Which Phinda Lodge?

Jan 23rd, 2009, 08:55 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Oct 2006
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Which Phinda Lodge?

Still in the planning stages for a Sept 2009 trip.

One of our possible combinations is Phinda and Sabi Sands (the other Tswalu and Sabi Sands) but I'm stuck in deciding which Phinda property if we go with Phinda.

We have around 4 nights so plenty of time to see the whole reserve.

We like to have a great view from the room and like to spend the afternoons sitting on the 'balcony/deck' just listening to the wildlife and seeing who comes along. Also like the feeling of being in the bush.

We don't like big camps.

Also, do the Phinda lodges tend to use the middle seat?

Lynneb is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2009, 09:05 AM
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If you plan to do any rhino tracking you must stay at Vlei or Phinda.

The smaller and more expensive options or Vlei (north) Rock (south). Less expensive with more people are Forest (north) Mountain (south).

I loved Forest. The view is into the sand forest, unless you have a cottage overlooking the savanna area. But there are antelope all over the forest. The sand forest is not dense so you can see well into it.

No middle seat for me in 7 nights. We had up to 5 guests. There was talk of putting 7 in the vehicle and my guide told me he was going to argue against it and he was successful.
atravelynn is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2009, 10:41 AM
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We loved Forest as well. Yes, more people, but it definately didn't have a big camp feel to us. We stopped by Vlei as well...the views are more open and it is smaller, buth the sand forest at Forest Lodge was a really special environment for a camp.

Also, we never saw the middle seat being used in 4 days.

We combined 4 nights at Phinda with 4 nights at Kirkmans in the Sabi Sands...both &beyond (formerly CC Africa) camps adn were able to get a multi-camp discount.
jgoebel is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2009, 11:17 AM
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We too loved Forest Lodge and the Sand forest. It was nice to be able to walk around during the day and didn't feel crowded or large.

In 4 nights we did have the middle seat occupied on two drives. It was a weekend in September and the lodge seemed to fill up with a lot of local South African visitors so Saturday/Sunday morning seemed more crowded. I know our guide was not happy about it, but there was plenty of room for us and I didn't find it a problem.

It helped that we had extremely compatible and fun vehicle-mates.

Vlei is much smaller but according to two guests it seemed as though the food (which was excellent) was the same at both lodges.
cw is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2009, 04:32 PM
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I loved Forest lodge, I have been there twice. I also never had anyone sitting in the middle.

One of the best rangers I have had anywhere is at Forest Lodge and his name is Walter. I suggest you request him if you can.

mytmoss is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2009, 05:39 PM
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We stayed at vlei and really enjoyed it. We also stayed at Rock and would recommend vlei over rock.

There are 6 rooms at both camps so it is more intimate. We like the smaller camps. No middle seats. Staff was very good. Animals come to your plunge pool to drink. Open field has lots of animals crossing.

They plan surprises such as bush dinners because they can do such things with smaller groups.

I am sure Forest is lovely -- I just prefer smaller groups if I can afford it.

mpkp is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2009, 06:46 PM
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We couldn't get into Forest so stayed at Mountain. Had a HUGE suite, very nice. But the camp was a little larger than I normally favor, don't quote me, but maybe 30 or more people there. But we went black rhino tracking (no luck) and saw many white rhino. A huge bull elephant came sauntering into the parking area as we left...
LAleslie is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2009, 08:13 PM
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Did you go rhino tracking from Mountain Lodge? I thought you had to stay at Forest or Vlei to do that because those two places are located closer to rhino habitat and the tracking is usually done first thing in the morning.
atravelynn is offline  
Jan 24th, 2009, 01:52 PM
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I stayed at Mountain Lodge last year, and I would recommend against it if you're averse to large groups and big lodges. The rooms are fine, as are the common areas. However, this is a larger lodge and while I was there we had multiple large tour groups go through - around 20-30 people in each group.
lifelist is offline  
Jan 26th, 2009, 06:07 PM
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Yes Lynn, we definitely went looking for rhino. Unless by "tracking" you mean on foot, which now that I think of it IS what you meant since I remember you did that. Being certified pansies, we preferred to look for them from vehicles. Guess it depends on your definition of "tracking."
Lifelist, we had no tour groups at Mountain, but as I said there were quite a few guests. Plus several toddlers, since they have a babysitting service I gather.
LAleslie is offline  
Jan 26th, 2009, 09:50 PM
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Actually, one of the tour groups worked out well. They had around 30+ people, but it was a Jewish group and they were keeping kosher. So, they kept their food completely separate, which is hard to do in a buffet situation. So, at dinner time, they would take over the boma and every one else would eat in the dining room, and vice versa.

