Phinda Game Reserve Safari Guide
Phinda is Kwazulu Natal's best private game reserve. It is on a par with some of the best reserves in the popular Sabi Sands near Kruger National Park, except that it is fully fenced and thus not part of a greater ecosystem. All of the Big Five are easily spotted. The reserve's flagship species is cheetah and sightings of this gracious cat are unsurpassed.
Pros & Cons
Excellent wildlife viewing with all of the Big Five present
Open-vehicle game drives with top guides
Night drives and walking safaris available
Several luxury lodges belonging to the &Beyond group
Birding is superb, especially from Forest Lodge
Only very expensive, fully inclusive packages available
Fenced environment less authentic than in large ecosystems
Wildlife & Animals
Phinda is a fully enclosed game reserve. This makes sightings of all flagship species including the Big Five and cheetah very easy. Both black and white rhino are present and regularly spotted, although the black rhino less often. The beautiful nyala is the most common antelope. Night drives offer an opportunity to see nocturnal species such as porcupine and genet.
Phinda is famous for its quality cheetah sightings. Smaller creatures to look out for are the shy red duiker found scurrying around in the forest undergrowth and, the smallest of all antelope, the tiny suni. A boat trip on the Mzinene River offers close encounters with big Nile crocodiles.
With more than 400 species recorded, Phinda is an excellent birding destination. Migratory birds are present from November to April. A patch of rare sand forest habitat is home to many Zululand specials such as Narina trogon, African broadbill, green twinspot, pink-throated twinspot and Neergaard’s sunbird. These species are all seen quite easily in the grounds of Forest Lodge, a favourite with birders. Walking safaris and a boat trip on the river can add lots of extra sightings onto your list.
Best Time to Visit
Phinda offers great wildlife viewing throughout the year, but the best months are during winter (May to September). During this time, animals are more easily spotted while they convene at permanent water sources, and the dry conditions cause the bush to recede. During the wet summer months, heavy rain can make off-road driving limited which can have an impact on animal sightings.
May to September – Dry Season
Animals are easily spotted as they gather at water sources and the vegetation thins
Most days are sunny and clear
Morning game drives in open vehicles are very cold
Dust and haze is prevalent
October to April – Wet Season
Abundant foliage and lush landscapes
Baby animals can be seen
Migratory birds make for prime birding
Animals are easier to spot during the dry months
It is very hot and humid
Off-road driving may be limited after heavy rain
Weather & Climate
Phinda, being in the southern hemisphere, has a winter and summer which occur at opposite times as in Europe and North America. Winter is from May to September and summer from October to April. Phinda’s climate is sub-tropical and the Wet season occurs during the hot and humid summer months. Winters are dry and characterized by cool nights and pleasantly warm days
Dry Season – May to September – Winter
Although occasional showers can occur due to the coastal proximity of the park, there is very little rain during the winter. The heat is more bearable than during summer time, and the skies are sunny and clear.
May – As average temperatures cool to 14°C/57°F in the morning and 26°C/79°F in the afternoon, the summer comes to an end. Rains decrease, along with the humidity.
June, July & August – Afternoon temperatures are pleasant, around 25°C/77°F. At night, the average drops to around 11°C/52°F, causing mornings to be rather cold. It is essential to bring warm clothing.
September – This month means a rise in temperatures, averaging around 27°C/81°F during the day. Mornings are warmer at an average of 15°C/59°F. Rains begin, often in the form of thundershowers.
Wet Season – October to April – Summer
Afternoon thunderstorms are typical during the hot, humid summer, but it seldom rains all day.
October & November – It sometimes rains all day and regularly rains during the afternoon. Temperatures average between 18°C/64°F in the morning and 28°C/82°F in the afternoon.
December, January & February – It rains almost every day, but mostly in the form of afternoon storms. The average daytime temperature is 31°C/88°F, although it can climb much higher. The morning has more pleasant average temperatures of around 20°C/68°F.
March & April – There is less rain and humidity and afternoon temperatures fall to a more bearable level, averaging around 29°C/84°F. Morning temperatures average a comfortable 18°C/64°F.
Phinda is a private game reserve located about 300km/180 mi north of Durban.
Most visitors to South Africa fly into O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) in Johannesburg or Cape Town International Airport (CPT) in Cape Town. It is also possible to fly to King Shaka International Airport (DUR) in Durban and rent a car there. The drive from Durban to Phinda takes about three hours.
Another alternative is to fly to Richard's Bay Airport (RCB) from either Johannesburg or Durban, followed by a road transfer to the lodge. The road transfer takes about 1½ hours.
The most convenient flight is with SA Airlink (see below), which operates daily scheduled flights directly from Johannesburg or Cape Town to Phinda‘s private airstrip.