We picked Phinda Game Reserve for its great guest reviews, and at the time of booking our 4-night stay we already expected something great. But being there blew our minds. This place is out of this world. We arrived just after lunch time, still tired from our monster journey through Transkei the day before (see the earlier post Transkei). But at Phinda, arriving after lunch time meant we could still squeeze in a beautiful short lunch, get an introduction to the reserve and 'our' game drive group, and still catch the afternoon game drive.
And what an introduction to guided safari this was. Phinda is known for its seven different habitats in a relatively small area. We are staying in a rare sand forest, the only one left in South Africa, and home to tiny antelope like Suni and Red Duiker, as well as the Narina Trogon, a rare, bright green-and-red bird for which many birders travel from all over the globe just to get a glimpse sighting. Even before getting started on the afternoon drive, we got a prime sighting of the bird, showing off its feisty red breast. Once leaving the sand forest, we made our way through woodlands towards the northern part of the reserve, a more open savannah habitat, where we witnessed a cheetah mother on the hunt to feed her two cubs. Unbelievable spectacle, with the cubs less than 100 meters behind us, patiently waiting for their mom to bring in dinner. The target was an Impala antelope, but the hunt unsuccessful. It felt like the soothing voice of David Attenborough would start describing the scene at any time...........
Next on the drive was a pride of 10 lions, with the largest lioness ever recorded - the scale came in at 220 kg. Like the rest of the pride, she was digesting the last meal, but largely out of sight. The big male was lying right on the road with some juveniles around him, about 25 meters from us. Or as Devon put it comfortingly, at a distance of three jumps or 2 seconds. But this was not an active bunch, dozing off in the afternoon heat.
To finish off the drive, we visited the rare champagne tree, known for blooming with flutes and an ice bucket plus bottle ready to be poured in celebration of a birthday and honeymoon in our group of 6. The belated birthday of Gabri's mom, that is, and the honeymoon was of a British couple, their third trip after getting married earlier in 2012 - she in her late 60s and he in his late 70s. Adorable and a very good reason to raise a flute. In the next 4 days our group of 6 will be guided around the preserve by ranger Devon and Zulu tracker Zakhele ('Zac'), and we can't wait.
Back at the lodge, a lovely dinner was served in the boma, the traditional Zulu open air kitchen lit by oil lamps and fire pits. We could get used to this..... So could Gabri's mom, who was enchanted when the local staff serenaded her with a birthday song in English and Zulu. And GABROEN was enchanted with how their birthday present turned out to be.