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

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


chillaxing with lemurs

Well here we are folks, the moment we’ve been waiting for…We’re hanging out with lemurs in Andasibe (and we have been told the proper way to say this is “an-DAS-ee-beh”), about a three hour drive + traffic east of Tana.

We’re staying at the lovely Vakona Forest Lodge which is great; the lodge encompasses several walking tours as well as the very cool Lemur Island, which is a refuge for many different species of lemur.

Nearby is Analamazoatra Reserve, the part of Andasibe-Mantadia NP that is home to the indri-indri, Madagascar’s largest lemur. Here you can see lemurs in the wild.

The National Park itself is a haven for lemurs, which have suffered due to land clearing. The National Park is now a protected area where the lemurs can hopefully thrive again. There are 10 different species in the Analamazoatra Reserve (four diurnal and six nocturnal) and each species lives in groups/families, but they live in harmony with each other as they have slightly different diets and are active at different times.

I think the most amazing part for us, both in Analamazoatra Reserve and over on Lemur Island, was hearing the lemurs call to each other. The indri-indri have an incredible call (similar to a Siamang I guess, if you’ve ever heard one) and the ring-tail lemurs have several, easily distinguishable calls for different situations. Their “alarm” call is amazing: high-pitched from air danger, e.g a hawk, and low-pitched for ground danger, such as a snake. They stand up on their hind legs to make the call and we were blown away by how loud it is for such a small animal!

Just a note: All lemurs we saw are are endemic to Andasibe, with the exception of the ring-tail lemurs, which are endemic to the South of Madagasar only. We were luckily enough to see them because there is a large family on Lemur Island, which is home to Lemurs that have been rescued from various fates.

Ring-tail Lemur
 
indri-indri
Baby lemurs hitch a ride on mum’s back
Ruffed lemur having a snooze
Bamboo lemur, one of the smallest diurnal lemurs

a lesson in choosing tour operators wisely

We had some setbacks today… and were reminded of some valuable travel lessons!
We left the hotel at 6.15am to head out on a cruise to swim with the dolphins – something I have wanted to do for as long as I remember. Even as a really little girl I was in awe of dolphins so words can’t really describe my excitement levels as we left the hotel and made the 90 minute drive to the boat.
The view was stunning as we set out to find the dolphins. I would really love to post a photo for you but hotel wifi is telling me NO… I will post a picture blog when we get home.

There was a group of about 15 boats about 300m offshore. We saw them and thought we would just sail straight past them, but instead we joined the,. At this point we figured the drivers would just have a quick word to each other, perhaps trade a couple of tips and co-ordinate their movements so we weren’t all in the same area, but it turned out they had spotted a dolphin and so we joined the chase too. Next thing we knew we had 16 boats (that’s approximately 160 people) chasing this one lone dolphin, trying to corner it so it wouldn’t escape.

I was disgusted and when our driver saw that I was visibly upset, he laughed in my face.

I tried to get in the water even though I didn’t want to be near the dolphin as I didn’t want to add to the problem, but I had been given faulty snorkelling gear. By the time it was fixed, the driver told me I was too slow and was no longer allowed to get in. (‘Yelled at’ is more appropriate than ‘told’, to be honest.)

Eventually the dolphin managed to escape and Logan and I cheered for him. The poor thing was probably already in a pickle because his pod were nowhere to be found, and here were 160+ humans with loud boats chasing him, jumping on him, yelling, splashing and trying to disorient him.
So all in all we paid a very large amount of money to feel disappointed, upset, belittled, exhausted and ripped off, not to mention how cruel we were to the dolphin.
Every cloud has a silver lining though… We made two lovely South African friends. We will attempt the dolphin swim again but this time, with a lot more research behind us. Lesson learnt!

Tomorrow we are sailing a catamaran to Ile aux Cerfs; hopefully we have better luck.