Posts filed under 'Africa'
My cousin Kimmy had been threatening Hails and I with a couple of nights up at Phinda Game Reserve (where she and her boyfriend Matt work) for ages and eventually things came together and we got to go. Its all last minute stuff – taking unbooked beds at one of the lodges, usually only with 48 hours notice. We had a time-window to deal with though so kept ourselves free and sure enough, an unbooked opening came up and we were off last Wednesday morning.
View of the main lodge from the deck outside.
HDR of our unit.
HDR of the view from the deck outside our “front door”.
Hails in the horizon pool checking out our view.
From Kloof it was about a 3.5 hour drive and we were super lucky that my dad lent us his Toyota bakkie (pickup truck or if you’re Australian a “Ute”) so it was a super comfortable drive up there. We were booked into Vlei Lodge, one of the most luxurious of the lodges in Phinda and as you can imagine – every kilometre we got closer our excitement levels went up accordingly.
Youtube video walkthrough of our room. If it doesn’t show up here, you can view it via this link.
When we arrived we handed over the keys to our car (you don’t even stop to unpack your bags or anything) and strolled over to the main lodge with the manager who had cold towels on hand to wipe away the grime from the drive (didn’t need hot towels – it was 31C in the shade!) and a glass of cold ginger ale for each of us. As soon as we had signed the indemnity forms we were welcome to make our way over to our private room. The manager walked us over and our bags had already been ferried over and were waiting in the walk in closet. But before I get side tracked, let me start the description of our accommodation from the beginning.
Dyl, hails and kimmy on an afternoon game drive.
White rhino mother and child.
Sundowners in the bush (from left to right Dyl and Kimmy, Barry our ranger and Thulani our tracker).
Vlei Lodge has only 6 units (so a maximum of 12 guests at a time), with a central main building housing the kitchen and our main dining area (with both indoor seating around a large fireplace for 12 or outdoor seating on the deck under a stand of acacia trees). All of the units are tucked away into the bush apart from each other ensuring maximum privacy, and the all open up onto different parts of the vlei (hence the name), ensuring maximum game viewing from your unit. They are thatch buildings with wood and glass walls, all raised up on wooden decks. Each unit has its own private horizon-flow pool, along with sun loungers and an outdoor sofa and table with chairs. Inside, the units are air-conditioned and have one of the biggest beds you’ll ever see (it uses two 3/4 double beds pushed together with custom bases, mattress quilts and linen to give the impression of one giant bed) – you can stretch across it horizontally and only just touch the edges with arms and legs fully stretched out! There’s a fully kitted up mini bar and a Bose ipod sound dock for your ipod if you want some background music. Off the bedroom is a huge bathroom with modern roll top bath, massive shower with huge picture windows opening up onto the vlei and bush, a toilet, his and hers basins and a large walk in closet. The bathroom also has a big sliding door out onto the deck and pool. Because of the extensive use of glass for walls, it feels like you’re in a luxury pod right in the middle of the bush – absolutely awesome!
Dinner with Hails, Kimmy and Matt.
Geoff the Genet coming the see what we’re having for dinner.
But you don’t go to a game reserve for the accommodation – you go for the game viewing so let me move onto that. At the lodge, guests are split into small groups of 2-3 couples with each group getting their own game ranger/driver and a tracker for the duration of their stay. There’s an early morning drive leaving at around 5:40AM with a coffee break out in the bush at around 8:00AM returning to the lodge around 10:00AM. A full breakfast is then served (continental + hot, pretty much anything you can think of for breakfast is up for grabs from homemade muesli’s and freshly baked bread for toast up to poached eggs with smoked salmon or crispy bacon and sausages – with everything in-between). You then get to have a siesta during the heat of the day, with “high tea” being served from 1:00PM till the afternoon game drive heads off at 4:00PM. As an example of a high tea menu, on our 2nd afternoon it included freshly grilled mozambican prawns with garlic sauce, mini onion beef burgers, mini vegetarian cheese burgers, a cold chick-pea salad, home fried potato and beetroot crisps, a cheese board with selection of spreads and sauces to compliment it, sliced biltong, various fresh seasonal fruit, custard doughnuts, ginger biscuits, lemon cake and then home made lemonade, ice coffee plus all the regular teas and coffees you can think of. Whew, where was I – oh yeah the afternoon drive. You head out at about 4:00PM, with sundowners out in the bush (once again with a full bar and various snacks all laid out on a picnic table with table cloth out in the bush somewhere) at around 6:30PM, then back usually around 8:00PM although can be a bit later if you see cool stuff on your night drive back in the dark. Full 3 course dinner is ready when you get back and after that its bed time for your early start the next morning!
