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South Africa Safari

Phinda Mountain Lodge

Phinda Private Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Outside Lounge Area at Phinda Mountain Lodge
Return to Map of KwaZulu-Natal Reserves

View images of Phinda Mountain Lodge: Phinda Mountain Images

PHINDA MOUNTAIN LODGE RATES: Phinda Mountain Lodge Rates

Face-to-face with lions and rhino after breakfast, up close to a Whale Shark or battling sailfish after lunch. That's the Phinda experience, one of the most exciting safari destinations in Africa. Located between the azure waters of the Indian Ocean and the lush waterways of the World Heritage Greater Saint Lucia Wetland Park, Phinda's 17 000 hectares span seven unique ecosystems.

Nestled below the Lebombo Mountains of Northern KwaZulu-Natal, Phinda is a Zulu word meaning "the return". In one of the biggest reintroductions of game in Africa, Phinda was restocked with lion, rhino, buffalo, elephant, leopard, giraffe and other big game in an operation dubbed "phinda izilwane", return of the wild animals.

The Phinda Story
The story of Phinda Private Game Reserve started almost a decade ago with the consolidation of over 17,000 hectares of prime game viewing land. The restoration fitted perfectly with CC Africa's objectives: consolidating degraded and undervalued land assets; rehabilitating and restocking the land; creating rural wealth and generating financial returns through ecotourism.

The project initially involved the consolidation of 7,500 hectares of key farmland between the Mkuzi Game Reserve and Sodwana State Forest Reserve, just north of Lake St. Lucia. This land had been coveted by conservation bodies for incorporation within the planned Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park, one of the most diverse wilderness areas in Africa. In 1991 a further 6,000 hectares was purchased by CC Africa for incorporation within Phinda, accompanied by one of the biggest game restocking exercises undertaken on private land in South Africa. Care was also taken for the landscape - for example, during the building of Phinda Forest Lodge in a rare sand forest, not a single tree was uprooted.

Phinda Achievements
• Protection of strategic conservation land: working towards the prospect of incorporating the Phinda area within a Greater St. Lucia Reserve.
• Protection of ecological biodiversity: one of the most striking aspects of Phinda is its enormous range of niches for animals and plants to thrive.
• Ecological restoration: the ecological rehabilitation program aimed to repair the damage caused by decades of inappropriate farming.
• Game restocking: over 1,500 head of game were introduced and the reserve now has the largest privately owned population of nyala in the world. Phinda was the site of the first adult elephant translocation from Zimbabwe's Gonarezhou Game Reserve. In 1994, a breeding herd of elephants was successfully translocated to Phinda from the Kruger National Park. The big cat population has also increased significantly at Phinda - the cheetah numbers have more than doubled since their reintroduction in 1991. In 1996 two Phinda cheetah were swapped with the Pilanesberg for two of their Namibian-translocated cheetah in an effort to further enhance the Phinda cat gene pool. A further 13 lions were relocated to other reserves to supplement the depleted lion stocks and introduce new genes.

The Return
" Phinda was born out of a belief that the beauty of Maputaland was worth saving from the spiral of destruction into which it has been drawn. Its first target was to repair habitat damaged by almost a century of cattle farming, to return the wildlife which had once roamed the Maputaland plain, and to build luxury, world-class destinations for visitors without whom there would not be a viable plan. The second task was to reconnect the rural communities with the land by giving people the opportunity to participate at every level in sustainable conservation development by providing employment, training and the infrastructure for small business development." - Dave Varty, Founder of CC Africa, from "The Return - The Story of Phinda Game Reserve"

"In a single decade, the reserve on the Maputaland coastal plain had become a model of what could happen all over Africa. Once again nature had the upper hand." - Molly Buchanan, Author of "The Return - The Story of Phinda Game Reserve"

• Chosen as Best Hotel for Wildlife Enthusiasts by Town & Country, January 2001
• Listed among the 101 best hotels in the world in UK Tatler's Travel Guide 2001
• All four lodges are members of Small Luxury Hotels of the World
• Voted by Association of Southern African Travel Agents (Asata) as "Best Game Lodge in Southern Africa" (1998)
• Winner of British Airways' "Tourism for Tomorrow" Award (S.Hemisphere) (1998)

Accommodation            For images of Phinda Mountain Lodge, click Phinda Mountain Images
The subtle combination of avant garde and ethnic décor at Phinda Mountain Lodge is inspiring... but nothing surpasses the view of the ash-blue Lebombo Mountains as they sweep down to the coastal plains.

Chalets: Mountain Lodge has 20 air-conditioned chalets with private decks and en-suite bathrooms with bath and shower. Paved pathways lead down the mountainside from the main lodge to the chalets.

