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Phinda/Seychelles - May 2019


soleson

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A recent email I received reminded me that I never did a quick trip report on my 2019 safari to Phinda Private Reserve in South Africa.  

 

In May 2019, it was our 30th wedding anniversary so we debated where to go. Of course, I wanted to visit Africa again and my wife wanted something more relaxed, preferably a beach location.  Given we only had 10 days, we finally decided to compromise and do both.  My wife decided that if we were to visit Africa, then one of the Islands in the area would be best and we decided on the Seychelles.  I had heard a few times about Phinda (a &Beyond property) in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa and thought it would be good for 4-5 days. 

 

I am a fan of cheetah and Phinda is known for their cheetah reintroduction to the area.  The reserve itself is about 70,000 acres (28,500ha) and has seven distinct habits including a sand forest, woodlands, grasslands, etc.  There is a river on the property but it was pretty dry when we were there.  There are six different lodges there but we decided on the 2 smaller of the lodges, Vlei Lodge and Rock Lodge (each with 6 tents/rooms).  The Vlei Lodge is in the northern section and the Rock Lodge in the southern section.  As many are aware, Phinda is a private reserve and is fenced off from the surrounding area.  I wasn't sure if this would somehow make it feel less authentic or not but decided to give it a try.  In the end, given the sheer size of the reserve, we only saw the perimeter fence a couple of times.  Also, there was a fairly large section within the fencing that they were in the process of negotiating with the local land owner for continuing rights so we weren't allowed to drive in that section.  Unfortunately, I think the elephants knew this so they tended to spend there time in that section away from visitors.  Luckily the last day, a large herd wander out onto the grasslands in the south section and we were able to spend some time with them.  

 

We flew from Korea to Joburg via Doha, spend the night there and then took a quick early morning flight to Durban the next day. The transfer from Durban was about 3 1/2 hours and went well.  We arrived there around noon and settled in to the Vlei Lodge, had a nice lunch and relaxed.  As you can see below, the lodge is very nice and comfortable.  Probably too comfortable for my tastes...

 

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The first sighting was just off the back deck where a male Nyala was grazing.

 

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As I tend to not keep drive by drive notes, I will break the trip report into two parts (Vlei Lodge game drives and Rock Lodge game drives).

 

As we were with others (4 in our vehicle pretty much the whole trip), they wanted to locate the elephants.  So we spent a good portion of the day trying to find them.  While we were only successful in finding a few lone bulls, we did luck out into finding a pair of cheetahs and some lions along with the pretty regular sighting of giraffe, warthog, etc.

 

This giraffe looked to be injured on the lower part of its neck, but it didn't seem to bother it.  

 

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Another group of giraffe sharing a meal.

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The warthogs seem more relaxed for some reason than other places I have visited and didn't run off as quickly.

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While we were not looking for cheetah, a couple just walked out of the bush maybe 100 meters from where we were parked having a quick snack and proceeded to walk within 20 feet of the vehicle.  They then marked there territory and decided to lay down in the middle of the road for rest and grooming.

 

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michael-ibk

Beautiful Cheetah photos! Also really like the Giraffe with the Oxpecker. Looking forward to more. :)

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To round out the second day in the Vlei area, we decided to try to track lions.  The guides at Phinda did a fairly good job tracking and obviously knew where certain game would tend to be.  We had some luck and found a pair resting near the airstrip.  The male lion kept trying to get frisky but the lioness wanted nothing to do with him so he gave up:)

 

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While it was very dry as you can see in most of the photos, there was a small lake (I think man made) that attracted the usual characters like hippos, a few crocs, and some thirsty game.  We enjoyed watching the baby hippo try to make his way in the group.  The adults pretty much ignored it and came close a few times to crushing the poor thing.  

 

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Overall, the first two days were pretty productive.  We liked the Vlei lodge and the staff were very friendly and helpful.  The lunch and dinner was held outdoors on a patio that overlooked a large open area that often had nyala, impala, and other game.  There was a a group of monkeys that also tried to visit to do some taste testing of the meals but the staff did a good job of convincing them not to come inside the patio area.  Next on to the Rock lodge...