Big male leopard we saw on the 2nd morning.
Big male lion who came to check us out.
Being a private game reserve you do all your game drives in their vehicles with the ranger and the tracker. It means you get to see a whole heap of cool stuff you probably would have missed, can ask a million and one questions about it all and best of all if the terrain allows it you can head off road to get a closer look at the animals. And boy did we get closer looks!
The mother lioness with her 2 cubs.
The definition of cute.
Highlights of our game viewing include being meters away from a mother and child pair of black rhinos, having a large male lion walk past the cars just meters away from where we were sitting (in standard issue roof-less, open sided game viewing vehicles), having a large male leopard walk past within arm’s reach during a night drive and best of all getting right up close to a pride of lions including a large male, 2 large females and 2 curious cubs only a month or two old who came just about right up to the vehicle just before sunset to check us out! Incredible! The park has just about all the animals you get in the area (just no wild dogs – the park isn’t big enough for a viable sized pack of them as they require a huge area for their “turf” and its cruel only introducing one or two of them) and we got to tick off all the big five within 12 hours of arriving! Even more impressive than the animals is if you’re a birder (or twitcher as they like to call themselves) – the park has an incredible variety of birds including some really rare species.
Yip, the leopard just walked right past us where we were partially pulled off the side of the road.
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On our last night the staff prepared our bathroom for us like this while we were at dinner – heaps of tea candles everywhere, a hot bubble bath and an ice bucket with bubbles and glasses for us to enjoy in the tub!
We had an awesome time driving around checking everything out and on both afternoons my cousin managed to join us for the drives which was great. She also managed to join us for dinner both nights, with Matt joining us on the first night too. After all the backpacking hostels we’ve stayed at it was the ultimate luxurious treat. But as with anything that incredible, the time flew past and before we knew it we were heading back to Durban. An amazing two nights there though, and we would like to give a HUUUUUGGGGGEEEEE heap of thanks to Kim and Matt for organising it for us and letting us share their corner of the world for a couple of days. A truly unforgettable experience!
There are quite a few more photos from our trip, you can view them in google plusÂ here or simply in the gallery below.
1 comment January 23, 2012
Another one of the xmas presents we got this year was a scuba dive at Aliwal Shoal (you might be starting to gather – once you move into a backpacker lifestyle you start to cherish the experiences in life more than the material things, plus anything you get given has to fit in your backpack for when you leave and not push you over the 18kg limit..). We booked ourselves onto the last dive of the morning this past Sunday, diving with Miguel from Aquabud. The boat turned out being full so he couldn’t dive with us but we had heaps of fun anyway.
Hayley, Bryony and Me.
I ended up being buddied with my sister Bryonyand Hayley with another diver in the group. The ride out from the Umkomaas river mouth launch was pretty exciting as a decent size swell was running but once we were past back line it all calmed down. The ride out to the shoal, for those who haven’t dived there before, takes around 20 minutes to half an hour on the semi-inflatableÂ ribs they use (we call them “Rubber Duckies” locally). Once there you kit up and backward roll off, then drift around with the currents over the shoal while the boat follows your surface markerÂ buoyÂ which the dive master tows behind him.
All the happy divers, fresh off the boat.
The visability wasn’t great – my estimate was around 8-12 meters. Water was warm though, mainly at 26C with a couple patches down at 25C and apart from a strong surge whenever a set rolled over our heads, the currents were minimal. In terms of what we saw, lots of the normal fish for Aliwal, lots of nudibranch spottings, a couple of crayfish and heaps of star fish. Hayley saw a turtle once she had surfaced – it came right up to her to check her out but that was probably the highlight of the dive. That said, it was awesome being back on a boat and back in the water. And Hayley got to experience diving in currents and swell – something theÂ CaribbeanÂ can’t offer!
Felicity, Miguel, Hayley and Me.
After the dive and an uneventful ride back, we cleaned and rinsed everything then popped next door to the “Hidden Reef” bar for an ice cold draft of beer and lunch. Which turned into a couple more beers for the none drivers and eventually we were dragging ourselves away, only to head back to Kloof to Stokers to pick up where we left off! What an awesome day out – and it looks like we’ll be doing it all over again next weekend if the weather holds.
Bryony and our divemaster Cecil.
Unfortunately we didn’t have an underwater camera with us [update: managed to get a few from one of the other divers on the dive so you'll find one or two underwater ones now], so the pics are all from afterwards on dry land. Click herefor the gallery on picasaweb.
1 comment January 16, 2012