If I remember correctly, there were 3 tour groups or so passing through during my 4 night stay. I caught the tail end of one tour group on my first night or two. I remember being annoyed during the boma dinner because they took some time to have speeches and presentations and whatnot which were completely uninteresting to anybody not in their group. Then there was another group that came for a couple of nights, and then the Jewish group.

I had just come from Exeter River Lodge, which has 8 chalets total, so no more than 16 guests in the camp. After that, Mountain Lodge was a bit of a shock to the system.
lifelist is offline  
Jan 27th, 2009, 02:28 PM
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Thanks for the clarification LALeslie!
atravelynn is offline  
Mar 31st, 2009, 02:41 AM
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Hopefully this is not too late to help you in your decision-making. I just made a trip to Vlei lodge this month and here are my thoughts versus it and the other Phinda lodges.

The rooms at Vlei have just been redone and are very nice, and they are about to start on the lobby lodge which will be redone by the time of your visit and the changes they discussed with us will be quite good: extending the deck area and then revamping the interior to upgrade it to match the new rooms. You might want to check on whether and when the rooms at Forest were redone. I believe Mountain was just redone in the last 12 months or so, but as noted above, this is a larger lodge and you may not like it for that reason.

Vlei has a plunge pools on each deck of each unit. Forest does not have these, they have the one main pool.. I believe Rock does, and I believe that some of the units at Mountain may have them. The pools are quite a good size (large than Londlozi Tree Camp) and it is quite pleasant to sit out on your deck and have the pool, and animals come drink at it as well. I stayed in Unit 4 which had one of the largest decks I saw there (my other family members were in Unit 3 and 4 and I also took a look at unit 6), and Unit 4 even had a large wicker sofa in addition to the lounge chairs and table which all decks have. If you can request a unit, I would try for 4. It also does not get direct southern sun so is not as hot as Units 3 and 4. It faces a large field, but really animals are all around the units; you literally have to shoo the impala and inyala away from your door when coming and going.

The only internet service is at Forest, but as it was pretty slow, I don’t think I would choose Forest for that reason, but you can always walk over to Forest if you want to use it, as the gift shop is there too. My Blackberry worked well while at Vlei. I don’t know if the upgrade to the lodge at Vlei will include adding an internet desk.

I was very impressed by the staff overall, I am sure that this is the same at the other Phinda lodges so I am sure you would be happy in that respect at any lodge. Their bush dinner was superb, in a forest hung with lanterns, really magical, and I have to say better than Londolozi’s. They made an effort each night to have a different setting, one night they moved all the tables out into the middle of the vlei and surrounded it with candles.

We had a superb ranger, Martin who works with Josiah the tracker. But it appears other have been pleased with their rangers at Phinda generally as well.

Forest was fully booked when we stayed at Vlei and the jeeps we saw from Forest were full and were using the middle seat. Also, our first ride at Vlei there were only 6 people in camp, and they assigned us all to one jeep, and our middle seat was used, after that the couple who had been in that jeep left and we had the jeep to ourselves for the rest of the stay. I think that was because that couple in our jeep had been using that ranger for their stay. Another couple arrived after that but they had their own jeep. Vlei can hold 12 people, I don’t know if they normally assign 2 or 3 jeeps to Vlei if it is fully booked, this is something you might want to confirm if not getting a middle seat is really important to you.
Cicerone is offline  
Mar 31st, 2009, 05:34 PM
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To correct my own post, at Vlei I was in Unit 5, that is the one with the sofa on the deck.
Cicerone is offline  
Mar 31st, 2009, 06:15 PM
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Assuming that the lodge's facilities/amenities are most important, then, after that what's game viewing like at Phinda? How does it compare to other SA reserves especially Sabi Sand?

regards - tom
cary999 is offline  
Mar 31st, 2009, 07:01 PM
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Compared to SSGR, Phinda did not have as many sightings. Leopards are rarely seen and I did not see one or hear of anyone who saw one during my week. But cheetahs are common than SSGR. Rhino sightings were at least as good at Phinda as SSGR and Phinda has black rhino too. I didn't see any.

