Lauded by, among others, Conde Nast Traveler, and the early recipient of numerous awards, including ASATA’s Best Game Lodge in Southern Africa, Phinda Vlei Lodge is located north of Durban, in the northern sector of the Phinda Private Game Reserve, overlooking the Phinda Vlei wetlands.
Once a collection of rundown farms, Phinda Private Game Reserve (now 23 000 hectares) is a leading light in the world of conservation. An &Beyond project, it is home to 7 types of habitat, to a diverse and burgeoning wildlife population, and in 2007 was restored to the Makhasa and Mnqobokazi communities, who have in turn agreed to commit the land to wildlife in perpetuity. Contracted out to &Beyond for the next 70 years or so, it has continued to garner international interest, and is today upheld as a model of conservation. It’s an amazing story, and one in which Vlei Lodge plays no small part.
Constructed largely from found teak, Phinda Vlei Lodge consists of a main lodge and 6 sleeping rooms or cottages. Shared areas include a reception, bar, lounge, terrace and dining area. Thatched, raised, the main lodge is characterised by floor-to-ceiling glass, by beautifully polished wood floors and by a high neo-colonial style, one that enjoys contemporary chairs as much as it does dark wood antiques. A cavernous ceiling offsets the cosying effects of an open log fire, as does the terrace, which overlooks the vlei, and serves as both viewing platform and alternative dining area. Returning guests are full of praise – not just for the lodge, but also for &Beyond’s signature pan-African cuisine, which is excellent, and for the service, which – from floor to guide – is oustanding.
Well spaced and raised on stilts, the cottages are large, airy and beautiful. Built – like the main lodge – from teak, thatch and glass, each consists of a verandah, lounge area, changing room, bedroom, plunge pool and separate bathroom. Marked again by the same floors and ceiling, and by wooden shutters, a four poster bed, antique side tables and gorgeous lamps, the overall feel is warm and overwhelmingly tasteful. With doors that open out onto the verandah, the bathrooms – free standing baths, sinks, flush toilets, showers – are equally fine, and underline the lodge’s commitment to a kind of luxury that is all about restraint.
Activities include game drives, guided walks, rhino tracking, bird watching, river boat trips, canoeing, deep sea fishing, cultural visits, scuba diving, scenic flights and beach adventures.
At &Beyond we believe in taking shared responsibility for our futures and those of our children. You may be surprised to know that we have a small physical footprint in terms of buildings and guests. Our entire group of lodges comprises less than 800 beds, smaller than a medium-sized city hotel, but we have a disproportionately large positive impact on the more than 3.5 million hectares (8.5 million acres) of wildlife areas we help sustain and the communities whose lives are interwoven with our business.
Our values are and always have been: “Care of the land. Care of the wildlife. Care of the people.” They have become an intuitive part of the way we operate and are increasingly part of the reasons why our guests find their experience with us so rewarding.
We believe that all businesses can “take less” and “give more,” and we apply this philosophy every day through actions big and small at the group’s 46 lodges. Whether it’s pioneering the re-introduction of an endangered species such as black rhino, facilitating the establishment of an income producing sewing co-operative in a local community or simply managing the vegetable peelings from our kitchens, we consciously look for ways to leave a positive legacy.
Education helps to break the cycle of poverty, allowing communities and individuals the opportunity to enhance the quality of their lives, which is why the building of schools and classrooms, training, bursaries and adult education are all key areas for the &Beyond Foundation.
The rangers at Phinda host conservation lessons for an average of 350 schoolchildren and their teachers every year.
Because &Beyond’s most valuable asset is our staff, in 2003 the company launched the Positive Health programme across the group. A preventative health programme, it trains staff members to become counsellors on health, nutrition and psychological wellbeing, and caregivers for people living with life threatening illnesses such as HIV/Aids.
The &Beyond Foundation has boosted the level of medical care at two facilities through the building of a clinic and nurse’s accommodation at Mduku, and the renovation of a second facility, the Cezwane Clinic.
Through a simple innovation, we have helped address one of the challenges of water supply for local families with the introduction of Hippo Water Rollers. These are drums that hold 90 litres (25 gallons) of water and are easily rolled along the ground by means of a stainless steel holder, as opposed to the usual five litre (one gallon) containers that are traditionally carried on the heads of women and children.
Recycling is right on track at Phinda. Every month the Reserve recycles three tons of glass, three tons of tin cans, and four and a half tons of plastic and paper.
Earthworm farms have been introduced at seven locations on the Reserve to decompose organic wet waste and produce vermin compost and worm wee, which is cultivated back into staff vegetable gardens.
Improved consumption levels of water, energy and power have been achieved through the installation of 25 water meters and other water-saving devices on Phinda.
Following the launch of a major leopard conservation programme in 2002, the leopard population at Phinda has bounced back in a big way.
Phinda protects the greatest number of Pepper-Bark trees in KwaZulu-Natal – 1 400.
In order to further reduce our impact on the environment at Phinda the sustainability team is currently investigating ways to: increase rain water-capturing capabilities and fit water tanks with filtration systems, install solar panels in staff villages to substantially cut back on electricity consumption and introduce an organic biodigestion power plant.