Going on an African safari should be on everyone’s South Africa itinerary because safari game drives are truly a once in a lifetime experience. Each game drive is so different from the other. With that said, there are several great reserves to see wildlife in South Africa. So how do you choose the best game park for your safari in South Africa? For us, we chose the Phinda Private Game Reserve. Phinda Private Game Reserve has what every traveler is looking for in a safari: luxury, diverse habitats and of course, the Big Five! Most travelers want to go on a safari in Serengeti National Park or Kruger National Park to get the best game viewing, but that is because a lot of people do not know about Phinda Private Game Reserve and its luxurious game drives. A safari game viewing experience can be completely different when you compare a National park vs. a private reserve. So let us share why your next safari trip in South Africa should be spent at Phinda Private Game Reserve!
About Phinda Private Game Reserve
Phinda (pin-dah) Private Game Reserve, is a private game reserve of 74,000 acres situated in the protected wildlife lands of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. There are only five properties on the land, so guests who have the opportunity to stay in one of the lodges are very fortunate. With so much land and very few people, it creates the perfect environment for the best game views.
The reserve is often referred to as the “Seven Worlds of Wonder” because it is interspersed with all seven of Africa’s diverse habitats to explore – the woodland, grasslands, savannah, wetlands, forest, and mountains. We could be mistaken, but in our seven game drives at the reserve, we believe we were able to experience every habitat. That is something we loved about Phinda Private Game Reserve – this reserve is so diverse and beautiful everywhere we looked.
In addition to the landscape, the reserve is home to the big five – lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and cape buffalo. It only took us two game drives to see every big five animal. The big five are not the only beautiful animals in the reserve, it is also home to cheetah, hyena, giraffe, zebra, nyala, impala, warthog, hippopotamus and more. For all the bird lovers out there, there is also at least 436 bird species – that is a lot of birds to check off the list. Yes, if you haven’t been able to tell already, this reserve has it ALL! And don’t worry we will explore more into the animals further into this post.
Luxury Experiences Through and Through
AndBeyond has five properties on the Phinda Private Game Reserve with a sixth property coming in September 2018. Each property provides their guests with luxury experiences at the lodge and at the bush.
To read our review of our luxury stay at AndBeyond Phinda Mountain Lodge, click here.
Every property includes two daily game drives in their rate – one in the morning around 6am and one in the late afternoon around 4pm that goes into the evening. Each game drive is at least three hours long and can go up to four hours. It all depends on the passengers in the vehicle and the game sightings they encountered. Sometimes our game drives were close to four hours because we traveled a far distance or we encountered amazing animal sightings where we never wanted to leave.
Before every game drive guests will meet their rangers in the lounge for coffee and tea. In the morning they would offer everyone their choice of drink – coffee, tea, espresso, latte, orange juice, etc. In the afternoon the same choices would be offered with the addition of alcoholic beverages. Since the day is started early and breakfast is not until after the game drives, there would be trays full of fresh fruit, baked cookies, coffee cake and bread. During the afternoon there would be appetizers such as, chips with avocado-tomato salsa, cake, fruit bars and more.
As we briefly stated, AndBeyond provides their guests with luxury at the lodge with their service, accommodations, dining and more. Some resorts only offer luxury under their roof, whereas AndBeyond continues their luxury service even under the African sky. AndBeyond just renovated their vehicles, so the seats were extremely comfortable. We had heard from other travelers that we would be uncomfortable and sore after game drives because of the bumpy roads, but we never felt that way because of the quality seats AndBeyond provides. Some may be surprised to hear that the mornings and nights in Africa are cold – when you are driving in the open roads, the weather can drop very low. Luckily for us, AndBeyond provided everyone with flannel blankets, which kept us nice and warm. They also provided us with ponchos for when it rained and thank goodness they did, we used them more than once.
Extraordinary Rangers and Trackers
As much as we enjoyed our lodge at Phinda Mountain Lodge, we enjoyed our game drives more. Yes, some of it had to do with the amazing animal sightings we saw, but the other reasons were because of our tracker, Bethuel, and our ranger, Brenden. They really made our trip memorable by being genuine, excited, informative and of course, fun!
