I’m in the swimming pool trying to work off the accumulated flab of breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea and create some space for dinner, when six warthogs come snuffling over. Mum, dad and four cubs stop to graze three metres away. I look at them, thinking “yep, they’re ugly, but in a cute kind of way.” They look at me, and I suddenly wonder if they’re thinking the same thing.
If I swam a little more vigorously I could splash the lot of them. But that would destroy the magic, so I float quietly and watch the warthogs do what they do best. Eat.
I was doing well on the eating front myself at Phinda Game Reserve in Kwazulu-Natal. A group of us had taken over The Homestead, a private lodge within a private reserve, so it’s big on privacy. Unless you’re a warthog, in which case you’re allowed to stick your hairy snout in anywhere.
Elephants are also welcome to come and get an eyeful, and for two nights running a young bull ambled over to drink from the swimming pool. Thankfully I wasn’t in it then, because I don’t think my bikini would withstand an industrial vacuuming from that inquisitive trunk.
The Homestead is hired out en masse so all four bedrooms are occupied by family or friends. Rich friends, obviously, but your dollop of cash buys you luxury accommodation, all meals and drinks, a private chef, game drives and walks whenever you want, and an army of butlers, waiters and cleaners to pamper you. It’s owned by &Beyond, which also offers specialist birding, bush skills, leopard research and photographic safaris at Phinda.
Morning had begun with the obligatory 5.30am wake up for rhino trekking. That’s trekking, not tracking, because we were doing this on foot. As we drove into their territory a black rhino was suddenly just standing there, eying us from the bush. That was disappointingly easy, I thought. But ranger Zama Ncube said it wasn’t smart to get within walking distance of this particularly belligerent female, and we beat a retreat in reverse gear. That, of course, was the last black rhino we saw all day. We were getting close when the freshest tracks were obliterated by buffalo that literally and loudly emerged from nowhere.
Finally Zama parked up and we started walking just to try our luck. Now I’m a city girl, but I know if I’d been in charge we’d have got an awful lot closer to the rhino. Mainly because I wouldn’t have spotted them until we were nose-to-nose. Funny how something so big can be so invisible in the bush. Thankfully Zama saw them first and waved us into silence. He apologised that these were white rather than black rhino, but it was thrilling no matter what the colour.
The massive pair shuffled a little, then stared directly at all three of us as we popped up like curious meercats jostling for a better view.
Zama was waving us back behind a tree, but we didn’t want to miss a thing. “Try not to be so interested. This is dangerous,” he hissed. The rhino moved closer, and Zama clapped his hands to drive them away and protect his reckless tourists.
The next evening we watched three lion cubs play-fighting while their mother looked deceptively lazy but alert. As the light faded we drove to a waterhole and saw wave upon wave of elephant come to drink, lining up like a perfect picture postcard.
Dinner that night was in the bush, with Faith smiling brightly as she sizzled steaks in the moonlight. The Homestead’s five-star food is exquisite, with dishes like sugared gammon, beautifully seared Dorado, heaps of delicious vegetable and delightful home-baked bread.
There’s a mini-gym to match the mini swimming pool, and loads of squishy chairs to lose yourself in for an idle afternoon.
On the way back to Richard’s Bay we stopped at Zamimpilo community market near Hluhluwe, where an amazing variety of crafts are sold at remarkably good prices. I succumbed to another Zulu bead necklace while my foreign friends weighed up how many artefacts could fit into their luggage. The Homestead had hooked them on Africa.