review: phinda mountain lodge, south africa

This would have to be it… the most wonderful place I’ve ever stayed (so far, anyway).

Phinda Mountain Lodge, an andBeyond property, is located near St Lucia in the province of KwaZulu Natal. The lodge itself is located on the Phinda Private Reserve and there are several other lodges within its confines.

The first impression of this place is incredible. We were seated on the main deck for our welcome drink and orientation, and it was hard to take in much information when the view of the mountains and valley is such:

lounge/main deck

lounge/main deck

view over the mountains from the main deck

view over the mountains from the main deck

We were assigned a guide and driver and briefed on the afternoon’s game drive before being shown to our rooms. The rooms could be more accurately described as a villa; a sprawling space with everything one needs, opening up to a beautiful deck complete with loungers, a plunge pool and an outdoor shower. One can sit in the plunge pool and look down onto the plain to watch elephants roam. Or imagine taking a shower afterwards and a giraffe pops his head up to say hello!

We were given extremely strict instructions, however, that after dusk we were not to attempt to enter/exit our rooms without security as the risk of injury was too high (read: being eaten)! No matter, the security guards were so caring and obliging of us that it felt lovely to be looked after so.

my bed - wonderful

my bed – wonderful

The mini bar was extensively stocked (to the point of having cocktail shakers) and this was included in our room rate – no nasty surprises upon checkout!

In the evening, I would arrive to my room thinking to myself “gee, what a day, a long soak in the tub would be beautiful” only to walk into the bathroom and find it already filled – complete with rose petals!

bathroom

bathroom

outdoor area

outdoor area

getting around on game drives with our driver/guide and spotter

getting around on game drives with our driver/guide and spotter

Unforgettable experiences are guaranteed at Phinda, whether they be sundowners on a hill overlooking a herd of elephants, tracking a rhino on foot, or a candlelit braai feast in the middle of nowhere. The wonderful guides and spotters are extremely well-educated on the wildlife, but the highlight for me was having an in-depth discussion on the universe with our guide while star-gazing. I thought I knew quite a bit on this topic but he put me to shame!

All in all the three days/two nights spent here on safari were absolutely incredible and I’d recommend it to anyone. The only negative about my stay was that hubby wasn’t there to share the experience; no matter – we’ll be staying here when I manage to make it back with him.

the author travelled to Phinda as a guest of South Africa Tourism

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mother nature doesn’t care about your annual leave dates

One of the most famous wildlife events in the world is the Serengeti-Masai Mara Wildebeest Migration. It traditionally happens every year sometime in June-July.

While the migration pattern itself is fairly predictable, the actual timing of this phenomenon is becoming less so. Last year it started in early June and this year it was late May, earlier than ever.

The Migration is a weather-dependent occurrence and I think we can mostly agree world weather patterns are currently changing. As the rains arrive earlier the migration in turn starts earlier and becomes even less predictable than usual.

Africa is a region I’m really passionate about and, truth be told, it’s the region I get the most excited about sending my clients to. It has the wonderful diversity of dramatic landscapes, unique wildlife and a fascinating ix of different cultures. The one thing constantly requested though is to ravel at the time of Migration.

This is a really difficult experience to plan. I could toot my own horn and list some things I think I’m quite good at but predicting African weather patterns is not one of them. Unfortunately, I can’t offer my clients any guarantees they will see migration; indeed, I try to tell them it’s more than likely they will not. Why? Because it’s my arse on the line if they expect something they don’t get and they complain.

But here’s where I think I’m going to say something prospective clients of mine may find controversial: personally, I’m not sure I would bother. Sure, it’s an incredible sight to behold but or the average Joe, who has to take leave from work and fork out thousands upon thousands of dollars to get to Africa, I don’t  think it’s particularly reasonable to expect or to plan to see migration.

For many people, Africa is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. They come for the safari experience; particularly to see the Big Five. The Serengeti and Masai Mara are two of the best places to see this and at any time of the year the chances are much higher than many other places. The joys of heading out on Safari cannot be fully described and, while the animals are obviously the main focus, the experience is heightened by a good tracker and guide. It is a remarkable opportunity to increase one’s knowledge of the world we live in and, in my opinion, this should really be the focus of any Safari.

I know I’ve said this before about other destinations but if you have the time and the resources, just go when you can. No matter what time of year you arrive, you won’t regret it.

happy world turtle day

 

Today is “World Turtle Day”. The day actually recognises all species of turtle and tortoise, despite its name (some languages don’t dfferentiate between the two) and in the spirit of love of all things Testudine I thought I would acknowledge the day and share a picture.

I’ve always loved turtles and tortoises; I find them extremely fascinating from an evolutionary/scientific perspective but there’s also just something about them I can’t quite name that makes me want to just be around them.

