Phinda Forest / Tsala Treetop Lodge...

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Aug 7th, 2004, 02:47 AM
  #1
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Phinda Forest / Tsala Treetop Lodge...

Okay, this is getting serious now.

As an option to the Cape Winelands and the Sabi Sand, I am also looking at a three or four night drive over to Plettenberg Bay, and then possibly four nights at Phinda Forest. This would be my only safari for the whole trip, but I don't think half of my traveling party will mind!

Does Phinda, at all, measure up to the Sabi Sand. I recall seeing another Fodorite's photo album that included Phinda, and it looked amazing...so different from typical bush. I think I read that it is one of the last remaining "sand forests" in the world, contributing to its unique look.

Phinda Forest is a bargain at only about $425 USD per person per night sharing in high season. So, four nights at Phinda Forest does look very inviting.

What do you all think about the following itinerary?

Cape Town - 4 nights at The Twelve Apostles Hotel.

Self drive to Tsala Treetops (just outside Plettenberg Bay), stopping for one night someplace along the way.

(near) Plettenberg Bay - 2 nights at Tsala Treetops, a Relais & Chateaux property, and as one person described it, "Singita, without the animals."

Fly from Plettenberg Bay to ???. 4 nights at Phinda Forest.

Fly from ??? to Cape Town and then home.

11 nights total, but I would gladly add an extra night along the way to Plettenberg Bay if there was a nice enough place to justify two nights. Because I may be recovering from an ultramarathon, I must have a place that is on the swanky side and that offers massage therapy. Unless you have run a marathon, you have no idea how much your body hurts for the next few days after a marathon, at least if you train half-a** like I do, and only get in good enough shape to survive, rather than thrive.

I imagine the cost of the above itinerary would not be more than about $6,500 USD total, which for an upscale 11 night trip to South Africa, with four nights of safari, is really not that bad.

Is Phinda too small to justify four nights? Should I consider staying two nights at Phinda Forest and two nights at one of their other lodges such as Phinda Vlei, Phinda Mountain or Phinda Rock???

Where is a really nice place to stay halfway between Cape Town and Plettenberg Bay??? Or should I drive beyond Plettenberg Bay after my 2 nights at Tsala for a stay at someplace highly recommended???

I am interested in seeing more of South Africa than just the Sabi Sand and Cape Town, and I do know that my wife would love to rent a car and drive down the coast, but ultimately we like the best lodging and we are not looking to do the whole Garden Route.

Thanks.
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Aug 7th, 2004, 03:39 AM
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How does this look?

Cape Town, 4 nts at Twelve Apostles

Franschoek, 2 nts at Le Quartier Francais

Cape Alguhas, 1 nt at Cape Alguhas Manor? I'm not sure if it is the correct name, but there is one place that looks pretty nice and only has eight beds. It's a stone building overlooking the ocean. It is either Cape Alguhas or Swellendam, or a 6.5 hour? drive straight through to Plettenberg Bay, and that is not my idea of a vacation.

Plettenberg Bay, 2 nts. at Tsala Treetop Lodge.

Fly from Plett to nearest airport to Phinda. 4 nights at Phinda, either all at Phinda Forest or divided between Phinda Forest and another Phinda lodge.

13 nights total with my final night at Phinda being my birthday!

(Talking about birthdays, I will really have to butter up my better half on her upcoming birthday if this trip has any hope whatsoever...I will be on my best behaivor for the next seven months...anything for more Africa).
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Aug 7th, 2004, 04:40 AM
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Rocco,
We spent 4 nights at Phinda Vlei which is walking distance to Forest. Actually went & checked out the rooms there and had a buffet dinner there one night too.

If you want a smaller camp, I would choose Vlei over Forest. Better view and more of a chance to get the critters to come up and graze near your room and drink from your plunge pool.
Saw many kinds of antelopes grazing daily in the vlei in front of our room. And heard the lions at night.

If you want to split it up I would do two nights at Vlei or Forest in the north and then two nights at Rock or Mountain in the South. Vlei and Rock would be my choices. Or spend 4 nights at one camp. You won't be disappointed either way.