Interiors: A subtly executed blend of avant-garde and ethnic décor captures the alluring bushveld spirit in each room.

Living Spaces: The bar, shaded terrace and main lounge open onto cool verandahs with serene views of the Lebombo Mountains. You will be treated to authentic African hospitality at the reception area and curio shop. Or you may choose to take a refreshing dip in the shaded swimming pool. You can linger on the lookout deck, built for relaxation, bird and game watching.

Lunch is served on the shaded terrace, patio or dining room. Dinners in the dramatic open-air boma (enclosed reeded area) can be relished under starlit African skies.

Bush Banquets: Dinners are served in a clearing in the bush under a star-studded sky. The incredible effort, the spectacular settings, visual impact and fairytale atmosphere of dining under the stars make for a truly appetising experience. Phinda is renowned for its elegant bush breakfasts.

Phinda's conference facility is situated at Mountain Lodge. The well-equipped conference room holds 70 people and is air-conditioned. It is ideal for small management seminars and think tanks. You can also make use of the executive meeting room.

Read through the lengthy list of activities possible during a stay at one of Phinda's four lodges:

Close Encounters: Life at Phinda is one adventure after another – you can take a visit to a Zulu cultural village, explore fossil finds en route to a magical private picnic or roam the richly diverse habitats of the waterways in canoes or riverboats. In neighboring Mkuzi Game Reserve, you can track rhino on foot in the care of an experienced ranger. Bush walks offer close encounters with the subtleties of nature and information on the traditional legends and uses of plants.

Buried Turtle Eggs: A performance millions of years old is staged annually on the beaches of the east coast near Phinda – the breeding ground for the giant Leatherback and rare Loggerhead Turtles.

Game Drives: Twice a day, you may take a game drive in an open Land Rover. An experienced ranger will reveal the sights and sounds of wild Zululand. Set off early, soon after sunrise or in the later afternoon in an open Land Rover, to explore the rich tapestry of life that inhabits Phinda. Your experienced game ranger or tracker carries a wealth of knowledge and will describe the habits and behavior of diverse animals, from the nyala antelope to the graceful giraffe, the tiny red duiker or the rare suni antelope. There will be plenty of prime viewing opportunities of big game such as lion, elephant, cheetah, leopard, white rhino and buffalo.

At sunset, an entirely different world unfolds. Nocturnal bird and animal species - Giant Eagle Owls, nightjars, spotted genets, hyenas, porcupines and bush babies emerge.

Rhino Tracking: Experience the quiet thrill of tracking white rhino on foot, (advanced booking is required.) Armed trackers are familiar with the favored haunts of the resident rhino and chances of sightings are good. Dunghills, fresh browsing sites and evidence around drinking points or wallows are among the clues assisting in the search.

Interpretive Walks: On interpretive bush walks, you can see close-up the fragile wings of dragonflies, experience the changing colors of chameleons, admire an intricate spider web or listen to a story about wild animal tracks left in the sand. For those interested in geology, you may chance on a rock encrusted with shells exposed in an eroded gully. Not surprising, as thousands of years ago, the entire area was once part of the sea bed.

But perhaps most beautiful of all are the songs of the birds. Once you recognise the call of a Bush Shrike or a Narina Trogon, you will know where to look for these intriguing species.

Nature walks from Forest, Mountain, Vlei and Rock Lodges are led by armed rangers who will guide you through the Phinda Sand Forests or the mountain bushveld.

Maptualand Birding: The southern-most sector of Maputaland is dominated by the vast expanse of Lake St Lucia. Further north, the intricate Pongola, Mkuze and Mzinene Rivers, the Muzi and Ensumo pans, Kosi lakes and Lake Sibaya form a network of fresh and saline waterways.

These wetlands attract a larger variety of birds than can be found in the Kruger National Park. Over 450 bird species have been recorded in Maputaland, making it a birding paradise. Many rare birds inhabit the region - the Palmnut Vulture, African Finfoot, Narina Trogon, Neergaards Sunbird, Pink-throated Twinspot and African Broadbill - as well as an amazing array of waterbirds such as flamingo, pelican, sandpiper, jacana, tern, heron, spoonbill and gallinule.

Whether you explore Phinda's Sand Forest and pan systems on foot or travel further afield by vehicle, an expert ranger will help you discover the region's extraordinary and unforgettable birdlife.

Mzinene River Canoeing: You set off with your armed ranger in the early morning or mid afternoon for a leisurely drive in an open Land Rover towards the Mzinene river. You embark in sturdy Canadian canoes for a paddle along the river, flanked by dense riverine vegetation and huge Fever and Sycamore Fig Trees.