Turtles have been around for about 220 million years, making them about as old as the oldest known dinosaur. They were around when Earth looked completely different to what it looks like today; when the land was covered in ferns and grass didn’t exist and the continents were joined together as Pangaea. They survived mass extinctions, continental drift and climate change. Pretty cool huh?

 

Giant Tortoise, Mauritius

Giant Tortoise, Mauritius


nosy iranja, madagascar in pictures

This little island is about an hour and a half from Nosy Be island (in the far North of Madagascar) by boat. It’s tidal, so when we arrived it looked like two round islands with a massive beach connecting the two, but as the tide came in the two islands became separated.

There’s a baby turtle nursery (a bit dubious about this) and a village too. Here are some pictures.

 

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Weird & Wonderful Madagascar

So my wonderful workplace has it’s own blog and I thought I’d share a piece I wrote for them on Madagascar. Check it out!

bunniktours

By Amelia Winter

Welcome to Antananarivo… an unexpected gem and a place I was told I would dislike. But it has everything I love – interesting buildings, beautiful scenery, an intriguing history and locals with a sense of humour. It’s a place full of surprises; a built-up city with rice paddies right in the centre of town, traffic jams caused by an ox and cart, groups of young people dressed like they’re heading to their wedding and/or space… so many little things that put a smile on my face (lucky I brought some patience and a sense of adventure).Antananarivo lake
I was told not to expect much from Tana and that’s probably why I loved it. Sure it’s dirty, chaotic and sometimes confronting – but it’s the kind of place where every time one turns their head something out of the ordinary is happening. This, in my opinion, is one of…

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a short but passionate love affair

Air Mauritius, we need to talk. About us. I think we need to take some time apart. It’s not you, it’s me… Actually, who am I kidding? It’s you.
You reeled me in so easily. You seduced me with your cheap fares, glamorous destinations, sweet-talking cabin crew, French champagne and fine dining. I was in love. The kind of love you shout from the rooftops and post all over Facebook and Twitter. Then you left me stranded for three days and you broke my heart (and make me look like a fool).
You promised so much but as our relationship went on, you stopped caring. You made promises you never planned to keep, took advantage of me financially and when I tried to fix things you gave me the cold shoulder. All the while you kept giving me just enough hope to keep believing in you.
The sad thing is that even now, when I’m sitting here thinking about you, writing you a letter trying to recoup the thousands of dollars I’m out of pocket because you gave up on me when I needed you most – I’m still a fool for you and I would probably do it all again. Sigh.
Business Class on the Air Mauritius A340 from Perth… beore the cyclone, the four day delay, and the re-route via Hong Kong. A happier time.

the funniest thing I have ever seen while travelling

Here’s a little tale of roadside assistance, Malagasy-style. It’s hard for a non-mechanically-minded person such as myself to describe so bear with me. It doesn’t help that every time I think about it I dissolve into fits of giggles either.
We were about halfway back to Antananarivo from Andasibe when we pulled up behind a white truck on the right side of the road that had pulled over. We held back as there was a cart carrying building materials being pulled by two zebu coming towards us up the hill and we had to give way. A red truck had also been travelling in front of us and, once the zebu were out of the way, started to make its way round the white truck.
Just as the red truck was right alongside the white truck, it slowed right down and a guy threw what looked (to me) like a small log under the wheel… at which point the front trailer keeled over to the left and I honestly thought the truck was going to roll down the embankment to the side. We (much, much) later found out that, at that moment, the red truck’s brakes failed just as it was preparing to stop to jumpstart the white truck.
So, we now had two big trucks side by side in front of us meaning we were stuck. I was busting for the loo (sod’s law) and we were about 40 minutes from Tana as it was. Many men just stood on the side of the road and did their business but being a lady I was not about to do that so it was in to the thorny scrub for me. Of course as soon as I’d found a suitable spot it looked like we were about to get moving.
But oh, no. We weren’t. We were there for at least another hour while all manner of madness occurred. But rather than bore you with words, I will again let some pictures tell the rest of the story.
End note: As we were leaving, I asked our driver Tahina if this happened often; he just smiled and said “oh yes of course”.
Traffic must stop for this first, before actual traffic jam may occur.
Biker sits there for 20 minutes wondering what to do before realising he can just drive through the middle
Truck (b) nearly tips over because…
 
I thought this was “How to jack up a truck 101” but I have been informed they didn’t even mean to have it sitting off the ground!  Apparently, this is the PARK BRAKE.
What to do, what to do… Six mechanics, 10 truck drivers and 200 onlookers, laughing but offering no solutions, until…
A boy band arrives on the scene
 
 
4WDs (and don’t forget gutless AWDs!) get impatient, decide to mount compost heap to get round trucks
Inspired by 4WDs, Lowrider 90s Citroen tries…
…gets bogged in compost.
Needs a push, or ten.
The queue behind us (constantly honking, very helpful)
This is the third truck, trying to get past the other two
A close shave
We’re on our way!
The locals stopped to watch (and laugh)