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Where the Wild Things Are

Situated within southern Maputaland, an area renowned for its untouched beauty and ecological diversity, the luxury lodges of the Phinda Private Game Reserve are one of the world’s best-kept safari secrets.

By Caroline Tapp-McDougall

Daily flights from Johannesburg conveniently connect with smaller commuter and private planes that take us into some of Africa’s most magnificently wide-open wildlife-spotting zones.

Created for adults only, Phinda Rock Lodge is both deliciously private and hopelessly romantic. The lodge looks out over its own lush valley, like a small private castle amid a tangle of wild African sights and sounds.

Part of the worldwide “andBeyond” collection of adventure properties, Rock Lodge has just six fully equipped villas, with outdoor showers, soaker tubs and private plunge pools. Each unique dwelling clings dramatically to the steep cliffs that surround, offering breathtaking views across the adjacent lush valley.

The main building houses an elegant indoor/outdoor lounge, dining space and patio. Meals are limited to choices offered by the chef—but with a dash of local ingredients and world-class skills, each meal is a treat. In fact, when eating outdoors on the patio, the generous portions and spot-on service blend seamlessly with the vibrant environment to create a remarkable ambiance.

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Beyond expectations

With 56,800 acres that have been thoughtfully populated with native species of lions, rhinos, giraffes and the like, the property is a self-sustaining ecosystem. This reflects andBeyond’s culture and ongoing commitment to wildlife development and community empowerment. The group’s meaningful dedication to both environmental and social responsibility is evident beyond the boundaries of the nature reserve. There is clear admiration for the company in the surrounding communities, and recognition for its support of medical clinics, schools and local employment. This is a company that trys to deliver a world-class wildlife-viewing experience, while minimizing its physical footprint and caring for the land, the people and the wildlife within the region.

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Phinda’s guides, rangers and staff are renowned as some of the finest, and it doesn’t take long to figure out why. We spotted the “big five” that we came to see in a mere two game drives. Since this is a fenced reserve the wildlife is accustomed to humans, so the guides are able to navigate in close to families of lions and cheetahs, leopards in trees, rhinos escorting their young and giraffes grazing overhead. We saw each “family” on multiple occasions during our three-day stay. Amazing!

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Despite their frequency sightings remain extraordinary, and each time our guide finds something new to share there are plenty of “oohs” and “ahhs” and some remarkable close-up photography: Mother cheetah and her baby cubs catching 40 winks; male lions with full tummies yawning and lounging after a hearty meal; elephants on their way to the waterhole; giraffes on the move; and dumb-ass wildebeest aplenty. There’s certainly no shortage of wildlife moments to experience during our twice-daily outings.

Additional adventure opportunities include a Zulu village and local craft market tour, a visit to a rural family homestead and time with a respected traditional healer, known as a Sangoma. Guests can also replace a morning’s game drive with a visit to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park World Heritage Site for a three-hour horse-riding experience.

Take me home

The eco-friendly Homestead is Phinda’s latest pride and joy. Homestead is the newest addition to Phinda and the most intimate of its accommodations; it is an exquisite private residence that can house up 12. State-of-the-art amenities, carefully curated furnishings and colourful African artwork—as well as a magical number of indoor/outdoor living, dining and fitness spaces—make it the loveliest safari digs we’ve seen. There’s even a stylish office for those who can’t tear themselves away and need to stay in touch.


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Zulu celebration journey

Inspired by the wisdom of the country’s traditional healers, a visit to the spa is a truly authentic African experience where all treatments boast natural ingredients and local essential oils. All journeys begin with a traditional African foot cleansing ritual to symbolize the cleaning of all influences and thoughts, and to start one feeling centred and calm.

Follow the ritual with a tanga orange body polish to cleanse the skin, and a delightful relaxation massage followed by an application of Zulu body butter to leave the body, mind and soul renewed and invigorated. Our 90-minute journey ended with an ancient Zula thank-you celebration, where the rain is called on to give life to new beginnings, prosperity and rejuvenation.