We embarked on a Jeep ride to one of the lodges situated on the reserve itself and it did not take long for us to see something truly spectacular. Laying in the middle of the road, not far from the airfield, was a band of lionesses and their cubs shielding from the heat in a rare patch of shade.
While my group and I initially viewed the pack from a distance, our guide soon shifted our open-top Jeep forward, encroaching on what many would deem an acceptable distance from some of the most beautiful, and dangerous, animals in the world.
Every metre our vehicle moved forward spiked fear and fascination at the same time – I stared into the eyes of the eight lions and they stared right back in unnerving silence. To my surprise, after gazing at the cats for a matter of minutes they soon went back to being incredibly nonchalant – making the most of the shade once more.
After an incredible start to my African adventure, our driver soon threw the Jeep into gear again and got everyone moving. As we continued through the unfamiliar landscape, every single rider scouted through shrubbery and long grass in the hope of finding something as magnificent as our first encounter.
Hippos, impala, warthogs, wildebeest, giraffes and rhinos were all around to welcome my group and I to the Phinda Game Reserve in the hour-long journey to its lodges. South Africa had really pulled out all the stops for our arrival.