Last December I flew from Cape Town to Durban and headed for the nearby Phinda Game Reserve. We stayed in a beautiful lodge set on a hill overlooking the far-ranging bush with mountains in shades of blue in the distance. And the sky, so huge and so filled with stars. Seriously, I live in London (which I love) and can’t believe how big the African sky looks.
Every morning we awoke to the dawn and piled into our open landrover to search for those elusive wild animals. As soon as we emerged from the lodge sleepy eyed, a sense of anticipation hit. What would we see today? Early mornings are wonderful in Phinda. It’s cool and fresh and everything is just coming to life, including us and the wild life we were seeking.
Phinda teems with game. There are impala around every corner, including babies at that time of year. Beautiful, elegant and delicate, they bound through the bush with such grace. Plenty of warthogs run with their tails aloft – the comedians of the bush. Zebra bark, giraffe gaze at you suspiciously from on high and the sound of birdsong fills the air. We spotted two giraffe getting friendly, a rare and entertaining sight.
Even as you’re absorbing all this, you’re waiting, waiting for a sighting of one of the Big Five. Lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino – the term Big Five was coined by big-game hunters as they’re the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. And we were hunting them down, too, not on foot and certainly not to shoot them but to watch and marvel.
And they’re there waiting for you. First up the magnificently gentle elephants with their lumbering grace.
My favourites are the Big Cats. And boy did we see our share of these magnificent beasts. These lions were small cubs on our visit here last year and we were happy to see them thriving.
Another litter had just been born. Our knowledgable ranger spotted their Mum but search as we could we couldn’t find the babies. She keeps them well hidden out of the way of predators until they are older. Just knowing they were there hidden somewhere safe made us happy.
And then there were the cheetah. Two families of them. We named them the models of the bush and we sat peacefully watching them pose and even witnessing a failed attempt at a kill. It was fast! Did you know they can run at 110 t0 120km an hour (in short bursts)?
Leopards are the most elusive of all so we felt highly privileged to spend time with two young cubs. This is the little girl, who we all fell in love with and wanted to take home with us.
And then there were the rhino. Not the prettiest or friendliest of the animal kingdom but still amazing in their power and strength. Just don’t make one angry! Even the babies are huge with the average one weighing between 80 and 125 pounds at birth. Standing about 2 feet tall, babies are up and walking about within an hour of being born. Now that’s impressive!
It’s impossible not to get excited, emotional and even overcome by such awe-inspiring sightings of wild animals in their natural habitat. I often found myself with tears in my eyes. Tears of happiness and wonder. Now that’s got to be a good thing. We’re unbelievably fortunate to be sharing our planet with these creatures, let’s appreciate them and do everything we can to keep them safe and with us. There’s no doubt the world would be a worse place without them. Phinda’s animal families never cease to amaze me.
And there’s more on this wonderful safari. The food! Let’s face it, there’d have to be food for me to write about, wouldn’t there? A feast for the eyes – and the stomach – served up at our luxury lodge. Here’s a taster of some of the dishes our amazingly talented chef created.
Late afternoon before the evening’s game drive we tucked into High Tea. So totally indulgent with delights like these amazing individual mushroom pasta bowls.
For lunch one day, a deconstructed Caesar salad. How clever is that?
Afternoon drinks with tea – today fresh lemonade and Pimms. Beautifully summery.
Another clever take – this time on Surf ‘n’ Turf. Crunchy and sweet tempura prawns served on top of perfectly cooked rare roast beef.
Heavenly mini Yorkshire puddings stuffed with rare roast beef and horseradish. And for dessert, the creamiest of mousses with berries.
I need to remind myself to be thankful every day for the places I’m lucky enough to visit. And I hope you’re getting a feel for them all as I share my experiences with you.
What’s the best travel experience you’ve ever had?
What do you dream of doing? Let me know, I’d love to hear from you.