Nyala are everywhere and easier to see than SSGR. The 7 distinct habitats offered a better variety than SSGR.

I think I saw only 1 hippo at Phinda.

The Tonga squirrel or the Sunni antelope are endemic to Phinda but hard to see. I saw a pair of the squirrels.
atravelynn is offline  
Mar 31st, 2009, 07:50 PM
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and lions? elephants? buffalo? the other three of the big five.

regards - tom
cary999 is offline  
Apr 1st, 2009, 12:34 AM
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Last month was my first trip to Africa, so I can’t pretend expertise in animal sightings in Africa between areas. I have been on several safaris in India, which are very different from Africa except for one thing which seemed to be the same: whether or not one has luck in seeing animals is really just that, a matter of luck. It will vastly vary from person to person. No one’s trip - - or even an individual game drive in the same park at the same time -- will be the same as anyone else’s and so it is hard I think to say “you will definitely see X or Y” or “you will not see X or Y” when experiences vary so much. You can take some things as knowns: you won’t find huge migrating herds of animals in South Africa (need to go to Tanzania or Chobe in Botswana), you won’t be able to do walks and/or study Baboons like you can in Uganda, etc. But other than these types of facts, which you can determine before your trip and can and should be a basis for choosing a park or reserve, to me it’s a matter of pure luck.

That being said, I was very pleasantly surprised by Phinda. We saw cheetah on three occasions, and for long lengths of time. We saw one leopard hunting once at night (but were already aware that leopard are rare there). We saw black rhino on three occasions including one very up-close and personal one, which of course would basically never happen in SSGR as there are few, if any, black rhino in that reserve or in Kruger. We saw lions each day, both male and female, including females hunting and cubs. We saw elephants on two occasions, but not in the large numbers we later saw at Londolozi. We saw good numbers of Cape buffalo, including at least one large herd. So we did see the Big 5 and then some, although we did not really expect to. In fact, on our second drive there we four of the Big 5 in that one drive, which is unusual for Phinda from what I understand (and perhaps for anywhere). We saw good-size herds of giraffe and zebra (even our ranger commented that the large herds of zebra we saw were unusual). We did see a good-size crash of hippo, but that was the same crash on two occasions, as they live in one dam. We did not see any hippos out of the water feeding at night which did happen on several occasions at Londolozi. We saw lots of bird life. We saw several of the Little Five including leopard tortoises fighting which was like a slow motion prize fight.

We had chosen Phinda as we thought it would be a good contrast to Londolozi in that it offered cheetah and black rhino. We also wanted to take advantage of the ability to do the canoe trip which we did and very much enjoyed for bird life, snake and insect life (we were quite happy NOT to see crocodile or hippo while in a canoe thank you), and we also did a horseback riding trip along the estuary which was supposed to show bird life. It did not really give much of that (wrong time of day), but the ride was very pleasant with good well-cared for horses. We thought Phinda was a good contrast to the geography we later saw at Londolozi (i.e., the St Lucia wetlands) and as I said, we had excellent game-viewing there even though we thought it would not be as good as at Londolozi. I think we would have enjoyed it regardless of whether or not we had seen the Big 5, but I will say that we had realistic expectations about what we might and might not see there. We were happy that they were exceeded, but I like to think we would have enjoyed it just as much without quite all those sightings.
Cicerone is offline  
Apr 1st, 2009, 05:50 PM
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I concur that the canoe trip had zero hippos or crocs. Afternoon was the best time for sun, although from where we put in, the first few minutes it was in my face. I was concerned I'd be blinded the whole trip, but the river took a little bend and the lighting was gorgeous on the trees, not in my eyes.

I saw my one hippo and it was in the man-made dam, where Cicerone saw the hippos.

The fighting leopard tortoises would be a gem!
atravelynn is offline  
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