In your canoe, you have the opportunity to explore the quiet backwaters of this river, which are reminiscent of a mini Okavango Delta. You can catch sight of a kingfisher poised on a reed swaying in the breeze, watch African Jacanas as they wander across lily pads, or catch sight of a Goliath Heron flying low across the water.

You can glide to a quiet bank for a cool drink in the shade of the forest, where your ranger will reveal the secret lives of the river bank inhabitants. Afterwards, you may be treated to a lavish bush breakfast or sundowners on the bank of the river.

Mzinene River Boat Cruises: There is no more peaceful way to start or end your day at Phinda than with a leisurely cruise on the Mzinene river. A game drive with your game ranger in an open Land Rover takes you down to the river, where you board the Phinda river boat. Breakfast or late afternoon sundowners and snacks are served as the boat winds its way along the reed-lined river. On its banks, Fever Trees, gnarled fig trees and acacias provide nesting places for the 200 or more water birds that inhabit this riverine system.

Watched by prehistoric crocodiles or an inquisitive hippo, you can catch sight of Pied and Pygmy Kingfishers, Goliath Herons, Great White Egrets, the elusive Purple Gallinule, Spurwing Geese and African Jacanas. You may listen to the call of the African Fish Eagle as it swoops above the river in the early morning. In the evening, you can listen out for the magical sounds of African Nightjar and White-faced "whistling" Ducks, punctuated by raucous sound of Hadeda birds flying overhead. In the soft light of dawn or dusk, there is ample opportunity to photograph these birds at close quarters around their roosting sites.

Deep-sea Fishing Expeditions: Leave your lodge at first light for an air transfer to nearby Mbazwane and to Sodwana Bay, a fisherman's paradise. After a short transfer in an open vehicle, you are met by your skipper, and board a six metre ski boat, fully rigged for all bill and game fishing with ten international reels and custom-built rods. Off the shores of the Maputaland coastland, you try your hand at hooking the Indian ocean's most exciting big game fish. You may be lucky enough to hook Blue Marlin, Black Marlin, shark or sailfish, among the numerous bottom and game fish found in this stretch of Indian Ocean.

At the end of the day, you bounce back through the waves with the launch and take with you memories of the exhilarating adventure of pitting your wits against the ocean's great creatures. Phinda advises that guests follow tag and release procedures to promote the conservation of Maputaland's marine life.

Zulu Cultural Village: You can visit a nearby Zulu Cultural Village, an intriguing cultural experience that will give you an insight into the traditional lifestyle and customs of the Zulu people. During the 45 minute show, you will be treated to the vigorous war-like dancing for which the Zulu nation is renowned.

Afterwards, you will have time to examine a range of Zulu artefacts, from clay, pottery and baskets, to colourful beadwork, spears and cowhide shields. Explore the low beehive huts of the Zulus and sample their traditional beer before heading back with us to Phinda.

Diary of a Trip: "…visiting the Dumuzulu Cultural Village is always worthwhile, especially for foreign visitors. Even though you are on a guided tour of a recreated village, the information is good and provides fascinating insights into Zulu culture. The dancing at the end of the show always gets the heart rate pumping, the energy and rhythm is something you can never tire of. I reckon a half hour of dancing to the frenetic drum beat will do more for you than a two hour session at the gym and I guarantee you'd have a huge smile on your face afterwards!"

Horse Riding: Diary of a Trip: "…the riding is fantastic, some wide curving paths allow for a good canter before we break off to explore a narrow track through some Sand Forest. Then down to the lake as we make our way back to the picnic spot on the water's edge. False Bay Park is looking beautiful..."

"…the edges of the lake are now a thick green carpet that the horses roll and play in after the ride. Good fun and good exercise on well-schooled horses makes this another of Phinda's most popular adventures."

"Flight of the Fish Eagle" Air Safari: This exceptional air safari is Phinda's most popular adventure. You board your Phinda aircraft in the morning to soar for an hour over the breathtaking Maputaland wilderness. Your pilot guides you over Phinda, the community areas and the region's pans and coastal lakes - Muzi pan, Lake St. Lucia and Lake Sibaya.

Above Lake St. Lucia, the most spectacular natural saltwater estuary in Africa, you see great flocks of pelican and flamingo. While flying above Lake Sibaya, the largest freshwater lake in Southern Africa, you spot crocodiles and hippos in the clear water. Sightseeing by air is a unique and thrilling way to discover the extent of Maputaland's remarkable ecological diversity, from the freshwater lakes to the most tightly forested coastal dunes in the world.

