The other day I posted about one of the top two places I’ve ever stayed at (you can read about that here). Today, I’m going to tell you the other one: Phinda Mountain Lodge.
Phinda Mountain Lodge, KwaZulu Natal
KwaZulu Natal is a province on South Africa’s North-Easterly coast. Geographically, think Durban – that’s KwaZulu Natal. But this province is more than just the cool multicultural melting pot that is Durban… It’s also a part of the country where you can encounter cool surfing towns, wetlands, and game drives galore.
Phinda itself is a private game lodge within KZN that is quite unique to South Africa in that it benefits climate-wise from its proximity to the coast. This means it’s super green and lush – and utterly breathtaking. Spotting the Big Five here is an absolute treat. And yeah, I know everyone thinks safari in South Africa and goes “KRUGER!!!” but trust me, this part of the country is spectacular.
Within Phinda, there are six absolute luxury lodges run by the incredible &Beyond company (seriously, trawl through their website). Each lodge has their own “theme” that goes hand in hand with their surroundings. Phinda Mountain Lodge is where I stayed, and it’s elevated situation provided the most delightful views over the plain. Picture this: it’s dusk, you’re standing with a cocktail watching the sunset, you look down and there’s a herd of elephants walking across your field of view. Yup. That’s par for the course at Phinda Mountain Lodge.
The Rooms at Phinda Mountain Lodge
Each room is actually a stand-alone suite (akin to a private villa in, say, an Asian resort). In the entranceway is a luggage storage area, and then walk round a separating wall to find a dreamy king-sized bed. Past the bar fridge (equipped with all the necessities to make an amazing cocktail – including shakers) is the bathroom.
Of course, the bathroom is appointed with all the little luxuries you’d expect in a five-star property. It’s the little extras that really make a place though, and Phinda is no exception. After our evening safari drives, I’d come into my room to freshen up for dinner, only to find the bath had been filled with hot water and rose petals, ready for me to get straight in. No kidding!
The view from my bathroom was gorgeous – looking out over the savanna. On the private deck, there’s a little dip pool and an outdoor shower. One of my most precious memories is watching the wildlife from this spot. If you’re lucky, a giraffe might pop up to say hi!
I will say this though: remember you’re in the middle of nature, with all that entails. After dusk, you’ll need to be escorted by security to your room (lions), and there are strict rules about locking doors and keeping food in your room (baboons). Side note: baboons aren’t like Rafiki from The Lion King; they can be VICIOUS. I am now terrified of them, but that’s a story for another day.
Food at Phinda Mountain Lodge
Every meal is included, but there’s so much variety and much of it was a complete surprise. For example, on our second night, our guide said we were on our way back to the lodge but that we just had to make a quick stop. I think he told us he had to check something with another guide. So imagine our faces when he led us through thick scrub into a little amphitheatre-restaurant type setup where the chefs had prepared a traditional braai – a meaty barbecue feast. There we were, eating some of the finest food I’ve eaten, under the stars in this secret hideout. Amazing.
Every other meal was fabulous too, but the long lunches back at the lodge were a standout. Breakfast was eaten while on game drives; each location carefully selected by the guides. Having a hot coffee in the middle of the savanna on a slightly chilly morning was such a highlight. Spending a lot of time in the Outback as a kid, these morning rituals made me feel so at home and even now as I write this, I feel all warm and gooey.
Activities at Phinda Mountain Lodge
Most things are included in your stay, from the divine food to incidentals such as the minibar. You can pay extra for things such as an in-room massage (which, by the way, is sooooo worth it!).
Game drives start early in the morning. You’ll see the sun rise and set from your open-air safari vehicle. One of the best experiences was Sundowners – the South African tradition of watching the sun go down with a beverage and letting your memories of the day just wash over you.
In the middle of the day it’s back to the lodge. This is the perfect opportunity for a nap if the early starts are too much for you, or to read by the pool or communicate with loved ones back home. Or order a drink from the bar and sit on the deck overlooking the reserve. The perfect place for a good chat or some quiet contemplation. Either way, one thing I really love about lodges is the communal atmosphere – it’s so easy to make new friends.
The coastline is not far away so, depending on the time of year, you can even try a scuba safari or night turtle watching!
The absolute biggest takeaway for me was how incredibly knowledgeable the safari guides are. These guys know their stuff in and out and train so hard before they’re allowed to take groups on safari. But it’s not just animals – at night, our guide gave us a lesson on astronomy. Yes, we saw the Big Five and it was incredible, but there was something magical about watching the stars on the other side of the world. In the middle of nowhere, with no lights to invade the view, the sky was completely lit up by stars.
So would I go again?
That’s a stupid question but I have to wrap this up somehow! Yes, yes, YES I would go again in a heartbeat. Yes to Phinda Mountain Lodge, but I can’t wait to explore more &Beyond properties in the future as well. Absolute 5/5 experience.
How to get to Phinda Mountain Lodge
The closest public airports are Durban or Richards Bay, and vehicle transfers can be arranged with the Lodge prior to arrival. I took a private vehicle transfer from my previous lodge in St. Lucia to Phinda, then another vehicle transfer back to Durban for my onward flight to Cape Town. Alternatively, Phinda has a private airstrip servicing Airlink flights from Johannesburg or Cape Town. The &Beyond Phinda page has more information.
Thinking of making South Africa your next destination? Here’s my Johannesburg wrap-up.
Want to know about one of my new favourite hotels a bit closer to (my) home? Check out The Andaman, Langkawi
Note: I traveled to South Africa as a guest of South Africa Tourism (in my capacity as Travel Agent). However, all opinions are my own.
Featured image of a leopard by Geran de Klerk
Geran de Klerk
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