Phinda Vlei Lodge
Phinda Private Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
of KwaZulu-Natal Reserves
View images of Phinda Vlei
Lodge: Phinda Vlei
PHINDA VLEI LODGE RATES: Phinda Vlei Lodge Rates
LODGE - PHINDA PRIVATE GAME RESERVE
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
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
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.
of strategic conservation land: working towards
of incorporating the Phinda
area within a Greater St. Lucia Reserve.
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
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.
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"
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"
as Best Hotel for Wildlife Enthusiasts by Town & Country,
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
images of Phinda Vlei Lodge, click Phinda
of thatch, teak and glass built on stilts overlook
Phinda Vlei Lodge's unique "vlei" or
pan system. On the verge of a forest, this century-old
wetland wilderness is a favourite roaming ground
of lightning-fast cheetah.
suites, crafted from local materials of thatch,
teak and glass, are suspended above the Sand Forest
floor. The air-conditioned suites overlook a natural
vlei system. The airy double bedrooms have en-suite
bathrooms with a bath and shower. You can enjoy
a romantic candlelit dinner on your outdoor viewing
deck or cool down in your private plunge pool.
Interiors: The suites
feature ethnic fabrics, hand-crafted cane and timber-framed
panels. The décor is a subtle blend of North
and West African styles with hints of Balinese influences.
The unique architectural design creates the illusion
that no man-made structure exists between you and
the African wilderness.
Living Spaces: The
reception, lounge and bar areas of this secluded
lodge overlook a tranquil vlei (wetland pan). The
shaded terrace is a superb vantage point for bird-watching.
The lounge has a fireplace, books and a well-stocked
dining area overlooks the expanse of grassy vlei.
Delicious Pan-African cuisine is served in sumptuous
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 makes for a truly appetising experience.
Phinda is renowned for its elegant bush breakfasts.
Read through the lengthy list of activities possible
during a stay at one of Phinda's four lodges:
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.
Eggs: A performance millions of
years old is staged annually on the beaches of
coast near Phinda – the breeding ground for
the giant Leatherback and rare Loggerhead Turtles.
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.
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
colors of chameleons, admire an intricate spider
web or listen to a story about wild animal
tracks left in the sand. For those interested
you may chance on a rock encrusted with shells
exposed in an eroded gully. Not surprising,
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.
River Canoeing: You
set off with your armed ranger in the early
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
heading back with us to Phinda.
Diary of a
the Dumuzulu Cultural Village is always worthwhile,
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..."
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
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
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…"
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
"…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 Safaris: You can explore the underwater kaleidoscope
that rivals the Great Barrier Reef on this adventure
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
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
Diary of a
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…"
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
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…"
offers a selection of wildlife books, magazines
them on cosy nights or in quiet moments between adventures.
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.
The elegant Vlei Lodge affords a bird’s eye view
of Phinda's unique "vlei" or pan system.
These wetlands are at the edge of a forest.
the plains just beyond the vlei are buffalo, black
and white rhino, elephant, giraffe, impala, zebra
and wildebeest. Lion, leopard, cheetah, and hyena
stalk their prey while hippo – those amphibious
nocturnal lawnmowers – wallow in their mud
are located on the forest edge – a
favourite roaming ground of the rarely-seen suni,
kudu and cheetah – efficient hunters that favour
more open areas. Spotted genets, porcupines and bush
babies awaken under cover of darkness.
Bay, east of Phinda, Whale Shark, Moray Eel,
Leatherback and Loggerhead
Turtle, crab, starfish
and nudibranch make their home in the warm Indian
Ocean waters. 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
kaleidoscopic array of approximately 400 species
of birds adorn
the skies over Phinda – Pied and Pygmy Kingfishers,
Goliath Herons, Great White Egrets, the elusive
Purple Gallinule, Pygmy Goose, African Fish Eagle
and White-faced "Whistling" Duck. Giant
Eagle Owls and Nightjars come alive at night.
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 mingling with
from temperate zones.
and Insects: Nile
Crocodile swim through lakes and pools.
Lodge is surrounded by wetlands and grass plains,
bordering a unique Sand Forest. Impressive groves
of ghostly yellow Fever Trees dominate the floodplains
on both banks of the perennial Mzinene River.
location, a combination of true African bushveld
coastline, means you are offered a unique "bush-beach" adventure.
A variety of habitats ensures a wonderfully diverse
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.
unique Sand Forest, which is found only in Maputaland
is of major significance. The wetland habitats, including
the Mzinene River and Mziki Marsh add to this exceptional
The chalets overlook a wet marshland on the edge of
a tranquil woodland. Wetland habitats add great diversity
to the reserve.
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