On Safari at Pumba and Lalibela Game Reserve – Eastern Cape
South Africa at this time of year is beautiful. Sun seekers are well looked after in Durban and further inland within our north and eastern regions; further south the weather can turn within a few hours as the prevailing cold fronts caress Cape Town and onwards to Port Elizabeth (now proclaimed Mandela Bay). This cosmopolitan city is named after the first acting governor’s wife, Elizabeth Donkin and boasts a little over one million inhabitants. Importantly, she is the entry airport to numerous private game reserves in this area. Regular flights from both Cape Town and Johannesburg bring these properties into the very doable category in terms of accessibility.
As we meander along the Africa Tamed path of wildlife property reviews, it may be good to understand our evaluation criteria. Quality, quality and quality is our simple guideline. Quality of rangers/trackers, quality of reserve owner’s business philosophy and overall quality of accommodation/location & cuisine. All else is relative. There is a myriad of private wildlife resorts in southern Africa, some internationally recognised with names you may certainly recognise, Mala Mala, Singita and the ever green Londolozi all based in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve then there are in excess of one thousand other properties ranging from the eminently suitable to eminently forgettable.
We seek to learn and understand the owners business philosophy first, through this will flow the management & staff modus operandi. You will be spending up to ten hours every day in the company of your ranger and this demands a certain characteristic to be present. Suitable knowledge, experience and a fundamental passion and enthusiasm for Mother Nature are a basic prerequisite. Ability to share their knowledge at an appropriate level to make your interface meaningful, memorable and pleasurable is key. Your location, accommodation, cuisine and staff team all contribute towards your overall experience, however the first two criteria dictate the bulk of our review focus. Quality comes in different sizes, none fit all…
Ok, with this information at hand, we set off to our first review at Pumba Private Game Reserve, an hour’s drive from Mandela Bay. Pumba Water Lodge is rated five star, offers twelve stone and thatched cottages beautifully placed in a raised positioned overlooking the expansive Kariega Lake. A great viewing deck overlooking the lake extends from the guest area. Well appointed cottages offer all we would expect from a five star property including private plunge pools for each of the cottages set into your individual viewing deck. Fully air-conditioned, invitingly furnished and with what we declared, a decent distance from your neighbour, Claire & I settled in for a late lunch before our afternoon game drive.
This was in the hands of a rare breed of ranger, a female! Tanya whisked us both away into the surrounding biomes (a climatically and geographically defined area of ecologically similar communities of plants, animals, and soil organisms) in search of elephants. We succeeded admirably. A breeding herd under the watchful eye of it’s matriarch allowed us to witness the goings on within her herd. Special mammals these, gentle, intelligent and for Claire & me, enriching to watch. Lions are to be found on the reserve as are the sometimes controversial white lion, part of their breeding program.
Once back at Pumba Lodge, the night sky a darker shade of jet black and a delightful full cream sherry (South Africa produces an excellent array of Sherries) in hand, we chatted to our hosts around a blazing fire. For the purest in us, it is of concern that the burning of wood at our safari lodges is consuming vast amounts of timber and therefore not in support of responsible tourism. At Pumba Lodge, and many other lodges that are supportive of our environment, their supply of burning timber is found in trunks of felled alien trees (Blue Gum, Wattle, Black Wood etc) which we strive to remove from our indigenous woodlands. Dinner was a plated affair wrapped in the warm blanket combination of our host ‘Pyromaniac’ who set up a magnificent fire next to our table, and really first rate table service.
We visited Pumba’s Msenge Bush Lodge the next morning. Ideal for bush getaways of an intimate and remote style, we felt this particular property an excellent choice for an intimate corporate function or those looking to get lost not so much in but within Mother Nature.
Our next adventure (for this is exactly what they are, fun as well!) found us at Lalibela Private Game Reserve at Mark’s Camp. Designed to cater for families, this child friendly lodge is complemented by two distinctively different lodges, Lentaba Lodge and for us their prime camp Tree Tops. Oh my, this one has character! Five tented units positioned amongst tree tops affording only ten guests exclusivity, a place to rest and rejuvenate all in one. Our stay at Lalibela’s Mark’s Camp was unremarkable, warm hospitality and condusive co guests but without imaginative creativity. Our game experience on the morning drive captured numerous interesting game sightings but nothing remarkable.
We did however experience an interactive cultural drumming evening, which created much fun and laughter amongst the clients staying at Mark’s Camp. A great ice breaker and nice addition to the atmosphere of the camp.
In August, we share with you our top private game reserve in the Eastern Cape, Shamwari (Shona word for ‘Friend’). An exceptional example of worldclass conservation in action, superlative accommodation, strong team spirit on the ground in conjunction with well balanced game viewing.
Back now to our fireplace and a bottle of Rupert Rothchild 2001 Chardonnay before dinner, until August, stay warm!