The highlight of your flight is your ascent over these high dunes to the unspoilt Maputaland coastline and clear blue Indian Ocean. Here, amongst the dark outline of coral reefs, dolphins, turtles and Whale Sharks are frequently sighted.

Diary of a Trip: "…while flying over Mziki Marsh in the northern part of Phinda, guests watched a cheetah chase and jump on the back of a young wildebeest. They also spotted a male lion nearby, and subsequently heard from the rangers that the lion had stolen the cheetah's kill. Some days later, four cheetah were again spotted from the air, as well as the usual wildebeest, zebra, and rhino…"

"…rafts of hippos are often seen while flying over the Muzi pans and Lake Sibaya, as well as a plentiful supply of pelicans. We usually observe these birds from the ground as they circle in a slow, synchronized flight. So watching this performance from above is a unique experience. You feel for a moment as if you are as free as they are because you are with them, sharing their perspective on the world below..."

"…flying over the Sodwana Bay Reserve and St Lucia Wetlands Park areas always guarantees sightings of reedbuck, their paths forming a spaghetti network through the reeds. These swamp areas are dotted with little pans and Ilala Palms and copses of trees. On a particular midday air safari, with the sun directly overhead, guests have been treated to views of the reefs, divers, Whale Sharks and whales (humpback and southern right), as they dive into deeper waters. The sea is a myriad shade of blue and is crystal clear. Dolphins dart through the breakers like mini torpedoes and the dark shapes of turtles move through the water…"

SCUBA diving at PhindaMaputaland Scuba Safaris: You can explore the underwater kaleidoscope that rivals the Great Barrier Reef on this adventure to Maputaland's beautiful coral reefs, the southern-most in the world. Available to guests with an international diving qualification, this scuba safari takes you to one of six selected reefs off Sodwana Bay, the diving Mecca of Southern Africa.

You board your Phinda aircraft for the 15-minute flight to Mbazwane, a short distance from Sodwana Bay. An open vehicle meets you and transfers you onto the beach and to your waiting launch. Your ranger and dive master will assist you as you don your equipment. All diving gear, including tanks and air, is supplied. Next head out into the breakers, destined for two mile, seven mile or nine mile reefs. Diving at depths ranging from 18-30 metres, you are assured of an adventure of a lifetime.

Underwater, you glide past Moray Eels, Leatherback and Loggerhead Turtles, Whale Sharks, Giant Potato Bass and a profusion of reef fish, breathtaking in their rainbow of colours. An estimated 1,200 species of fish swim along this coastline, where tropical species from the north mingle with fish from temperate zones.

Diary of a Trip: "…the water visibility has been excellent and there is much excitement when the boat returns. People are thrilled by the colourfulness of the reefs and the fish and one guest described how he swam amongst a huge school of Bluebanded Snappers (one of the most colourful of the species). Imagine being totally surrounded by vivid blue and yellow stripes while you are suspended in the water - a very surreal experience..."

"…huge Marbled Leopardgroupers (a type of Rockcod), showing their deep blue margins on fins and tail, swam inquisitively towards the divers as they passed through its territory. Humpback Snappers and Flame Goatfish were also abundant as well as the various trigger and parrot fish. Seeing electric blue nudibranchs and a Green Turtle were also highlights…"

"…we encountered Spinner Dolphins in the waters here. These slender creatures, with their long, thin beaks are dramatically acrobatic. They perform incredible aerial movements as they twist, somersault and spin in high leaps through the waves…"

Maputaland Beach Adventures: Beach trips have been a highlight of many a visit to Phinda, where guests often have the whole coastline to themselves. Several guests have even commented that the beach is the most magnificent they have ever experienced.

The pristine beaches of Maputaland are unique in their beauty and splendid isolation. The beaches are home to scurrying Ghost Crabs and their followers - flocks of gulls, terns and plovers. The extraordinary diversity of aquatic life includes some 1,200 species of tropical and subtropical fish - closely rivalling Australia's Great Barrier Reef for species diversity.

We invite you to board Phinda's own aircraft for a spectacular 15 minute flight to the nearby Maputaland coastline. Your pilot will point out the scenic attractions below - Lake St Lucia, Muzi pan and Lake Sibaya. After landing at the airstrip, we take the short transfer in open vehicle to the unspoilt Maputaland beaches. From Sodwana Bay, your ranger will drive you along the beach between the low and high water line, south towards peaceful Kingfisher Bay, or north towards spectacular Mbibi. Alternatively, we drive through richly vegetated dunes to destinations such as Lala Neck for thrilling swimming and snorkelling.