Upon arriving at Phinda the first day, I can honestly say that I was not thrilled when we got there. It was so unlike anywhere I was used to for the "African" experience. I heard someone say they had been there eight times and wondered why.

But when our fourth and last night came, I did not want to go. I could have stayed another few nights (or weeks!) and still not have been ready to leave. The staff and our guide and tracker were incredible. I cannot say enough about Phinda.

The different eco-systems were great. The sand forests were so cool looking. Definitely do a bush walk through the forests.

Forest elephants are everywhere. We were also charged (the real thing) by a bull in musthe. He chased our jeep at full speed for probably 500 yards through the forest and down winding roads. Talk about being nervous but exhilarated at the same time.

Also saw a bull charge a pride of lions grazing on a zebra kill. He went back a second time just to aggravate them again. They didn't see him coming either time. Nobody was hurt but seeing lions run w/ full bellies was quite a sight.

Got super close (about 10 feet) to a mother and baby rhino. We saw two cheetahs(brother and sister) in the savannah ecosystem patiently waiting for prey.

And they took us to a boma holding two cheetahs for release into the reserve. You will learn so much about how their conservation program works.

There are plenty of other things you can do while there. STD has a lot of other choices if she wants some variety.
I highly recommend the flight of the fish eagle. It's only an hour so it doesn't cut into too much safari time. And it takes you over the St. Lucia wetlands w/ a bird's eye view of the area. It is so incredibly beautiful. You also fly over the dunes to the Indian ocean where we spotted two whale sharks, a couple of mantas, turtles, dolphins, etc. from the plane. My only wish was that I was in the water with them!

Also did a morning of horseback riding on Sodwana Bay beach. That was fun. And so nice 'cause there was virtually only a handful of people on the beach.

My birthday was two nights later when I was to be at Londolozi. But I was surprised when on my last night at Phinda, I walked into my room and they had it decorated for my birthday and had a birthday dinner and present waiting for me anyway. That's how great they are. So much more I can say about our experience there but I think you get the idea.

And I do have some pics from our room at Vlei. If you're interested let me know and I can email them to you.

Anyway, you can't go wrong wherever you decide to stay at Phinda. Suffice it to say, I wouldn't hesitate to go back again and again.
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Aug 7th, 2004, 07:01 AM
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Divewop,

Wow, thanks for the great information about Phinda.

Would you please let me know if you the following animals while at Phinda?

Leopard?

Rhino?

Cheetah?

Male Lion? (90% of my lion sightings, both in Zambia and South Africa, have been of female lions. Nothing against the females but I do find a full chock of mane on the males very impressive.)

What varieties of antelope are there?

Would it be worth staying a total of SIX nights, split between two of their camps??? Did you cross paths with vehicles from their other camps, or was their reserve large enough for each to have different traversing areas?

What was the average age of the other guests? (Were there children, and if so, how old?)

Please, please, please email me those photos to [email protected]

I feel like I am going through puberty and entering manhood by daring to think beyond Cape Town and the Sabi Sand!

Phinda, however, may be the best deal remaining in South Africa, at around $425 per person per night sharing.
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Aug 7th, 2004, 12:00 PM
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Rocco-
Here's some or most of the answers to your questions. If I forgot anything or if you have any more, just let me know. I like raving about Phinda.

Leopard-they do have them but we only saw one up in a tree where a researcher was taking stats on it. We were there in March so of course, with all the grass and growth, it's hard to spot them.

Rhino-see my previous post and we saw a few every day.

Cheetah- also see previous post. One of them was collared for research purposes. Also seeing the new ones in the boma they were going to introduce to the reserve was pretty cool. There were four in there. Not everyone gets to view the bomas so that was a treat.

Male lions-We did spend time w/ two brothers and a pride. Handsome black-maned boys. The pride was the one charged by the bull ele.

Also followed one of the brothers one morning who was yelling out to the other one while the other was feasting on the zebra kill. He eventually found him and joined in the feast.
He was right in front of our jeep when he was calling. It's amazing how loud it is when you're that close.

