Vlei Lodge

Camp Manager - Claire
Chef - Happiness
Butlers - France, Precious, Michael and Jabu

We were last in Phinda in October 2010 and we decided that it was past time for us to return. The journey was a long and tiring one, as the roads are being upgraded. We were blessed however with a number of sightings of bald ibis en route, including a large flock flying away from us.

Our arrival garnered a totally new experience for us - there was no one there, not a single staff member in sight! We think it was because the gate guard was so busy enjoying the steak rolls we left with him that he forgot to radio our arrival.

Once we were "found" we were escorted to our room - No 6! Last time we stayed at Vlei they told us that this was the room to have in winter as many different visitors make use of the pool.

Lunch included a wonderful butternut and cherry tomato quiche with a surprise undertone of blue cheese. It was delicious!

While we were unpacking in our room, our first visitor arrived - an elephant was drinking at our pool. We hadn't even heard him arrive. Some nyala also came down to drink from the rim flow. We then had a quick shower and came out to find 4 elephants drinking at the pool!

21 May - Afternoon Drive 

Ranger - Martin; Tracker - Josiah

After viewing the elephants at our room from the other side, we followed up on the tracks of a snake on the road. The tracker then found the python (about 4m long) coiled in the grass.

As the light was fading, we joined a lion sighting (Northern Pride). At first we could see a male and female, but then the cubs came out. The total count was 3 females, 6 cubs (2 of 6 months, 4 of 5 months) and 2 males. The mother of 4 cubs is the daughter of the other mother and the same lioness we saw with four cubs who made a kill on our last visit.

Other sightings: nyala, impala, white rhino (skittish), zebra, wildebeest, more rhino

22 May - Morning Drive

We caught up with the Northern Pride again at the marsh. The females seemed to be interested in hunting, but the cubs were more interested in playing. Two of the females also chased each other around. We spent about an hour with them. At one point there were 3 vehicles driving off road while 8 lions (2 females and 6 cubs) were walking on the road!

We then drove to a Cheetah sighting - female plus 3 cubs. We kept far back as the female was showing some interest in hunting impala, but she was spotted. The grass was long so you would see the cubs disappear and then all 4 would pop up on a fallen tree trunk or termite mound. When they settled on top of a termite mound we moved in for a closer view.

We went looking for two male cheetahs, but found a pair of secretary birds instead. We also found a water monitor on the side of a dam. As is tradition, we stopped for hot chocolate and amarula.

Other sightings: common reedbuck, nyala, impala, warthog, side-striped jackal, zebra, wildebeest

Birds: black-breasted snake eagle, wattled plover, black-bellied korhaan, black flycatcher, white-backed vultures flying overhead, lilac-breasted roller

Back at the lodge we were treated to a breakfast of poached eggs, mushrooms and brie. It was delicious, but we had to fight off a lot of bees!

While we were relaxing in our room, we watched a proacession of nyalas come down to drink at our pool. A couple of the males decided to treat us to a full display...

22 May - Evening Drive

We drove west into the centre of the reserve and then to Zuka. En route we encountered a breeding herd of elephants. As we moved on from the sighting we came across a laggard at the dam - he was just having to much fun to keep up with the herd. He obviously believes in the power of a good mud pack!

We also found a very old impala carcass hanging from a tree - it was literally "leather with hooves". Martin promised us carcass soup for dinner.

We stopped for sundowners on top of the mountain where we could enjoy the spectacular views. Terry managed to startle two mountain reedbuck while he was taking a photo of the view.

As the sun went down we found two giraffe chewing bones - their relish was tangible. We also came across Menzi, a male leopard named after Michael's son. He had fed on an old kill and was sleeping soundly in the grass. We also did some stargazing before making our way to a bush dinner.

Other sightings: hippo, white-tailed mongoose

Birds: crested guinea fowl, water thick-knees, fiery-necked nightjar, bronze-winged courser

23 May - Morning Drive

Just after leaving camp, we came across Ngoya, a female leopard, crouching in the road. She has one foot missing, but when we watched her move off, we could not see a difference. She tried to hunt some impala but they were eventually alerted to her presence when another vehicle drove in.

We came across a breeding herd of elephants who were heading to pipeline pan, so we moved ahead of them and Martin served us hot chocolate and amarula in the vehicle while we waited for them to get there. It was wonderful to sit sipping our drinks as they sipped water in their trunks!

We drove through a wild area looking for black rhino, but instead we ventured upon a herd of buffalo who were accompanied by a large number of cattle egrets and red-billed oxpeckers. Further along the road, we found the two male lions sleeping.

Other sightings: zebra, wildebeest, impala, nyala

Birds: dabchick, Egyptian geese, yellow-billed ducks, African goshawk

Breakfast was a rangers' choice omelette - in other words, everything!