Your time is your own to explore the rocky pools renowned for their excellent snorkelling, swim in the clear warm Indian Ocean or simply laze on wide deserted beaches. A lavish picnic breakfast or lunch, depending on the time of day, is served before you board your plane for the return trip to the lodge.

Diary of a Trip: "…the sea was incredibly playful, so body surfing was fun. We flew kites, snorkelled and walked along the shores, our footsteps being the first to mark the sand. The Yellow-billed Kites were back - what a treat to hear them call and watch them manoeuvre in the wind about 20 metres away. We also stopped at Lake Sibaya to marvel at the expanse of clear water set against the backdrop of the huge vegetated sand dunes…"

Library: Phinda offers a selection of wildlife books, magazines and videos. Spend hours enjoying them on cosy nights or in quiet moments between adventures.

Landscape: Phenomenally diverse landscapes lie within Phinda's borders. The reserve spans rocky hillsides, mountainous regions, verdant wetland "vleis", perennial and seasonal rivers, marshland, pans and distinctive wooded Sand Forest.

Mountain Lodge rises high above Phinda's wetland paradise. The ash-blue silhouette of the Lebombo Mountains is an awesome backdrop to the exquisite Lake St Lucia coastal plains.

Game: Mammals such as the mountain reedbuck and chacma baboon are most at home among rocks, but almost all larger mammals will move up and around the hills from time to time. African elephant frequently climb in search of delicacies such as Rock Cabbage Tree leaves and bark.

Phinda Mountain Lodge has an unsurpassed view of the unique bushveld vista. Buffalo, white rhino, elephant, giraffe, impala, zebra and wildebeest roam the plains while lion, leopard, cheetah, and hyena await their turn in the shadows. Amphibious hippo enjoy the plentiful water pools and lakes and shy nyala antelope feed on the tufts of grass between rocky outcrops. Spotted genets, porcupines and bush babies (galago) awaken under cover of darkness.

The warm Indian Ocean coast near Phinda is the home of Whale Shark, Moray Eel, Leatherback and Loggerhead Turtle, crab, starfish and iridescent nudibranch. Unlike the reefs of the Caribbean, the Maldives or the Great Barrier Reef – which are composed wholly of coral – the reefs at Sodwana are made of rock colonised by solitary coral species.

Birds: An array of approximately 400 species of birds adorn the skies - Pied and Pygmy Kingfishers, Goliath Herons, Great White Egrets, the elusive Purple Gallinule, Pygmy Goose, African Fish Eagle and White-Faced "Whistling" Duck.

Some common birds around Mountain Lodge are the White-bellied Sunbird, Black-eyed Bulbul, Purple-crested Lourie (Turaco), Scarlet-chested Sunbird and White-throated Robin. Giant Eagle Owls and Nightjars awaken at night.

Fish: A short drive from Phinda – or an even shorter flight – and you’re on the shores of the warm Indian Ocean – home to a dazzling underwater ecosystem. On the reefs of Sodwana, the marine species diversity rivals that of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Dazzling schools of colourful fish (some 1,200 species) are to be found, due to the northern tropical species mingle with fish from temperate zones.

Reptilers and Insects: Nile Crocodile swim through the abundant lakes and pools. Lizards and other reptiles are common on rocky hillsides – while agamas, skinks (elongated lizards) and geckos are all at home on the buildings of Mountain Lodge.

Flora: On the highest point, Broadleaved Camphor and Rock Cabbage are distinctive, while Largeleaved Rock Fig and Redleaved Rock Fig grow in rock crevices. At Mountain Lodge, large Mountain Aloe and Common Coral Tree brighten up the winter landscape with their colourful blooms.

Impressive groves of ghostly yellow Fever Trees dominate the floodplains on both banks of the perennial Mzinene River.

Habitats: Phinda's location, a combination of true African bushveld with the close-by Maputaland coastline, means you are offered a unique "bush-beach" adventure. A variety of habitats ensures a wonderfully diverse wildlife experience.

What differentiates Phinda from other safari destinations is the reserve's seven different ecosystems. These are very obvious and unusual. Inside the borders of a single reserve lies a mosaic of varied habitats such as ilala palm, savannah, montane grasslands, riverine forest, acacia thornveld, Sand Forest, open grassland and natural pan systems.

The botanically unique Sand Forest, which is found only in Maputaland and Southern Moçambique, is of major significance. The wetland habitats, including the Mzinene River and Mziki Marsh add to this exceptional diversity.

Mountain Lodge is situated where the tail-end of the Lebombo Mountains breaks up into a series of hills rising above the savannah. The vegetation of the hills differs from the surrounding areas, with many plant species confined to these rocky slopes.


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