They do keep the lion population to a reasonable number because of Phinda's focus on the cheetah and leopard survival. They have a 70% success rate for the cheetah. Leopards are harder to manage 'cause they can jump the fences.

To name a few of the antelope. Wildebeest of course, nyala, kudu, duikers, impala, and steenbok (I think that's what is was!) And others that I know more on sight than on names.

Then the regulars, like zebra, giraffe, cape buffalo, etc. and Phinda Vlei also has a resident warthog family near the kitchen. Beautiful birds too, but I'm not at all schooled on names of any of those.

As I just mentioned, the reserve is fenced. That was one thing that turned me off to begin with but as I said, I quickly changed my mind when I found out they do it for conservation and species preservation purposes.
They were in the midst of trying to expand the reserve and acquire the land next to one of the borders and were hoping to have is secured by July. I don't know where that stands as of now.

We saw the other camps' vehicles only a couple of times throughout our four day stay. One time in particular was when the Bull ele in musth was having a stand off with any vehicle that came near him. He cornered a few of the vehicles including our's. When the vehicles would try to get away he would chase them down. That's when we had our encounter w/ him. He was full of himself that day ripping down trees all over the place.

Each camp's vehicle can go anywhere w/in the reserve they wish.

There were no children at our camp and the ave. age was probably 40ish on up. Camps were not full because it was March and the crowds hadn't descended on the reserve yet. There may have been only one or two children at Forest and I believe Rock doesn't allow children.

My opinion of how many nights to spend there is really subjective. Can you tell? There are so many other outside things to do, I could easily have spent a week or more.

I think if you had six nights, I'd definitely split them up 3 north and 3 south. But if you get a great guide & tracker, I'd definitely ask if you could keep them for the entire time. They may let you do that.

I'll email you some pics later today. Might be a few different emails to get them to you. I shot mostly slide film on this trip but I'll go through some of my digital point & shoot pics and send the camp pics and a few others.


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Aug 7th, 2004, 09:35 PM
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Divewop,

Thanks for the email. I will have to clear some space so I can receive a few more pics. I'll let you know when that happens.

I love the idea of going to Phinda, but I am a bit concerned about passing on the possibility of going to Simbambili and/or Mala Mala. Therefore, I am considering the following:

Sunday, March 20th - Arrive JNB. Transfer to Mala Mala, arriving by 11:30AM. Transfer to Mala Mala for 2 nights.

Tuesday, March 22nd - Road transfer to Simbambili for 2 nights.

Thursday, March 24th - Transfer to Cape Town, 4 nts. at Twelve Apostles.

Monday, March 28th - Transfer to Le Quartier Francais for 2 nts.

Wedneday, March 30th - Transfer to Joburg, 1 nt at A Room With A View, Michelangelo or Joburg Airport Intercontinental.

Thursday, March 31st - JNB - Richards Bay. 3 nts. at Phinda Vlei.

Sunday, April 03rd - Depart Richards Bay to Joburg to LAX

Quite honestly, I don't like the flow of this itinerary, but it does get me to both the Sabi Sand and Phinda Vlei.

A better alternative will probably be:

Cape Town, 4 nts. at Twelve Apostles

Cape Winelands, 2 nts. at Le Quartier Francais

Sabi Sand, 2 nts. at Simbambili

Sabi Sand, 2 nts. at Mala Mala

Joburg, 1 nt. at A Room With A View, Michelangelo or Joburg Airport Intercontinental.

Phinda Vlei, 3 nts.

Seven nights of safari / Seven nights of city/winelands seems like a pretty good mix, and I really do want to see Phinda.
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Aug 7th, 2004, 10:44 PM
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Rocco,
I think you're right in deciding to go for only 3 nights on the first visit. If you enjoy it as much as we did, you can always go back.

We did Phinda first and then Londolozi at Sabi. You still have time for an early morning game drive, do the charter transfer from Phinda to Mala Mala and arrive in time for the afternoon game drive there.