At the room we watched nyala, warthog and baboons come down to drink. Terry says the pool is a water trough. We could lie on our bed resting, reading and still watch the procession. Sadly, the elephant had moved out of the area and there were no more visits to the pool.

23 May - Evening Drive

We drove through the sand forest and were blessed with sightings of both red duiker and suni. After exiting the forest, we encountered a crash of white rhino - 2 mothers, a teenager and 2 calves. The one mother had an exceptionally long horn.

While waiting to see a leopard (Menzi), we watched some giraffe. When we got into him, he was lying on the road but he got up and started walking down the road, marking his territory, while we followed him. He also "sawed" for a short time.

Menzi kept taking short cuts through the bush, popping back onto the road. We followed him to a dry pan and then on to a 3-day old giraffe carcass. The head of the giraffe made him look small in comparison. We didn't stay for very long as our tolerance for the "aroma" was not high.

Birds: trumpeter hornbill, crowned hornbill, juvenile bateleur eagle (sleeping)

24 May - Morning Drive

After a spectacular sunrise, we found the Northern Pride again but his time they had definitely eaten. The males were back with the pride, but they had been fighting as evidenced by the injury near the eye of the dominant brother. During our stay dominance changed "paws".

A group of guests elected to participate in the darting and marking of a rhino calf, so the drive was disrupted by the sounds of the helicopter overhead.

Mom cheetah and cubs seemed to be unaffected by the helicopter and we watched one of the cubs climb a tree - it didn't look very comfortable. Mom also attempted to hunt impala to no avail.

Other sightings: warthog

Birds: dark chanting goshawk, black-winged lapwing, yellow-throated longclaws, helmeted guineafowl

24 May - Evening Drive

We watched a flock of pelicans fly overhead as we made our way out to the marsh in an unsuccessful bid to find elephant. We spent time with a black rhino through to sunset.

On our way back to camp, we had an amazing sighting of a thick-tailed bushbaby.

Other sightings: nyala, impala, zebra, wildebeest, white rhino

Back at camp we had a braai on the verandah of the lodge and we were joined by "Genet Jackson", the resident star. This is the same genet who dined with us during our first stay at Vlei lodge a number of years ago. We were also treated to the traditional singing and dancing by the staff choir.

25 May - Morning Drive

As we drove out to the marsh, it was very misty. Fortunately it lifted quickly and we able to find the female cheetah and cubs walking through the long grass. We watched one of the cubs mimic Mom everytime she used a termite mound to check the area for game. She eventually took them into some cover over a large termite mound and they all settled down to rest.

Martin asked us whether we would like to see the two male cheetahs and we jumped at the opportunity (we had seen this alliance during our last visit).

We approached the cheetah moving through the long grass. Martin moved onto a high area as he had seen reedbuck. We watched one male "cavort" through the grass towards the reedbuck, but unknown to us the other one was creeping towards an impala who was watching the "poor" reedbuck. All this confusion led to his demise and we had a kill! We were just as confused and only when we saw the death bite did we realise our luck. We watched them take turns at eating from the rump as a giraffe wandered past in the background.

Other sightings: various white rhinos, zebra, wildebeest

Birds: woolly-necked stork, rattling cisticola, fan-tailed (zitting) cisticola, grassveld pipit, juvenile African harrier hawk, crowned hornbill, purple-crested turaco

Rock Lodge

Camp Manager - Nic
Chef - Grateful, Khuleha, Jessica (Nic's wife)
Butlers - Sabelo, Mr M

After spending the weekend in Ballito (see end of book) due to the whole of Phinda being booked out by Spar, we arrived at Rock Lodge. This was the first time we have been to this camp. It is nice and small (6 chalets). For the first 2 days we were the only guests. We unpacked in room 1 and settled in to read.

27 May - Evening Drive

Ranger - Matt, Tracker - Bethuel

While taking an easy drive we heard a kudu bark. We changed direction and soon found fresh cheetah tracks. Following the spoor we found a large female. She seemed to be looking for a place to settle in for the night, but some monkeys were letting everything know. It was quite amuzing to watch a herd of giraffe alertly watching the cheetah. we left her to follow up on a sighting of an old female lion (Fogoweni female) with her 2 cubs. They were feeding on a giraffe carcass.

Other sightings: buffalo, white-tailed mongoose

28 May - Morning Drive

We decided, as there was only the two of us, to do some birding. We drove to the Ximungwe dam which is always good for birds. A herd of elephants, which don't normally come south in winter, lead us around in circles to no avail. We had a great sighting of a pink-throated twinspot.

