Game Reserve luxury safari was going to be simply unforgettable!

Experiencing the Phinda Private Game Reserve

The Phinda Private Game Reserve is located in northern KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, approximately 4 hours by car from the coastal city of Durban. Due to regular rainfall, the Phinda Private Game Reserve has a lush green environment that contains seven distinct ecosystems.

Entrance to Phinda Private Game Reserve
On our first safari drive at Phinda.

The Big Five

As I soon discovered, spotting the Big Five (elephant, leopard, lion, buffalo and rhino) is almost a certainty but there are opportunities here to spot other amazing African animals like the cheetah and a great variety of antelope species.

A lion lazing in the grass at Phinda.
We spotted lots of zebras at Phinda.

Luxurious accommodations

The Phinda Private Game Reserve offers a variety of luxurious accommodations such as the Mountain Lodge, Forest Lodge, Rock Lodge and the Vlei Lodge. I stayed at the Mountain Lodge. Perched beautifully on a hillside, the lodge commands stunning views of the plains and forests below. The lodge has a central complex that houses the lounge/bar and dining areas, a shop and just a few steps away, an inviting pool.

Phinda Mountain Lodge (image courtesy of Phinda Private Game Reserve).
Phinda Mountain Lodge (image courtesy of Phinda Private Game Reserve).

The individual suites are scattered across the property, each with a large bedroom and ditto bathroom, a private deck with plunge pool and outdoor shower, and one of the best-equipped mini bars I’ve ever encountered!

My suite at the Mountain Lodge.
The outdoor deck of my suite at Phinda.
The spacious bathroom.

Lunch, a lavish spread of salads, roasts, hot and cold dishes, and fruits, was served at the main complex with panoramic views of the plains. A family of monkeys dropped by, hanging by their tails outside the large windows and observing us, as we tucked into lunch.

A lavish spread at lunch.

Game drives

After lunch, we embarked on our first game drive. Within several hours of driving through forests, plains, thick bushes and past watering holes, we’d spotted four of the Big Five! That evening, we spotted the fifth, the elusive leopard!

Out on a game drive at Phinda.
A giraffe munching on the leaves from a branch.
Love the nyalas with their painted appearance.
Watching a rhino from a distance.
Watching a rhino from a distance.

Dinner at the boma

Dinner was served at the boma, an open-air space enclosed by a fence. Lanterns, candles and a big fire lit the boma and dinner, cooked up by the lovely Phinda chefs, was served with big smiles.

Dining in the boma at Phinda.
Food served with a smile and a laugh!

Magical moments in Phinda

We spent several days viewing the wildlife during morning and sundowner safaris. During these drives, our guides kept us entertained with facts, stories and anecdotes about the wildlife. The most incredible moment occurred one morning when our guide received a radio message that two cheetahs had been spotted. We were very close and soon had them in our sight. It was absolutely mind-blowing to see these sleek, powerful cats strut by, just meters away from us!

Two cheetahs heading our way.

Sundowners in the bush

My favourite drives were the sundowners. I soon discovered that our guides weren’t only experts on wildlife, they made fabulous gin and tonics too!

Sundowner cocktails with our guides.

There’s just something absolutely magical about sipping on a gin and tonic in the bush while watching the big blue African sky turn crimson before the starry night appears.

A giraffe pokes its head out of the bush at sunset.

One evening, we stopped atop a hill to simply enjoy this silence and watch the full moon rise above the horizon. It was one of those unforgettable moments, impossible to record on camera, that stay etched in my mind forever.

Encounter with nyallas

Another moment I will never forget was the morning I decided to take a shower on the deck outside my suite. A beautiful nyala and its young casually walked up to me and started taking sips of the water! I froze and just looked on in wonder.

There were many magical moments at Phinda Private Game Reserve but the biggest factor that contributed to a stay I won’t easily forget was the terrific staff. From the fun, knowledgeable guides to the singing (and dancing) restaurant personnel and cheery housekeeping girls, the staff made a big impression on me. They made every guest feel so welcome with their big smiles and great hospitality.

I left with a promise to myself that I would one day return to experience the magic of Phinda once again. I can’t wait for that day.

The fun group I went on safari with! Image courtesy of @mzansigirl.
The fun group I went on safari with! Image courtesy of @mzansigirl.

Read about an amazing Big Five safari near Cape Town and the best road trip routes from Cape Town.

Note: my trip to South Africa was organised by South African Tourism. As always, all views expressed above are mine.

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