Our time in South Africa was split between six nights in Cape Town and three nights at our safari at Phinda Game Reserve. To get from Cape Town to the reserve, we took a two-hour flight to Durban, then got picked up by our safari company from the airport. We were driven 3.5 hours along South Africa’s east coast (getting more and more remote as we went) to Phinda Game Reserve. There are a few lodges within the 55,000 acre reserve, all owned by the safari company, &Beyond, but we stayed at &Beyond’s Phinda Forest Lodge.
The Forest Lodge consisted of a welcome lodge, a dining area, a pool, and about fifteen individual “villas” on stilts. Rob and I aren’t exactly the camping type, and certainly not in a reserve filled with large cats and predators. We loved that we felt fully immersed in the habitat, but protected and secure.
The safari experience was fairly structured and all-inclusive, so we didn’t have to think about planning anything (not even meals) once we were there. There are two game drives each day: one in the morning from about 6:30-10:30am and one in the afternoon/evening from about 3:30-7:30pm. So yes, you spend eight hours a day in a safari vehicle, but it is such an adrenaline rush and every single game drive is different with so much to learn.
Between the drives, we ate breakfast, showered, rested in our villa, and ate lunch. Dinner was served after the evening game drive. The food and drinks were fantastic, and the staff was incredibly friendly and welcoming. &Beyond has definitely set the bar for safari experiences, and I can’t recommend the company enough. They have many lodges in several different countries, so there is certainly something for everyone.
Now, onto the crux of this trip – the animals! Rob and I were absolutely, completely blown away by the experience. There is nothing I’ve done that I can compare this safari to. And, if you had told me before I went on a safari that it would be an adrenaline rush and out-of-body experience, I’d probably think you were being a bit dramatic. But that’s what it was for both Rob and me. Seeing animals in their natural habitats – hunting, marking territory, suckling – it was all just so surreal (and at times frightening)! I couldn’t believe I got to be a “fly on the wall” in that reserve. The animals were truly magnificent. We were also very fortunate that there were a lot of baby animals at the time that we visited :).
We saw the “Big 5” which includes the elephant, white rhino, leopard, lion, and water buffalo. The leopard is the hardest to track down, especially the male leopard, so we were all very excited when our expert ranger and tracker found the male leopard marking his territory at dusk.
Every night about an 3/4 through the game drive, we’d stop and set up a cocktail and snack table to chat and take a break. On the evening of the leopard sighting, we celebrated with champagne! Here we are with our tracker, Thulani, on the left and our ranger, Dumi, on the right. We definitely got the best tracker/ranger pair, so if you visit Phinda, be sure to request them!
We also got to see a herd of 20-25 elephants making their way to a watering hole. They are such interesting animals! Despite being giants, they don’t make a sound as they walk, except for the crunch of brush under their feet. They also knock down trees to get to the vegetation at the top.
Giraffes, zebras, lions, water buffalo, warthogs – I definitely felt like I had stepped right into The Lion King!
And since we celebrated our anniversary while we were there, &Beyond treated us extra special with a private game drive and a private dinner on our porch. The sunset that night literally made my jaw drop.
Rob and I could not have fallen more in love with South Africa. The country – its people, its animals, its landscapes – is truly special. If you ever have the opportunity to visit South Africa, go for it! We have some incredible memories that we’ll keep with us forever. We’re so thankful for all the people we met during our trip who made us feel so welcome and who taught us so much about the country they call home.