Other sightings: hippo, nyala, wildebeest, zebra, impala, warthog, giraffe, kudu

Birds: whitebreasted cormorant, African spoonbill, darter, whitefaced ducks, African jacana, great egret, green-backed heron, southern black tit, grey-headed bush shrike, collared sunbird, sombre greenbul, golden-breasted bunting

28 May - Evening Drive

We decided to venture onto Sutton and Nkonki (new land added), which are over the hill from Zuka. Along the way we spotted a crocodile well out of water. We saw the resident herd of elephant deep in the bush. After some criss-crossing we found the Sutton pride of lions - 2 females, male & female sub-adults(2yrs) and a male & 2 female cubs (1yr).

Other sightings: kudu, rhino, white-tailed mongoose

Birds: redfaced mousebirds, African harrier hawk, common quail (L)

29 May - Morning Drive

The morning was spent tracking the illusive elephants. All we got was a brief glimpse. We did, however, have some great rhino sightings - rhino & calf and 5 other rhino.

Other sightings: kudu, giraffe, herd of buffalo, nyala, impala, waterbuck, warthog, wildebeest, zebra

Birds: trumpeter hornbills, spur-winged goose, whitefaced ducks, grey heron, kittlitz plover, flappet lark, African spoonbill, whitebreasted cormorant, darter

29 May - Evening Drive

We drove over the hill to Harrogate. We had 2 great sigthings of black rhino - a bull and straight after a female with calf and young male subadult. They were all incredibly relaxed.  

For sundowners we went on top of a hill with a great view. A bat hawk flew over, chasing some bats. On our drive back we stopped to see the Mountain pride - female and 4 eighteen-month old cubs (2 male & 2 female).

Other sightings: kudu, side-striped jackal

Birds: crowned hornbill, red oxpeckers

30 May - Morning Drive

The morning drive turned out to be a lion morning. Whilst following up on tracks of the Sutton pride, we came across the Fogoweni female and her 2 cubs. This was in the exact spot that we had seen the Mountain pride the previous evening. They moved off into a mountainous area so we joined the Sutton pride who had been found. Later we spotted a lion, from the Mountain pride, on a rock at the top of a koppie. We had seen all 3 prides from the south in one drive, all in close proximity to each other!

Other sightings: zebra, grey duiker, impala, nyala, wildebeest, warthog

Birds: kurrichane buttonquail, speckled mousebird, Burchell's coucal, African harrier hawk, scarlet-chested sunbird, dark-capped bulbul

30 May - Evening Drive

Matt was determined to see all 4 prides of lion in one day, so we left early (14h30) and drove north. We had wonderful sightings of both the 2 male cheetah and the female cheetah and her 3 cubs. We then moved on to the Nortrhern pride, who were so full they could hardly move. We went to pipeline pan for drinks and watched a bull elephant come in to drink. As we were leaving we discovered we had our 3rd flat tyre for the day! We had to radio another vehicle for a spare.

Other sightings: warthog, rhino & calf, baboon, thick-tailed bushbaby, flap-necked chameleon

31 May - Morning Drive

On our final drive we started looking for cheetah, but soon found fresh lion tracks. We found the cubs of the Mountain pride. We followed them for quite a way, watched them drink and saw them half-heartedly hunt a big giraffe. All the while they were listening to their mom calling. Upon leaving the sighting we were called in to see the mother who was still a couple kilometres away. We had now seen every single lion on Phinda. We were also spoilt with a sighting of 2 young giraffe.

We then left the area to see an elephant herd. We got there in time to see 2 drinking at a dam. We saw 4 more and a bull in must. We moved on and saw the matriach and others and then chaos erupted as they heard a helicopter taking off. There was then a mad rush for the other side of the property!

Birds: martial eagle

25 - 27 May - Ballito

On our way to Ballito we made a trip down memory lane by driving into Kwambonambi. How things have changed - they are even building a flyover on the N2!

When we got to Ballito we found our B&B right on the beachfront. We moved the car into the secure parking a street further back - and it didn't move until we left Ballito on Sunday. After we had unpacked, we walked 2 buildings to the Al Pescatore restaurant to have a wonderful dinner. In fact, it was so good that this is where we ate the next day too!

We woke early on Saturday and sat enjoying the sunrise over the sea from our room (it was too cold and windy to go outside). Spent day walking on boardwalk and relaxing, reading or watching sport.

On Sunday we again watched the sunrise, but this time from our verandah. We also then took an early walk on the boardwalk in the opposite direction, stopping to watch a group holding a baptism on the way out and a Labrador retrieve his stick from the tidal pool on the way back. We had noticed him waddle past with stick in mouth following his owner a couple of times from our verandah.

On way back to Phinda, we made a detour past Richards Bay and stirred up more memories...

Birds: Cape gannet, whitebreasted cormorants, little egret, pied kingfisher, long-crested eagle