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A South African Safari

A South African Safari – Phinda Vlei Lodge and Londolozi Granite Suites… by Gareth Hardres-Williams

Richard recently accompanied some first time safari-goers on their South African Safari and he returned with some valuable insights on what makes South Africa such a good destination for that introduction into the world of safari.

This safari began, as do most South African Safari adventures, in Johannesburg – the economic hub and African powerhouse city.   Johannesburg is a city that does in fact offer some interesting destinations and a day or two here can certainly help set the scene, introduce one to the history of the country and also allow for some time to acclimatise and recharge.  In this instance it was more the latter, and the guests simply overnighted at the very conveniently positioned InterContinental Hotel at the OR Tambo International airport allowing them to be ready to depart early the next day for Phinda.  Arrivals to Johannesburg later in the day, will invariably require a night in the city as the connections to the safari lodges tend to leave in the mid morning.  Scheduled flights from OR Tambo will take you via the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (in Nelspruit) en route to Phinda, and whilst this is a quaint little airport and not an overly taxing journey, the addition of a private charter flight from Johannesburg direct to Phinda is a nice option to explore to save on time and for added comfort.  A charter flight can also negate the need for a night in Johannesburg – again depending on your time of arrival.  In this case, we opted for the scheduled option and the transition to the smaller plane in Nelspruit certainly added to the intrigue and excitement levels rose as things became increasingly “safari-esque”.

On arrival in Phinda we were met by our guide and transferred to the delightful Phinda Vlei Lodge – aptly described as “an intimate and romantic safari lodge, overlooking a unique vlei (wetland system) on the edge of Phinda Private Game Reserve’s rare sand forest.”  This wonderfully eclectically decorated lodge consists of just six intimate suites that provide an incredibly secluded, quiet and peaceful African bush experience.  We spent a lovey 3 nights here (we always encourage our guests to enjoy a minimum of 3 nights at any one destination) and enjoyed some good game viewing backed up by great service and some lovely special surprises  that further added to our experience.  The Phinda reserve is well known for its diversity of habitat (there are no fewer than 7 distinct habitats here) and it is this diversity that provides a wonderful backdrop for ones introduction into the world of safari.

From Phinda, we flew (again via Nelspruit) into the world renowned Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve in Mpumalanga and landed at Londolozi, within the Greater Kruger National Park.  A short 5 minute drive from their airstrip found us at the luxurious and very private Granite Suites camp.

Londolozi’s Private Granite Suites are a “celebration of elegance and elephants in a remarkable river setting” and this camp offers an extraordinary experience for the exclusive use of just six guests.  The Private Granite Suites lodge is flanked by an extrusion of granite rocks, making for a bold and striking setting and with just the three suites, and is the perfect bush hideaway from where to base oneself for a safari adventure.  Londolozi has developed a reputation over the years for exceptional leopard viewing and again did not disappoint in this regard.  Over and above the superb game viewing, we were also treated to some very special “drinks stops” experiences, which added to the overall feeling of welcome.  One can quite easily immerse oneself solely in the Granite Suites or should you chose to, or one can step out of the camp and visit the other neighbouring Londolozi camps too.

Both Phinda and Londolozi consistently deliver great game viewing experiences, so I will not go into too much of the detail here.  Suffice to say, that for a first time safari these two reserves and lodges certainly do tick all the boxes.  The guides are supremely well equipped at both lodges to introduce one to the world of safari with sensitivity and requisite excitement, and one will not leave South Africa disappointed.

For both safari destinations, we opted for the private safari vehicle, which adds an invaluable degree of flexibility and really allows for you to dictate the pace and structure of your safari experience.  When travelling with a private guide, this option is simply a must, and even without the private guide, the private vehicle option cannot be more highly recommended.