OnSafari: OnVacation

OnSafari: OnVacation

The trip ended in the &Beyond Phinda Private Reserve at their Mountain Lodge. This is spectacularly beautiful country, and at the moment it’s lush and fresh. The massive estate is located in the rolling hills about 30 miles north of the Indian Ocean on the far eastern side of the country.

But this is not truly big game country. Like almost all private reserves in South Africa, an artificial “big game” ecology was created over 2-3 decades by bringing in animals then very carefully managing their balance between one another. It’s a South African art.

Attention to luxury accommodation and extraordinary customer service compensates for the lack of wildness. People who travel to these reserves truly come for a vacation, not an adventure.

And that’s what we were delivered in spades. Mountain Lodge is situated at one of the highest points in the reserve.

Each individual “room” was a small house onto itself. There is a long, narrow entryway with shelves and wardrobes, safes and writing tables. From there you walk into a very large bedroom beautifully furnished with antique photographs, stylish lighting, animal throw-rugs and several comfortable chairs.

Step down several stairs to a small but very comfortable little room with a sofa, cocktail table, well-stocked bar and then the entry onto the deck.

Or turn into the massive bathroom which includes double sinks, a huge four-claw tub, large shower and separate W.C.

The entire back of the house is glass. Glass doors open from the bathroom to the deck which begins from the small sunken room adjacent the bedroom.

The gorgeous deck includes typical patio furniture, an outdoor shower and private plunge swimming pool.

Each of the 27 houses are so perfectly designed and situated that they are completely private, encased with beautiful, thick landscaping but always allowing a fantastic view onto the bushveld below. Mine extended all the way to the Indian Ocean.

“Game drives” are standard fare but the results are rather tame. Almost every animal imaginable will be seen, but none are truly wild, most of them born in other such private reserves. This has radically altered natural wild behavior.

All of the many rhino, for example, are darted and dehorned to prevent poaching, but this is a very controversial action that virtually all field scientists and managers of big game national parks contest.

Although the 80,000~ acres allows for a variety of habitats and some truly spectacular rolling scenery which includes ponds, forests and some meadows, it’s still contained and too small for wild cat behavior. As a result the many leopard and half dozen cheetah are almost pets and the single lion family is undergoing extraordinary trauma as two Kalahari male lions were recently introduced to prevent further inbreeding.

What remains wild and spectacularly beautiful are the birds. All, of course, were here before. None were introduced or managed as with the animals. It is one of the richest avifauna areas in South Africa with nearly 500 separate species.

On my game drives we experienced some extraordinary sightings including the blue-crested turaco whose crazy splashes of color are indicative of the extreme bird beauty found here.

Some of the group spent their last day along the Indian Ocean in the iSimangaliso National Park. This truly wild reserve prohibits off-road driving and like most of Africa’s big game parks has a variety of other restrictions on visitors, which private reserves relax nearly completely.

As a result my clients didn’t feel that the short overland drive in the reserve was very successful, but they all loved the boat cruise on the St. Lucia estuary encountering dozens of hippos. They also loved the private picnic arranged on the park’s beautiful white sand beach and swimming in the Indian Ocean!

Stay tuned a couple days from now for my South African trip summaries.