Photo Credit: Vaughan McShane

Phinda Private Game Reserve, a safari experience combining the bush and the beach

Imagine a safari experience combining the bush and the beach!

Male lion in Phinda Private Game Reserve Lynette License: CC


The KwaZulu-Natal province is known for its wetlands bearing distinct ecosystems. Containing seven of them within only 170 km2, Phinda Private Game Reserve is referred to as “Seven Worlds of Wonder”.  Ever since it was built in 1991, it has been getting more diverse and populous with not only the big 5 but also with many other rare species. Being so close to the Indian Ocean, it is one of the very few game reserves in the world where you can view big five and go cage-diving with sharks on the same day!

Loggerhead turtles Jeroen Looyé Licence: CC


Phinda Private Game Reserve was built between the Mkuze Game Reserve and Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park. Between the ocean side and the inner part, the vegetation changes dramatically. You will find a wetland system towards the ocean. As you go inland, you will see a spectrum of ecosystems like palm savannah, thornveld, bushveld, woodland, and sand forest that is very rare throughout Southern Africa.

The park has three different types of savannah: coastal grassland, open woodland and mixed bushland. Besides, two rivers are running through the park, giving rise to marshlands with fever trees. The park is bounded by the Lebombo Mountains in the south, facing its rocky foothills.

The sand forest has a quite distinct appearance made of giant orchids, cacti, ferns, mosses, and creepers. The rare members of South African wildlife are found excessively here.

Lebombo Mountains Steve Slater Licence: CC


A game reserve with various habitats is guaranteed to have a wide spectrum of encounter opportunities.

Black Rhino is the rarest member of the big five and even absent from a significant portion of national parks in Africa. In Phinda, there is a serious conservation attempt for the black rhino population that earned them several international awards. The endangered black rhino population is contained within a sanctuary where they are safe from potential threats.

Black rhino in Phinda Private Game Reserve Lynette License: CC

The cheetah population is quite elusive in many South African reserves, but not Phinda. There is also a sanctuary that is responsible for the wellbeing of the cheetah population.

Cheetah and cubs in Phinda Private Game Reserve Lynette License: CC

Other wonders of the wildlife include African bush elephant, giraffe, Burchell’s zebra, buffalo, blue wildebeest, white rhinoceros, hyena, leopard, and lion.

As mentioned earlier, the sand forest gives an experience of a fairytale or a Pokemon movie since you can see rare species of suni, nyala and red duiker.

Due to its proximity to the ocean, Phinda provides a gate into the spectacular marine wildlife of the Indian Ocean. The highly endangered sea turtles use this coastal stretch as their breeding grounds. There are also a few coral reefs off the coast, which you can visit by joining scuba diving and snorkeling tours.

Scuba diving Manoel Lemos Licence: CC

The wetland is a valuable sight for attracting birds. If you like bird-watching, you will be happy to know that the park is home to 436 bird species at the moment.


There is a wide range of activities in Phinda Game Reserve

  • 4×4 game drives to track wild animals in their natural habitat
  • Bushwalks through the different habitats with experienced guides
  • Private specialist safaris such as birding and photographic safaris
  • Visits to the black rhino sanctuary where you can assist the staff in rhino notching and de-horning.
Rhino herd in Phinda Private Game Reserve Lynette License: CC
  • Visits to the elephant sanctuary where you wash and feed elephants.
  • Zulu village tours to meet the locals living in the southern end of the park.
  • Scuba diving at coral reefs in Maputaland beaches.
  • Cage diving with white sharks.
  • Night drives to spot sea turtles
  • Phinda is the only game reserve in South Africa that offers night safari. This is quite a special tour as many nocturnal animals come out at night to hunt. High definition infrared cameras are used for viewing during the experience. If you are not satisfied with what you see with the naked eye, you can purchase infrared footage of the highlights after the tour.


Phinda Private Game Reserve is in KwaZulu-Natal’s subtropical region that experiences a pleasant subtropical climate. The temperatures remain between 25 and 32 Celcius in summer from October through to April. This period is considered the humid and rainy season. On the other hand, the rest of the year sees mild and dry weather with temperatures fluctuating from 23 degrees Celcius during the day to 8 degrees at night.

There is no particular “best time to visit”. The summer months are particularly abundant with young animals; however, winter is better for a clear and uninterrupted game viewing.

A baby hyena at a den Joe Turco Licence: CC

Getting There

Phinda Private Game Reserve has a private airstrip that can be reached from Cape Town and Johannesburg via Airlink. The passengers can also benefit from the VIP lounge of the airports while waiting for the departure.

The game reserve is a seven-hour drive from Johannesburg and a 3.5-hour drive from Durban.

There are numerous safari packages offering shuttle services from King Shaka International Airport in Durban.

King Shaka International airport Bob Adams Licence: CC

Click here for a detailed map and directions.

Tips & Things You Might Need To Know

The place has five luxurious lodges for overnight stays:

  • Forest Lodge consists of glass chalets built by the local community near the sand forest.
  • Mountain Lodge has chalets and conference facilities in the bushveld, overlooking the Lebombo Mountains and the St. Lucia Wetland Park.
  • Vlei Lodge
  • Rock Lodge has chalets overlooking the Leopard Rock
  • Zuka Lodge is built near the waterholes giving amazing opportunities to spot animals that come here to drink water.
Private dining at plunge pool at Phinda Rock Lodge Vaughan McShane Licence: CC

Important!: The lodges at Phinda don’t have fences around them, so you can imagine how animals can roam around freely. It is strictly forbidden to wander off at night without a security guard.

Malaria: The area is in the low-risk Malaria Zone which doesn’t require intake of malaria pills. Nevertheless, you must consult with your general practitioner before visiting.

Children Safaris: You can enquire about private safaris for the whole family to include your little ones in the experience. The experienced guides will make sure that your children broaden their knowledge of wildlife and natural sciences.

During the safari drives, you should never leave the vehicles to get closer to the animals. When they are walking past or near, it is essential to follow the instructions of the ranger and make no sudden movements.

Watching elephants on a safari Louis Licence: CC