Spotting animals is not an easy task, you have to have laser eye vision and focus to find big cats, which is the most sought out animals on safari game drives. It takes time and patience to find the animals, so when the moment comes when your tracker or ranger says they spot a pride of lion, you jump for joy (inside, not literally as that would scare the animals). As excited as we were to find lions, Bethuel and Brenden would be just as enthused as us and we loved that! Their energy was so pure, you saw how much they loved their job and appreciated all the wild animals. They were not just excited to have found the animals, but they were truly excited for us. When we would talk to other rangers during coffee and tea time we noticed it was not just Bethuel and Brednen who were enthusiastic, but it was every ranger and tracker employed by AndBeyond. Every guest was smiling from ear to ear because their rangers were giving all of them a-once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Brenden did an excellent job in asking every guest what they wanted to see the most. While Bethuel did his best to spot every animal guests wanted to see. For us, we wanted to see cheetahs!!!! Mission accomplished. We still do not know how Bethuel spotted two male cheetahs, who were brothers, from over 100 yards away – not to mention they were laying down on a mound!!! Bethuel has the best eye sight, we swear. Every guest in our vehicle were able to see everything they wanted because of Brenden and Bethuel. They truly made every game drive an unbelievable experience that no one will ever forget.
Luxurious Game Breaks
As we said before, AndBeyond takes luxury outside the resort – literally! Halfway through game drives the rangers and trackers would not just offer us a break with some coffee and tea, but an entire spread! Bethuel and Brenden would set up a table with tablecloth and make us our choice of beverage with a spread of snacks. The snacks would change daily, but would include cookies, granola bars, dried fruit, corn nuts, biltong (South Africa’s version of beef jerky) and more.
In the morning, they would serve hot chocolate, coffee, tea and our personal favorite, the moccachocarula. What is a moccachocarula you ask? It is hot chocolate, coffee and amarula. Amarula is a cream liqueur from South Africa made with sugar, cream and the fruit of the African macula tree. It is a delicious drink on its own and with coffee or hot chocolate.
In the evening, they would serve cold beer, whiskey, rum, gin, vodka, red and white wine and soda. Bethuel would make us anything from gin and tonic, vodka and tonic, rum and coke and more. We would enjoy an open bar by our vehicle in the open bush like it was an everyday luxury.
One evening, we all spotted lights in the distance. Oblivious to what the light was, Brenden suggested we check it out….SURPRISE!!! AndBeyond set up a romantic, candlelit evening game break. There was chilled champagne on ice and hot snacks to enjoy. Brenden popped the champagne and we, among two other couples, enjoyed this lovely romantic evening. AndBeyond – always going above and beyond.
Game Reserve Rules
We have recently read how some travelers experienced unethical safari game drives. One would think, how could viewing animals in the wild be unethical? Truth be told, it can be, but we picked the right company and game reserve to respect the fascinating animals and land. We suggest you try and do the same to help preserve what lives in our beautiful world.
No Off Roading
There is no off roading allowed in the reserve unless a ranger or tracker spots a big cat. When we did spot a big cat, our vehicle was never too close to any cat unless they walked by us. We always kept our distance and respected the animals in their natural habitat. The times we did go off roading, our ranger, Brenden, was always careful to mind his surroundings.
Three Vehicle Rule
We were able to experience seven game drives and in those seven game drives we never once had more than two vehicles at an animal sighting. AndBeyond has a vehicle rule in place where there can never be more than three vehicles at a big cat sighting at a time. We heard from other travelers how they would wait in a long line of vehicles to see a lion in Kruger National Park. Or they would be amongst several other vehicles surrounding one lion. That is unethical and not an authentic experience if you ask us, which is why we really respected and enjoyed the three vehicle rule. Even with this rule, the six times we encountered big cats we never shared a sighting with more than one other vehicle. Another reason why Phinda Private Game Reserve and AndBeyond is the best.
AndBeyond cares for animals, there is no question about it. In the entire 74,000 acre reserve, there are only three, fully grown, male lions. Why? Because lions are at the top of the food chain and are very territorial. This means that the male lions will kill one another to establish and maintain dominance in their territory. The lion algorithm suggests three fully grown male lions in ratio of the 74,000 acre reserve. Adding one more lion could disrupt the balance and cause the lions to kill each other. AndBeyond and the reserve does not want to disrupt this balance because lions are a vulnerable species. They are trying to maintain the lion population. With that being said, we saw at least three sub-adult male lions and were told that pretty soon they would be transferred to another reserve before they became territorial. Or to keep a healthy breeding, the reserve would transport an existing fully grown male lion to another reserve and keep a sub-adult or transfer a new lion into the reserve altogether.
