Good guiding is so often lacking, so it’s such a pleasure to get guides that not only know their stuff (anyone can regurgitate facts) but are intimate with nature and it shows. Check out the footprint blog post here to see if you can identify the spoor of this cat at Phinda. I had a bit of a game going with guides who were trying to catch me out. After all, after visits to 200+ safari lodges and hundreds of game drives, I should have learned something. They had me on terrapin spoor! I didn’t have a clue.
Is Conservation a Sustainable Business?
Phinda was created in 1991 in Maputaland, KwaZuluNatal, through collaboration between wildlife idealist Dave Varty and visionary financier Alan Bernstein. They wanted to prove that conservation could be a sustainable business and that the core ethics of care for the land, wildlife, and people was workable. More than 20 years later they were proved right and &Beyond now manages 3.5 million hectares of conservation land, employs over 2,000 people and runs 33 safari lodges in five African countries plus India. That’s quite something!
Varty already owned Londolozi bordering Kruger, but Phinda in the south east of the country was altogether different territory. The land was cattle grasslands, pineapple plantations and sisal farms, but its position was strategically important. Phinda was bought and stocked with wildlife; 18 elephants, 12 cheetah and 26 white rhino in 1991. Then 7 lion, 2 hippo and 20 more elephants the next year, and so on with cheetah, buffalo, antelope, giraffe and a whole Noah’s ark of species populating the reserve. So it continues, relocating wildlife into and out of Phinda; like the 2 male lions recently moved from Tswalu Desert Reserve to Phinda to increase the gene pool. And the first private game reserve donation of white rhino from Phinda to the Okavango Delta, sponsored by Motorite Insurance Administrators, in 2013.
Botswana has strong security to protect rhino, assisted by the military, and while Phinda might not have quite that, the amazing relationship they have with the local community, aided by an historic land claim settlement, means that strangers are quickly reported and the already tight rhino security at Phinda is stepped up.
Black Rhino Tracking On Foot
One of the highlights of a trip to Phinda is their Black Rhino Tracking on foot. Sipho Ewane is the Senior Tracker at Phinda Forest Lodge and what looks like an impenetrable thicket is full of clues for Sipho. Black rhino are shy, secretive and slightly bad tempered and their extremely good hearing, as opposed to rather poor eyesight, gives them an instinctual reaction to charge first and ask questions later. It’s for this reason that whatever Sipho says, you do! With silent hand instructions and guarded whispers, Sipho leads you through Big 5 country as close as it’s safe to get to this spectacular, dangerous animal.
While you’re seeking the elusive rhino, it’s quite possible to come across other big game, like elephant, buffalo and lion. The only sensible thing do is follow instructions from Sipho or your ranger. There are other activities too like a Zulu Village Tour, horseriding and the Flight of the Fish Eagle over the coastline with options like deep sea fishing, scuba diving with whale sharks and watching turtles come up to nest (from November to February).
Phinda has 6 lodges on 23,000 hectares with 7 distinct habitats: Rock Lodge, Mountain Lodge and the sole-use cottages of Zuka Lodge are in the mountainous southern part of the reserve. The contemporary Zulu-Zen Forest Lodge, intimate Vlei Lodge and gracious sole-use Homestead are in the unique sand forest of the northern section.
Each lodge offers a different experience, and this is perhaps why 60% of Phinda’s guests are repeat visitors. Who wouldn’t want to keep coming back when all the boxes of a great safari can be ticked off; fantastic game viewing, superb guiding, chefs that mingle with guests and cook very well, a whole variety of accommodation and landscapes, and ethical ideologies put into practice.
Awards are often showered upon &Beyond, with Phinda taking such accolades as one of Condé Nast Traveler’s World’s Best Places to stay in Africa and Middle East, and one of the 1,000 Places To See Before You Die, in the best-selling book of the same name.
Now that I’m great friends with &Beyond I can’t wait to see where they send me next. Yes, all my reviews are from hosted visits – i.e. I don’t pay to stay there. I’d have to be a millionaire otherwise, but I can assure you it doesn’t cloud my judgement. I’ve been doing this too long to be swayed by mere luxury! What a tart!
Have you been to a CCA/&Beyond Lodge? What have you got to say?