I would probably do the Sabi Sand visit after Phinda only for the fact that if you want to end your trip on a really high note, you are almost always guaranteed exceptional game viewing in the Sabi Sand. Whatever you missed in Phinda, you'll be sure to make up there.

Phinda is a very unique reserve and I don't know if it's for everyone or if everyone would have as great of a time there as we did. I hate to build it up so much and then have someone go and be disappointed. It does take some getting used to because it is so unique. And as we all know, each safari experience is different.

We had great jeep mates (who we still keep in touch with) who had been to Phinda a few times before and who also loved photography. And a great guide and tracker. Both make such a huge difference on game drives.

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Aug 8th, 2004, 01:28 AM
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Divewop,

Thanks for the tip about the charter flight from Phinda to the Sabi Sand.

Unfortunately, unless I go to the Sabi Sand first (from Cape Town), it looks like I will have to spend one night in Joburg, charter flight or not.

However, if I end with Phinda, I will be able to fly from Cape Town to Hoedspruit, transfer to Mala Mala or Simbambili, spend my four nights in the Sabi Sand, do the charter flight from the Sabi Sand to Phinda, and then back to Joburg for my flight home.

Cape Town, 4 nts. at 12 Apostles
Cape Winelands, 2 nts. at Le Quartier Francais
Sabi Sand, 2 nts. at Simbambili
Sabi Sand, 2 nts. at Mala Mala
Phinda, 3 nts. at Phinda Vlei

I would love to possibly add 3 nights, with one night at Cape Alguhas and 2 nights at Tsala Treetop Lodge near Plettenberg Bay. That would give me nine full nights on non-safari activity, before finishing it off with the 7 night safari. A 7 night safari would still allow me double the time than I have ever had before on a South African safari, and should be more productive photo-wise than my 11 night shoulder season Zambian safari. Unfortunately, a 7 night safari in South Africa is about 50% more expensive than an 11 night Zambian shoulder season safari.

Anyway, its time to get to work on Award Planner to see if there is anyway they are able to work out dates that work for me. It would not be too cool if I had to add $2,000 pp for ECONOMY CLASS when I do have the miles to fly to South Africa on Business Class. I wouldn't even mind if I had to fly to London on my own dime and then down to Joburg or Cape Town, business class.

I do think this has the potential to be my best holiday yet, with beautiful weather in the Western Cape and Plettenberg Bay, the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon, Phinda, Simbambili and Mala Mala. It is a package like this that is good enough to be a featured tour on A&K or Micato but that they are too unimaginative to think up. If they did offer it, it would be 50% more than what I will pay for it, I am sure.
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Aug 16th, 2004, 05:08 AM
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Attention Rocco-
Just in case you change your mind about Phinda here are their recent animal sightings. Pretty impressive!

http://www.wildwatch.com/sightings/default.asp

cheetahs & leopards galore!!
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Aug 16th, 2004, 07:41 AM
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Suggest you contact Phinda and request a copy of their paper on the area's seven ecosystems.

Phinda has everything, and lots of birds.

Three nights will allow you to see it all.

Forest Lodge is terrific, and perhaps less expensive than the other three. The plunge pools are a bit overrated.

Phinda is a qulaity experience, and you really cannot make comparisons with places in Kruger. We've stayed at most, and each is different. Phinda is special, as are the others.

Botswana - three weeks and counting.
 
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Aug 16th, 2004, 08:32 AM
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Blacktie-
I totally agree. It would be hard to return to S.A. and not want to go back there.

There is something about Phinda that makes it so unique and special. And the CC Africa folks there are superb.

Although I liked the look of Forest lodge, I'm glad we chose to stay at Vlei. It was much quieter and we had lots of critters roaming about outside our room.

Living in a huge city, when I get to Africa, I have a preference for the smaller camps. For me, the fewer people the better.

Don't forget to post your Botswana departing dates on the Who's Next thread so we can all say our goodbyes properly!
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Aug 16th, 2004, 09:47 AM
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Thanks, departing September 4 ... overnight JNB ... to Maun the 6th, then on to Savuti, Duba Plains and Mombo. Will post a journal upon return late September. Have a good day.
 
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