​Expert Reviews – Phinda GR

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Emma Gregg   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: October

Emma is an award-winning travel writer for Rough Guides, National Geographic Traveller, Travel Africa magazine and The Independent.

10 people found this review helpful.

Much more than just a superb Big Five reserve
Overall rating

If you’ve already ticked off the Big Five, at least once, then the mere fact that Phinda harbours elephants, leopards, lions, buffalo and rhino may not be enough to attract you. But there’s a world of difference between seeing these magnificent animals in the drier regions further north and seeing them in Phinda’s lush surroundings.

This famous private reserve reserve encompasses a supremely rich variety of habitats including vivid subtropical woodlands, grasslands, mountains and wetlands, and it lies close to the Indian Ocean coast, making it every bit as interesting to the tree and plant enthusiast in me as to the wildlife enthusiast. Another feature which, to me, makes Phinda stand out is the fact that it’s a great place to see cheetahs and rare antelopes such as nyalas and red duikers.

It’s also a tremendous bonus that it’s owned and managed by &Beyond, a company that is wholeheartedly committed to sustainable tourism and community responsibility. Its lodges, though pricey and, in the case of Rock Lodge, a little eccentric (its “hacienda-style” rooms remind me a bit of children’s sandcastles), are comfortable and sympathetic to the environment, and there’s a host of activities on offer.

Philip Briggs   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Multiple times

Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.

7 people found this review helpful.

Big Five viewing in Zululand
Overall rating

KwaZulu-Natal’s answer to Sabi Sands is Phinda Game Reserve, an exclusive 230km2/89mi2 private reserve. It offers world-class Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo) viewing on guided game drives in open 4x4s. The drives are based out of a handful of stylish small lodges that represent the ultimate in safari chic. Phinda seldom disappoints when it comes to the Big Five. While leopard sightings are somewhat erratic, it is one of a handful of African reserves where the endangered black rhino can be tracked down with reasonable ease. It also offers some of the finest cheetah viewing I’ve had anywhere, and all the wildlife is very habituated. Guiding standards are also very high. Although it is the Big Five that attracts most first-time safari-goers, the reserve protects an interesting diversity of more localized habitats. Of note is a tract of rare sand forest, where the secretive suni antelope and red duiker can be seen. Localized birds are also found here, such as African broadbill, Narina trogon, Neergard’s sunbird and green twinspot pink-throated twinspot. Birders keen to make the most of this opportunity should book into Forest Lodge. All these species can be seen along the network of footpaths that connect the rooms to the main dining area.

Kim Wildman   –  
Australia AU
Visited: Multiple times

Kim is a travel writer who authored and updated over 15 guidebooks, including Lonely Planet's South Africa and Bradt's Tanzania guides.

6 people found this review helpful.

Big cat country
Overall rating

KwaZulu-Natal’s top spot for game viewing is without a doubt Phinda Private Game Reserve. For a relatively small park it harbours a huge diversity of wildlife and sightings are virtually guaranteed. It’s also one of the best places to see Africa’s big cats. Lion and leopard are plentiful and thanks to the careful reintroduction of cheetah into the area after 50 years of absence, you can now watch these magnificent cats play and hunt in the wild. During my last trip I had an incredible up-close night encounter with a leopard and the next day spied a cheetah hiding with her cubs in the long grass. What an amazing experience! But it’s not just the cats that make Phinda so special. Herds of elephants, buffalo, giraffe, wildebeest, giraffe and zebra roam the reserve along with thousands of antelope, black and white rhinos and hippos.

Ariadne van Zandbergen   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Multiple times

Ariadne is a renowned African wildlife photographer whose work is featured in many well-known guidebooks and magazines.

5 people found this review helpful.

The cheetahs of Phinda
Overall rating

Phinda Game Reserve is a well-known &Beyond reserve in the heart of KwaZulu-Natal. The quality of wildlife viewing is on a par with what you can expect in the prestigious Sabi Sands Game Reserve. However, Phinda is fully fenced, unlike Sabi Sands, which is part of the Greater Kruger ecosystem with open borders. Early morning and afternoon game drives are centered on finding the Big Five. Leopard sightings are hit-and-miss but, for me, this is more than compensated for by the amazing cheetah encounters I’ve had here. The quality of guiding is excellent and even birders tend to be well-catered for. There are six &Beyond lodges on the property, each with a unique feel and setting but all offering the highest standard of service and food. My favorite is Forest Lodge, tucked away in a special patch of rare sand forest. It is home to unusual birds and mammals such as the diminutive suni antelope which can be found scurrying around the undergrowth.

Stephen Cunliffe   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: July and September

Stephen is a travel writer and avid conservationist whose work appears in prestigious magazines such as Africa Geographic and Travel Africa.

4 people found this review helpful.

Wildlife Wonderland
Overall rating

The exclusive 23,000 hectare Phinda Private Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal is the setting for one of South Africa’s finest wildlife-viewing experiences. What the reserve lacks in terms of true wilderness appeal is more than compensated for by its reliable and diverse wildlife sightings and quality nature-guiding experience.

Home to all of the Big Five (as well as the endangered black rhino and cheetah), quality wildlife viewing is all but guaranteed at Phinda, while the professional &Beyond guides enhance the interpretive safari experience with their vast bush knowledge and enthusiasm for the natural environment.

Comprising woodland, grassland, wetland and forest, interspersed with mountain ranges, river courses, marshes and pans, Phinda is a small but scenically diverse wildlife sanctuary and birding hot spot (415 bird species have been recorded to date) that offers a genuinely luxurious bush escape to safari goers looking to notch up some quality wildlife encounters without having to sacrifice on any of their creature comforts.

Dale R Morris   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: August

Dale is a multi-award-winning writer and photographer with more than 500 published magazine articles featured in magazines such as National Geographic, BBC Wildlife, Travel Africa, and CNN Travel.

1 person found this review helpful.

Lush and Green
Overall rating

The impala jumped out of the bushes, narrowly missing a collision with our safari vehicle, and then stumbled and fell. Hot on her heels was a cheetah.

Things didn’t end well for the poor impala, and as the ‘Circle of Life’ Lion King movie song played through my mind, the diminutive antelope took its last breath.

For the rest of that morning, we watched this beautiful cat, and her three little cubs, dine heartily. I felt like I was in a David Attenborough documentary, with a front-row seat.

Phinda is a privately owned nature reserve in KZN, situated in the lush green bush that typifies this province of South Africa. Some might bemoan the restricted views that the tropical vegetation can cause, but the guides who work out of the six lodges on the reserve all know exactly where to find all the most exciting creatures.

The Big Five are pretty much guaranteed, but you will also see plenty of other animals, including the typically hard-to-find pangolin if you sign up for one of their ‘Pangolin Conservation Experiences’.

Walking with a researcher into the bush, tracking these weird and wonderful scaly creatures, was definitely a highlight for me.

Average Expert Rating

  • 4.5/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star 3
  • 4 star 3
  • 3 star 0
  • 2 star 0
  • 1 star 0
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