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A Guide to Phinda Game Reserve


Recently, I fulfilled a lifelong bucket list dream of flying to South Africa and going on Safari. As a big wildlife lover, going on Safari was a dream come true for me, but it’s the combined experience of a luxury lodge, experienced rangers and the most incredible sights that made it so magical. Everyone thinks of Kruger for safari but why not consider this private reserve near Durban instead?

Greeted at Durban airport by our transfer, we were led to a big comfy car for the 3-hour drive to the game reserve. Handed a tiffin box full of biltong, local grown macadamia nuts and Droëwors (a type of dried sausage with coriander) was a lovely way of introducing us to the country and was much enjoyed whilst the scenery passed us by.

Jen on safari at Phinda - Image: Jen Poynton

Jen on safari at Phinda

Image: Jen Poynton

Phinda is a Big 5 private game reserve with over 70,560 acres of protected land in the area of KwaZulu-Natal. The benefit of staying in a private reserve is that all safaris are led by expert guides in well maintained vehicles where you sometimes have the option of going off-road to get closer to the wildlife or the action. Phinda has very few vehicles around too so you’re unlikely to get a queue of 4x4s around a pride of lions or elephant herd which makes the experience feel very personalised and special. One added bonus is your afternoon game drive carries on past sunset (which doesn’t always happen in other reserves) where you can admire the stars, and use just a spotlight to spot nocturnal animals such as coyotes, snakes, porcupines, genets and other small cats.

Elephants and rhino - Image: Jen Poynton

Elephants and rhino

Image: Jen Poynton

Mountain Lodge was our first stay, perched on a hill with incredible views across the landscape. Each suite is really spacious and complete with plunge pools which means couples can enjoy some peace and privacy, while families can let the kids play in their own space without worrying about the noise they’re making! 

The main bar and restaurant area is spacious but cosy, and the recently renovated pool and gardens mean a lazy lunchtimes is spent even better!

Zebra feeding - Image: Jen Poynton

Zebra feeding

Image: Jen Poynton

When it comes to the game drives, you are sat on a 4x4 with tiered seating meaning that everyone gets a good view. The vehicles can hold up to 9 people but Phinda only ever place 6 on there unless there is a group wanting to go together – this means lots of space and lots of photo opportunities! They handed us extra blankets for those chilly mornings and a pair of professional binoculars to do our own searching!

Every game drive we went on had both a ranger and a tracker, both of whom were highly qualified and expert naturalists. They have often worked there for many years which means they know the terrain inside out. Getting to know them, their pathway to these careers and their knowledge was just insane!

The tracker sits on a seat right at the front, literally scanning and tracking the entire landscape – their eyes are just incredible so your chance of seeing the Big 5 are significantly increased. The two-man team will read footprints in the sand, the freshness of dung and noises from miles away in order to get you to what you want to see. You really do feel as if you are David Attenborough after the experience of an incredible Safari.


Buffalo - Image: Jen Poynton


Image: Jen Poynton

We spotted a pair of cheetah brothers and our ranger enlightened us with their story so far; where they had come from, some of their recent prey and how they interact with each other to survive. I have a weird obsession with dung beetles too so we stopped to inspect a huge pile all rolling their dung balls – we watched a good fight between two males too.

After two nights at the Mountain Lodge, we moved on to the Forest Lodge which are nestled cabins surrounded by thick forest. The sense of peace and calm yet being right in the wild was amazing. The interiors are more plain but the highlight is the glass walls which can be opened up.

The pool here overlooks a small plainland which often means antelope, springbok and other such four-legged friends are wandering about – we even had an elephant come for a drink! The staff, food and quality of service offered in both lodges is just incredible but of course, the most captivating part of it all were the game drives.

Tortoise - Image: Jen Poynton


Image: Jen Poynton

Over the four nights we saw huge numbers of elephants, leopards, a pride of lions on a chase, buffalos, hippos, crocodiles, white rhinos and a black rhino but also cheetahs fighting, many birds, bugs and beetles, gibbons, giraffes, zebra, springboks, owls,  hyenas, warthogs, turtles, civets, wildebeest, servals, impala and much more!

With BA running a direct flight into Durban airport, this makes Phinda an easy choice to make. Be sure to check out the offerings in our brochure and after booking your tailor-made Journey with a safari, be sure to chat with the Concierge team about what to pack for a safari, what to expect from the day and how you can make the most of it all and absorb everything!

Written by Jennifer Poynton

Jen absolutely loves spicy food – she even had fresh chillis in her wedding bouquet. She lived in Russia for four years so explored a lot of the country and developed a love for vodka. Jen loves to travel by train as she is a bit of a nervous flyer – she's done the Trans Siberian and Trans Mongolian train as well as interrailing for two summers in a row, with bullet train journeys lined up for next year. Jen's dream is to travel on the Rocky Mountaineer! She just been to South Africa on safari and has Japan and the States booked in for this year!

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