Number of Vehicles in an Area
The number of vehicles at every AndBeyond property vary, but at Phinda Mountain Lodge, there were only 12 vehicles for game drives. Even with a large reserve to explore, AndBeyond had regulations for rangers and the vehicles. Within the reserve were several different areas and they all had a distinct name. Every time we would cross a main road into another area, our ranger, Brenden, would radio in where he was leaving and where he was entering. This means that all of the rangers always had to listen to each other and coordinate where they were able to enter. This allowed for an authentic game viewing experience for us because we hardly ever saw other vehicles – we were in the wild and that is the way it should be. We believe this vehicle area regulation is in place for ethical reasons, but we did enjoy the intimacy we had with the bush.
Always Respect the Animals
As we have briefly mentioned, we heard from other travelers how they found their game drives to be unethical. They felt they were too close to the animals and disrupting their natural habitat. Brenden always did a wonderful job keeping his distance from the animals, while still giving us unique and once-in-a-lifetime viewing experiences. There were many times where he would take a different road, which was a longer route for us, but it respected the animals and their space. When he felt that the animals may be disturbed with our presence he would kindly tell us that we were going to let them be and carry on somewhere else. We would like to believe that every ranger at AndBeyond in the Phinda Private Game Reserve does the same – we are almost certain they do.
During night drives the trackers use a bright beam of light to check the areas for wildlife. As if finding the animals during the day was not hard enough, this was certainly almost impossible. Yet, the rangers and trackers at the AndBeyond properties at Phinda Private Game Reserve are some of the best of the best! On our first night we encountered a leopard. When we were near the leopard, our tracker, Bethuel, placed a red filter on the flashlight.
The red light or filter, helps protect the animals eyesight. Imagine yourself in a dark room, your eyes adjust to the darkness and eventually you are able to see in the dark. Then someone turns the lights on in the room and initially, it hurts your eyes and now you have to adjust to the light. Once you adjust to the light, they turn the lights back off. For the third time, your eyes have to adjust and by this time it takes even longer for the adjustment. We have all been here and it is not fun. Well the same thing goes for animals and it takes them even longer to adjust. Using the red light helps keep their eyes adjusted to the dark. In addition, the red light is never directly on the animals for long if at all, the light would be in the vicinity because even with the red filter, they do not want to disrupt their eyesight more than necessary.
Sightings at Phinda Private Game Reserve
Now to the best part….Going on a safari is an experience unlike any we have ever had. It was more than we ever imagined and it will be an experience we will never forget. We thought this was going to be a once in a lifetime trip, but as soon as we were on our plane ride home, we knew we would return again. We were able to see almost every animal interact with one another. There were so many times we would stop for what felt like an eternity watching the beautiful animals in their natural habitat. With so many magnificent animals throughout the world, we were excited to see the wild cats the most – they simply took our breathe away.
Enjoy our pictures of our best game viewing!
We saw lions four times! A lion pride with cubs, three siblings, a pride at night after just eating and the pride again resting the next day. We saw the lions interact with each other, play, yawn and more – we saw them in their natural habitat.
Cheetahs are our favorite land animal and Phinda Private Game Reserve has a lot in the reserve – the reason we chose this reserve. We were able to find two male brothers laying on the mound. Then we saw them get up, stretch and walk. We drove on the road beside them and it was like we were walking with them in the wild – incredible experience and a dream come true!!!!
On our night drives we saw a leopard and lion pride. We were able to enjoy both of these game views by ourselves, no other vehicles with us.
It is difficult to find rhinos with their horns still intact because they dehorn the rhinos to prevent from poaching. Finding a rhino with this long horn was a rare sight to see. We saw the rhino with its herd, there were at least twenty of them “mowing” the grass.
We encountered a herd of cape buffalo. They started on the right side of our vehicle and moved across the road in front of us to the other side to eat some more. They would peek up and stare us down from time to time – definitely not an animal you play the staring game with.
More beautiful animal sightings.
We miss you, AndBeyond and Phinda Private Game Reserve!!!
Christina and Adam