wilddog made out of cardboard to surprise a guest on safari

Celebrating the element of surprise As we celebrate #25YearsandBeyond, we take a look back at one of our most favourite guest delight moments...
by 8th August 2016

At &Beyond, we love nothing more than to create lifelong memories for our guests and we’ll take any good reason to throw a party. Be it a milestone birthday or momentous anniversary, to the smaller, but certainly no less significant, things that are so often overlooked in everyday life, such as a magnificent blazing sunset or a sky bursting with twinkling stars.

We are in the business of creating magic; of thrilling our guests by day and spoiling them by night. It’s what we do best.

And so, as we celebrate #25YearsandBeyond, we take a look back at one of our most favourite moments when our rangers were able to surprise a guest that had chosen to commemorate her milestone birthday with a South Africa luxury safari. In fact, the surprise ended up “growing legs” so to speak…

Expect the unexpected

The most exciting and engaging part of any safari is the thrill of the hunt. And by “hunt”, we of course refer to the ancient art of tracking animals in the wild and observing them, undisturbed and at a respectable distance, in their natural habitat. The way nature intended.

Whether you’ve been on 100 safaris, or it’s your first time, your ranger will guide you on an exhilarating journey through the wilderness, teaching you all about the animal tracks and behaviour patterns, eventually locating the animals on each guest’s wish-list. But nature doesn’t always play fair and some of the more elusive, nocturnal animals can be a challenging, often impossible feat. It’s the luck of the wild, which makes it even more exciting and rewarding.

When the Key and Holyoake families, all veteran safari goers, visited &Beyond Phinda Rock Lodge to celebrate Lesley’s 50th birthday, they joked with their ranger Matt Murray, boldly declaring that her birthday wish was to see a pangolin.

Now critically endangered, the pangolin is a solitary nocturnal mammal and there has actually never been a recorded sighting of one at Phinda. If you have seen a pangolin in the wild, then you are in a very elite league of extremely fortunate safari goers that have major bragging rights. Having actually witnessed this holy grail of the bush once before, these guests knew it was a tall order, which made it all the more entertaining.

Not wanting to disappoint his guests and always up for a bit of fun, Matt had a cunning plan up his sleeve. It was the actual day of Lesley’s birthday and Matt wanted it to be a memorable milestone. As they departed on their afternoon game drive, Matt spotted something in the bushes. He stopped the vehicle and immediately set out on foot towards the bush, pointing enthusiastically at the afternoon’s first sighting … a pangolin.

Of course no one believed him, but upon closer inspection, it was indeed a pangolin. A cardboard one that Matt had taken the time to create while the guests were eating lunch. Talk about guest delight; of course, he did take some ribbing from his fellow rangers when they caught wind of the story! Lesley was so impressed by Matt’s gesture that the pangolin actually flew all the way back home with her and took pride of place as the centrepiece at her birthday party a week later.

Lesley and her family of five returned to Phinda recently for a very special family escape to &Beyond Phinda Forest Lodge. Travelling alongside her brother’s family of five, who had come all the way from the UK, this was a first-time safari for Lesley’s three nieces, so she wanted it to be extra special.

Although Matt wasn’t their ranger this time around, the group of 10 excited safari-goers were assigned two private vehicles with rangers Dylan Royal and Wayne Raymond, both of whom have wicked senses of humour. So it was safe to assume that they already had a few pranks and surprises up their sleeves.

The safari was focused on finding those animals on the children’s wishlist; however, Lesley did indicate that if the endangered African wild dogs just happened to cross over from a neighbouring reserve, they’d all love to see them.

On their final game drive, Dylan radioed in an unexpected wild dog sighting and Wayne casually asked if they’d like to dash off in search of the pack. Of course it was a resounding yes and off they went. Wild dog packs move fast, so the excitement was palpable as the two vehicles raced along the fence line in the hopes of getting there in time to see these predators on the move.

As they sped around the corner, Wayne shouted and pointed enthusiastically, “Look, there they are!” And there they were, two highly endangered African wild dogs, initially very convincing as they camouflaged with the bushes, but upon closer inspection, the family realised they’d been pranked. For the second time.

Of course, the cardboard photo shoot of these seemingly realistic creatures wouldn’t have been complete without a cameo appearance from last year’s beloved pangolin, which Lesley had brought all the way back to Phinda that weekend as their official family mascot.

It’s not always about what you see (even though these safaris were jam-packed with the most unbelievable sightings), but rather the experience and the memories created. In this instance, all it took was some cardboard and some passionate, creative rangers to add to an already superlative safari experience making it truly entertaining and unforgettable, not once, but twice.

What are the most memorable celebrations or surprises YOU have shared with &Beyond?