Having been to Botswana and Zimbabwe last year, we found these safari lodges to be resort like and more family oriented than we prefer. Although this might be attractive to many who want a light safari experience, we appreciate the isolation of lodges and the companionship of like minded and more serious Safari goers. That being said, the sightings were great and the cats were plentiful.
South Africa is a beautiful country and Cape Town is a fabulous city. We did not experience any negative situations and we felt safe throughout the trip.
We were welcomed very warmly by the Ngala team. Food was delicious, accommodation was very nice but the rooms were close together as in a resort. Silence our butler was exceptional. He was always around. Our Guide Brad and Tracker Solly were excellent and they were as excited as we were in our search for the cats and other animals. They both worked very hard to make this happen. We were teamed up with three American women who were like minded and age appropriate. We shared some exciting sightings and fun dinners with them and our guide Brad.
We had a luxurious suite overlooking the watering hole. We could see the hippos and hear them day and night. We also enjoyed a "deck Safari" from our room as the lions and elephants came to drink water. It's unfortunate that it was found necessary to install an electric fence as it detracts from the Safari feel of other lodges. On our first night we were treated to a bush dinner on the landing strip with their pizza truck and other delicious food. The service was attentive and we were never hungry thanks to our Butler, Leah. There was a special cake and sing song from the team on Bill's birthday.
We did two game drives with our first tracker, Dhilon who was fascinated with the four university students assigned to our vehicle. This was not an ideal combination as they were younger and were equally fascinated with him. The game drive was like a classroom with Dhilon asking questions of us and giving his 15 minute lecture on elephant behaviour as we watched two elephants calming eating trees. There was no real tracking going on and no rapport between Dhilon and our tracker Ransom. They relied on radio transmissions from others and we always showed up to find two other vehicles already at the sighting. We transferred to another vehicle for game drive number 3 and were teamed up with our new guide Surprise and Tracker Ralph. They were superb and what one would expect. They clearly knew every inch of the concession intimately. They shared bush experiences and not textbook information and they both had a sense of humour. if one can request a guide and Tracker, it would be Surprise and Ralph.
Arriving at Phinda Forest Lodge was not the warm welcome of other &Beyond; lodges. The setting was unique and the room was lovely. The meals were delicious and the chef even shared a couple of his recipes.
The first game drive with our guide, Keri was in the pouring rain where most of us got soaked. There were no animals to be seen. No one was happy as we did not return directly to the lodge until the scheduled return time. No active tracking was done here and there wasn't any rapport between Tracker and Guide. Keri relied on radio transmissions from other guides. We did however see seceral lions, cheetahs, and rhinos but mostly from a distance. She seemed to be reluctant to approach the animals. We didn't need to be 100 feet away from a wildebeest. She also spoke constantly and provided more narration than required. Sometimes one would prefer to watch and listen to the animals in silence especially if you are recording a video.
The Oyster Box was very nice. We were upgraded to a luxe suite which was lovely. The only negative was that the room was on the first floor and the hedges were high so you could not see the beautiful view. We were welcome with a bottle of bubbly and birthday balloons and cakes. Very nice touch.
We've shared our thoughts with Greg on this property. We don't feel that we got a suite that was pictured on their website or that is the Mahlatini standard. Location excellent. Beautiful view.
Always a pleasure to speak with Greg. His first hand knowledge and experience is exceptional. All staff members we dealt with were top notch.