We set off at sparrows from Mbotyi, leaving just enough time for a coffee and a farewell chat with Kath.
Before hitting the tarmac I managed to nearly crash the drone in pursuit of some landscape footage and had to conduct a rescue mission, leaving Dean, Ryno and Em to do some birding from Kili (the name we finally agreed on for our trusty wheels).
With the drone secured and some new birds checked off (the Knysna turaco being a special one here), we continued our journey.
The landscape in the Transkei was staggeringly beautiful, consisting of rolling hills of green and brown hues, with round traditional Xhosa huts dotted all along the way.
In Dean's words, "there's cows and round houses so it must be the Transkei."
Charging forward we made it to Balito in time for a Steers lunch and Spar shop to collect dinner for that evening (making the most of the little luxuries before the roads became a little less glamorous).
Feeling refreshed, we hopped back into Kili for the final three-hour leg of the drive.
I could see the excitement building in Dean and Ryan’s eyes as we approached Phinda.
The two of them met during their time guiding in the reserve 3 years prior; both of them once called it home.
Especially exciting was going to be our 1st visit to the ancient sand forest, with its endemic bird species, unique geographic history and 1000-year-old Lebombo wattle trees.
Pulling into the back-of-house car park, we went straight to see who was around.
Julia - a front of house manager -and Nina - a field guide - were both off duty and welcomed us to the staff block.
After a quick catch up we climbed into a safari vehicle and drove over to Phinda Homestead, the flagship lodge in the reserve.
The place was stunning, elegant and sophisticated whilst still retaining a bush feel.
Emma and I were taking mental snapshots to see what we could recreate at our family lodge in Malawi.
We headed back to the staff block for a Braai and some cold beers.
Sharing laughs and stories around the fire with our new friends was a perfect end to what had been a relatively long day.
With this in mind, all of us retreated to bed fairly early. The next morning Dean had organized a quick drive so we could boost our birding count.
It was fruitful - African Broadbill, Pink-throated twinspot and Brown-backed Honeybird were all spotted, taking our list up to about 150 species.
Getting back we had a quick turnaround and shot off to Ukuwela game reserve to meet up with the team from the Wild Tomorrow Fund.
Wild Tomorrow is a conservation organisation based in New York, and it was a real privilege to sit under some fever trees with founder John Steward to discuss where LiC are at in terms of teaching and future plans.
In John's words, "Lessons in Conservation solve a huge problem for us. As a conservation organisation focused on protecting habitats, we support the notion of educating younger generations, but it's a whole different world to what we're doing with habitat protection. So having an organisation like LiC who are dedicated to teaching the younger generation about wildlife conservation really fits perfectly with what we're doing.”
To end what had been an incredible day we stopped off at Rafiki’s, the local watering hole for pizza and the Rugby World Cup opening game between France and New Zealand.
The trip had been non-stop thus far so watching the first kick-off of the RWC finals with our new friends and good food was a fantastic way to blow off some steam and reflect on what had already been an incredible journey.