Extreme safari: Rhino, wildebeest, whistling frogs – there's a new species to discover around every corner at the Phinda game reserve

The adrenalin coursing through my body takes me back to the feeling I had jumping out of a plane – only this time I'm not at 14,000ft but firmly on terra firma, sat in the back of a car. The hairs on the back of my neck are on end, my pupils dilated and my heart thumping over the rustle of the breeze.

I am in Phinda, a game reserve owned by the &Beyond luxury-adventure company, in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal, on the eastern coast of the country and, as our 4x4 has turned down a small tree-lined track, we have come face to face with three white rhino: a bull, a female and their calf. Though ordinarily placid, today, we are told, the rhino's acute hearing has been interfered with by the wind and they seem on edge. The bull is particularly unhappy with our presence and takes some threatening steps towards the vehicle. Intimidated by our proximity, he lurches forward suddenly, but luckily within a couple of feet he is startled by the clapping and shouting of our rangers, Daryl and Bernard, and backs away. I'm shaken – but what a moment.

It is easy to fall into the list-ticking game on safari, but the first lesson I have learnt is that it is nature – not any inventory – that dictates what the next scene will be. Growing up in rural Wiltshire, I have always felt alive surrounded by the smells, sounds and sights of the outdoors, but nothing has been close to the 56,800 acres of wilderness at Phinda, home to 421 different species of birds and 74 species of mammals, including the rare black rhino. In fact, Phinda has a growing population of these threatened creatures and offers a specialist safari allowing visitors to track them on foot.

Known as "The Seven Worlds of Wonder" for its seven distinct habitats – comprising palm veldt, savanna, wetland, sand forest, broadleaf woodland, riverine forest and Lebombo mountains – Phinda offers an extraordinarily compact experience of South Africa's landscapes. Guiding us through the wilderness is specialist ranger Daryl Dell, who has worked here for seven years. His endless dedication to the reserve and its abundant wildlife and plants is inspiring. Indeed, despite being surrounded by such large and spectacular beasts, one of his main interests lies in the more modestly sized frog – at every opportunity, he talks enthusiastically about "frogging" and his ongoing search to discover the rare "whistling tree frog" on the reserve.

Around every corner is a new attack on the senses. From the delightfully named and sweet-scented "forest num-num" that grows among the woodland and grasses, to a cacophony of frog calls after the rain in the marshes and the sight of wildebeest emerging out of heavy mist, eerily reminiscent of a scene from The Hound of the Baskervilles. As dusk falls on our return home to the luxurious Mountain Lodge, we happen upon a live necking show. Not a couple of honeymooners, but an innocent display of 13 young giraffes playfully landing firm blows on each other – a truly extraordinary scene.

The highlight of my trip, however, is catching a glimpse of an elusive cheetah and her cubs. From an initial introduction of six cheetah to the reserve in 1991, their numbers have remained stable at between 20 and 30 in the past five years, making Phinda one of the best places to see and photograph them in Africa. Having waited patiently for the mother and her cubs to waken and move in search of their next kill, we are rewarded by the cats crossing within metres of our vehicle. They seem at ease in our presence which, in turn, gives me the time to capture their incredible feline beauty on film.

This summer, South Africa will host the continent's first football World Cup, attracting more than 500,000 visitors. Fans will no doubt be hoping their teams provide them with enough of an adrenalin rush. Should it fail to materialise, they could do worse than get their fix from a visit to the breathtaking land of Phinda.

Full board, safari activities and nature walks at &Beyond Phinda Mountain Lodge from £285 per person, per night (andbeyondafrica.com). Emirates (emirates.com/uk) offers return flights from London to Durban via Dubai from £571.60 per person, including taxes

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Sport
footballLIVE City face Stoke, while Warnock returns to Palace dugout
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
books
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference