Believe it or not, we actually won a holiday to Phinda - a three night mid-week break at Forest Lodge! I did not even remember entering the competition in the Africa magazine, but I was sitting in my office one day when I got a phone call. The person apologised for the fact that they had forgotten to do the draw in June and were only now contacting me. The break had to be taken before the holiday season in December. I could not believe it and they offered to have me call back and check that it was valid... I didn't. It just started feeling very real.

We planned our trip for November and flew into Richards Bay at the weekend. Mom collected us from the airport. First, though, Dad flew into Johannesburg so that he could look after the dogs for us. We planned to spend the weekend with Mom and then go through to Phinda using the shuttle from the airport.

On the Saturday we drove through to Mtunzini where we stopped to find out where the best place was to see the palm nut vulture (L). The lady in the shop told us to head to a boardwalk that wound into an area of forest. We found it and walked in. We looked up and found the nest but no birds, but while we were watching the birds flew in and sat on top of the tree. While in the same place we also saw the following lifers: white-eared barbet, green barbet and yellow-rumped tinkerbird. As we drove out of the town we stopped to look at the numerous swallows on the telephone wires and found some black saw-wings (L). Mom made the trip with us and wondered what all the fuss was about until some people she played bridge with were very impressed that she had seen the vultures.

We also went on a boat trip in the Richards Bay harbour. We saw Eurasian curlew (L) and osprey (L) inter alia.

Before we knew it we were back at the airport and on our way to Phinda...

Forest Lodge - November 1999

Unfortunately we did not keep any proper notes while on our trip, so our wonderful photographs and other memories are what we will share with you here. 

The pictures of the lodge do not really do it justice. The wood and glass cottages sit in the midst of a sand forest - a very special and limited biome. We fell in love with the vegetation and the quiet, calm of the forest. The rooms were far enough away from each other that you had enough privacy to enjoy the forest around you. The only reminder that there were other human beings around once you were in your room was the pathway that people used to get to their rooms. But everyone was very conscious of the seclusion of the rooms so people would walk past without looking into the rooms as they went.

We found that every evening when we got back from dinner, the staff had closed all of the blinds. So we would open them all up so that we literally slept in the forest - doors closed though to ensure no mosquito problems! We would wake up as it became lighter and enjoy watching the forest awaken around us. There was always the sound of birds. In fact, in the day time we would lie on the bed reading and open the sliding doors around us so that we could enjoy our environment to its fullest. We were blessed with sightings of red duiker and Tsonga squirrels while in our room. Nyala were also frequent visitors.

It was great fun to take a bath, and lie reading and watching the squirrels and birds hopping around the trees. Terry stuck to the shower however which was also encased in glass and allowed magnificent views of the forest. There was an outdoor shower too.

There is no doubt that for us this was a wonderful experience. The lodge was relatively new and we were able to enjoy the unspoilt vegetation and learn to love the sand forest area. Even today, the sand forest is a strong favourite and we can't visit Phinda without finding time to spend there, even if we are not staying at Forest Lodge.

The only negative was the bill we had to sign for the transfer which was for our cost - R350 each (a lot of money in those days)! We made a quick call to Mom to arrange for her to fetch us - we would pay for her petrol - rather than use the shuttle to get back to the airport at the end of our trip.

Game Drives

The highlights of our six games drives were as follows.

We were very spoilt with lion sightings. We came across a pride of lions on our first drive. We saw them a couple more times too, again at night and once during the day. Another day, on our way back from taking a trip in a boat on the river we found a mother with two cubs, We followed them into the veld and watched the cubs running through the grass areas and then pouncing on each other. They were having great fun. They even flushed a common (Kurrichane) buttonquail (L) for us. We also saw them again, feeding on a carcass on the side of the airstrip.

Cheetahs were however the main highlight. There was a group of 3 brothers and we were very spoilt with a number of sightings of them. We saw them walking around and scent-marking. The next time we encountered them they were sleeping on a bank, looking very relaxed. We found them one day walking down the road along the fence. They had developed a habit of using this area for hunting, but there was nothing for them on this day. The last time we saw them they were sleeping in the bush!

Other sightings included: many different white rhinos, giraffe, zebra, nyala, wildebees, impala, red duiker, suni, a dung beetle rolling a dung ball, buffalo and elephant.

Bird sightings: white-backed vultures, red-chested cuckoo (L) - we even went offroad to see this one!, tambourine dove (L) - this was a lovely sighting in a branch over the road, black-bellied bustard (L), bat hawk (L), malachite kingfisher, square-tailed drongo (L), gorgeous bush-shrike (L) - the name is not wrong!, rattling cisticola (L), black-bellied starling (L), Neergaard's sunbird (L), purple-banded sunbird (L), yellow-throated longclaw (L), crested guineafowl.

All in all, we had a wonderful trip which left us with an appetite for more. Phinda is still a place we look forward to visiting and this experience was a real introduction to the CC Africa group at a time when the cost of a break at one of their lodges was well beyond our means. But we now knew what we were working so hard for - it was to be able to afford to do this more often in the future...