Renowned safari journalist and expert Lisa Grainger recommends her favourite African camps, from savannahs teeming with Big Five, to star-lit desert wildernesses.
Recommended place to stay:
Phinda Private Game Reserve, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa|www.andbeyond.com|
Official star rating:
Sleeping up to eight, this designer villa in South Africa’s Phinda Game Reserve feels like stepping into a glossy magazine, in the middle of the African bush. This is the game reserve the USA’s wealthy Getty family calls home – and the Homestead is furnished with the same pizazz as their property, with lashings of contemporary style and luxury.
Phinda Homestead is located in the subtropical northern KwaZulu-Natal, close to the Indian Ocean (and breeding ground of endangered turtles).
The 57,000-acre reserve was restored from farmland in 1991 and is now provides sanctuary to a wide range of endangered wildlife. There are seven ‘biomes’ on the property, so the vegetation – and thus the creatures – are extremely varied. It’s great for a first safari, to see all the game.
Although the decor is slick and service slick, the atmosphere is relaxed, with smiling, can-do staff, guides who can arrange helicopter trips to the beach or sunset drinks on a private hilltop. Ideal for the visitor who loves urban luxuries, but wants a Big Seven safari experience.
Game & game viewing
The Big Seven are here, and you’ve a good chance of seeing them all. Black rhino are protected and tagged here; cheetah are also seen often.
Guides are variable; many of the guides are extremely experienced and excellent. Others are graduates of the guide rangers’ course on the property, although always keen and willing.
Phinda is a short drive from the KwaZulu-Natal coast, where whales come to breed and whale sharks are spotted. The snorkelling and diving is spectacular, too. The beaches near Phinda are wild and unspoilt and the Homestead will pack a picnic, umbrella and deckchairs for a day’s outing.
A local stables can arrange riding expeditions, and there’s a river cruise in the nearby wetlands to see wetland birdlife.
Local community & conservation
In 2008, 9,500 hectares of reserve was handed back to the local community to lease to Phinda as wildlife land. There is a game-ranger training school and rangers who work with limiting animal encroachment on to surrounding villages. A school, a clinic serving 10,000 a month, a building-skills project, and a vegetable-growing project are all funded by Phinda’s charitable Africa Foundation.
Taking the kids
Children of all ages are welcome. Staff help look after children, and they have a WildChild program of activities that will teach them bush-crafts, tracking skills, baking and fishing skills. But they must be 6 years or over to go on game drives. The Homestead is like a big bush house – so there are games consoles, TVs and DVDs, games boards and a pool.
It’s six hours’ drive from Johannesburg or three from Durban; a charter plane flies daily from Johannesburg to Phinda airstrip.
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