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Questor Insurance Travel Features


The Fairmont Zimbala Resort - Durban South Africa

Date Created: 01 December 2013

“The first person to see a giraffe gets a prize,” says Jo. Yeh right! We may be en route to Phinda, a game reserve three hours outside of Durban, but until we get there, this cynical Brit isn’t expecting anything more exotic than gum trees and sugar cane. Five minutes later, a shout comes from one of my fellow travellers, ‘Look, giraffes. I win!’ And there they are; a family of giraffes casually nibbling tall trees not fifty metres from the busy main road. A few miles on, we pass a field full of grazing ostriches - and we’re not even on safari yet! Jo, who has organised this trip to Phinda from our hotel, the Fairmont Zimbali Resort near Durban, smiles knowingly, ‘There you are, I told you South Africa is a wonderland.’

When the only extreme wildlife you’re likely see is on television, the idea of watching animals not so much in the wild as in the neighbourhood, makes the South Africa experience all the more stunning. Jo tells us the Zimbali Resort, situated on an unspoilt East Coast shoreline between a forest reserve and the shimmering sea, aims to embrace the region’s exquisite natural beauty and reflect the rich Zulu heritage of the KwaZulu-Natal province.

Judging by the beautiful setting and classy local art work distinguishing this modern hotel, it’s a job well done. Languishing in my suite the size of a tennis court, I’ve become used to monkeys performing tricks along my expansive balcony or mischievously turning on the showers beside one of the five swimming pools. The bird life and butterflies are entrancing and I even spot Dak (a species of antelope) helping themselves to juicy vegetation in the kaleidoscopic gardens. Who needs a safari!

Tearing myself away from the luxurious Fairmont Zimbali is tough but the Phinda Game Reserve comes with pedigree – and I’m not talking about the big cats. Everyone from Charles and Camilla to Brad and Angelina has visited Phinda. Set in 56, 800 acres of prime wilderness land comprising a magnificent tapestry of woodland, grassland, wetland and forest, interspersed with mountain ranges, river courses and marshes, Phinda is also sanctuary for the Big Five.

My sumptous lodge is surrounded on all sides by floor to ceiling windows so I can watch wildlife parading past in the forest as I luxuriate in the freestanding bath or laze in the capacious bed. At night, nocturnal snuffles and rifflings in the vegetation outside offer promises of things to come. Admittedly, the 5 am morning call comes as a shock but as I climb aboard the jeep and watch the rising sun filtering through through the trees, the excitement is palpable.

Our guide, a grizzled Zulu called Benson and his tracker Nsika, are keen to show us the illusive Cheetah. Whilst following great paw prints in the sand, we encounter a new set of collective nouns including a ‘dazzle’ of zebra, a ‘journey’ of giraffe and a ‘creche’ of white rhino and their agile infants playing like puppies. Suddenly Benson swerves the jeep towards a shrub beneath which a huge male lion is panting in its shade. We are so close I can see his yellow stained teeth and one opaque blue eye – ‘he lost his sight in a fight,’ Benson reveals chillingly.

Two lionesses laze beneath a nearby bush but when one lumbers towards the male and playfully bites his back, he raises a vast paw and growls a resonant warning. Then a cub cheekily peeks out from the undergrowth, followed by another – and another. In all six cubs appear and we watch entranced as these oversized kittens gambol in the grass. The Cheetah may have proved illusive but sightings such as these are better than any David Attenborough documentary South Africa

That night, we dine by the light of an open fire in the lodge’s enclosed boma. Chef Sam Nguni has prepared an ‘African kitchen dinner’ and having proudly revealed that Phinda Reserve has provided the local community with a school and three clinics. ‘It is beautiful,’ he tells us, concluding with a flourish, ‘And I kiss you for free, you don’t pay!’

Back at the Fairmont, the Willow Stream Spa seems the best place to wash away safari dust. Thinking of Phinda’s mud caked Rhinos, I choose a mud based body treatment. After my torso has been slathered with hot mud, leaving me looking like a huge Mars Bar, I’m given a full body massage using Marula oil (Africa’s Miracle product) and a stress relieving facial massage using an intonga stick - a sort of African chop stick! I leave feeling serene with skin as smooth as latex.

Apart from game reserves, the hotel can also arrange a wide range of alternative attractions. From world class golf, Scuba diving and deep sea fishing to the uShaka Marine World offering hours of fish based family fun or visits to the bloody battlefields where the Zulu, Boer and British struggled for control of the country, there is something here for everyone. But before leaving, Jo suggests one very special experience – a visit to a local Zulu village.

It is Sunday and the community gathered in a windowless hall greet us like royalty. Children, their faces stained with mud as a natural sun screen, welcome us with lusty songs and high kicks as we take our seats amidst the congregation. Beginning with a tiny girl who belts out a song into a microphone the size of her head, the men, women and children of the village entertain us with dance and song. With only the slap of feet, the clapping of hands or the rustle of embroidered skirts as percussive accompaniement, these electrifying performances are met with wild ullulation and applause.

Finally, the congregation bursts into an accapella hymn of joyful thanksgiving. Swelling harmonies radiate waves of genuine warmth throughout the hall and I am moved beyond words. It is a memorable finale to this technicolour visit to the Rainbow Nation. Jo was right; South Africa is a wonderland and thanks to the Fairmont Zimbali Resort, I’ve witnessed first hand this land filled with wonders. FACT BOX.

Seven nights in South Africa with Bales Worldwide, including scheduled flights and accommodation at Fairmont Zimbali Resort on a B&B basis with transfers included. Prices are per person based on two adults travelling and sharing a Fairmont King NS balcony with forest view room, and includes all applicable UK and overseas airport taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change. Prices from £1,895.

To book: Call 0845 057 0600 or visit www.balesworldwide.com Fairmont Zimbali Resort – www.fairmont.com

&Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve Email: safaris@andBeyond.com Web: www.andBeyond.com

All inclusive suite rates at Phinda Forest Lodge start at R3995 person per night based on two people sharing and include safari activities.

Written by Beverley Byrne.

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