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AfricIan
1 hour ago, michael-ibk said:

 

Beautiful Cheetah photos! Also really like the Giraffe with the Oxpecker. Looking forward to more. :)

 

No comments on the plunge pool Michael? It is you new safari "must have" after all😉 

Edited by AfricIan
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Beautiful cheetahs, good that you got to see them!

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After 2 days at Vlei Lodge, we moved to Rock Lodge in the southern end of the reserve.  The architecture there is more of adobe type villas on the side of a rather steep hill.  I wasn't sure if we would like it since it wasn't the normal safari vibe but it was actually well done and my wife preferred it to the more traditional lodges at Vlei.  

 

One thing we learned was that Phinda decided to remove the horns of the rhinos on the reserve.  Even though they have good anti-poaching measures, they went the extra step to remove the temptation.  We were able to see both black and white rhino but I didn't get very good pictures of the black rhinos so some pics of the white rhinos minus their horns will have to do.

 

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There were also some leopards there but we only saw them late at night during our night drives...  Hard to get a good picture since they were always on the move but they are there.  

 

 

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One morning we spent some time with a lion pride following them for a while.  They had new cubs that hadn't been seen for a while but we were lucky enough to see them although they stayed mostly in the grass making pictures a bit difficult.

 

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The final full day we decided to try to find the large elephant herd that was thought to be ready to leave the closed area.  On the way we found another cheetah and a few of the smaller antelope including some duiker.  The cheetah had been injured a few months prior and they had recently released it back into the wild but were still monitoring it via a collar.  

 

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The elephants finally emerged into the open areas near the end of the day and we were able to spend some time with them.  

 

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The final morning on the way to meet our car back to Durban, we came across another lion with two lionesses.  We were parked on a narrow road and saw them headed toward us.  As we could move the vehicle very much, we just moved a bit to the side.  The lion walked straight toward us with no intention of using anything other than the main road.  While I have seen perhaps hundreds of lions over the years and generally do not get nervous, I have to admit when this one walked literal 3 feet from my face and stopped and looked up at me (I was in the seat next to the driver) and stared for a second or two, I got a bit anxious.  They are such beautiful but powerful creatures but 3 feet away where I could feel his breath was a first.  

 

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Edited by soleson
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  • 2 weeks later...

To quickly finish up, I thought I would provide my overall impression of Phinda and then post some photos from the Seychelles.

 

I think that for 4-5 days Phinda is a nice option but even though we didn't run into the boundary fences but for a few times, the whole experience was not as "wild" as my other safaris.  It was clear that they the wildlife was managed, which in most cases is not a bad thing just not quite the same as other more "wild" locations such as Mana Pools, SLNP, or Botswana.   The goal was for a nice anniversary trip with comfortable surroundings while seeing a variety of wildlife.  I think that overall the goal was met but for some reason it did have a bit of an artificial feel to it as the guides could tell me number of certain wildlife in the reserve and I wasn't quite sure what to think of the dehorning of the rhinos.  The lodges were nice.  The food was good.  The guides were excellent.  The scenery and wildlife were diverse.  So overall a good experience.  


Now on to the Seychelles.  After taking an overnight flight via Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Air, we made it to the Seychelles mid-day.  We decided to spend a couple of days each at two of the islands (Praslin and La Digue).   We stayed at Le Domaine de La Reserve in Praslin and its sister hotel, Le Domaine de l'Orangeaie in La Digue.

 

Having lived in Asia for a while, I have had the chance to visit a lot of mainstay islands in Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, and many in the South Pacific so I probably had too high of expectations for the Seychelles which some websites listed as the #2 most beautiful beaches in the world.  While much of the scenery is beautiful and the atmosphere relaxed, the service level and overall vibe was a bit less than other places I have visited.  That being said it was a nice change from the safari and any day at the beach/pool beats working.  The beaches in the Seychelles tend to have more rocks rather than just long stretches of sand which adds to the charm.  We definitely preferred La Digue to Praslin as it was more relaxed and easy to navigate (on bicycles).  

 

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