On Monday, July 28th Rebecca and I headed northeast from Port Elizabeth in the direction of Grahamstown. We drove for about one and a half hours before arriving at Pumba Private Game Reserve. We came to a double gated guard house, checked in with security and were instructed to follow the signs to the Pumba Water Lodge. As soon as we passed the gates, a giraffe crossed the road right in front of us…it was like somebody released it from a cage to coincide with our arrival! We continued on and met a number of the resident warthogs (from which the reserve takes its name) and then happened to come across one of the adolescent male lions. It was a grand entrance to our home for the next 3 days.
We arrived at the Water Lodge and were greeted, given a short tour, and shown to our amazing villa beside Lake Cariega. The view from our villa’s patio was stunning – there were hippos sleeping on the lakeshore, antelope grazing beyond, and an elephant in the distant trees. There was one golden rule given to us, not to walk outside at night without a ranger. We walked back up to the lodge for lunch and were visited by some vervet monkeys. I found it interesting to learn that these guys are the most populous primates after humans.
After lunch, we met our ranger named Vuyani who would be taking us on our daily game drives. We jumped into a big Land Rover with a canopy, but no windows. There were 2 other couples from the UK which we shared the Land Rover with during our stay. We set out on our first drive and immediately found more of the warthogs. We also found some of the elephants and were lucky to spot one of the youngsters who didn’t stray too far from his mom. We stopped for a break to stretch our legs while the sun set. Vuyani surprised us with the fact that he keeps a well-stocked bar and biltong snacks in his jeep to enjoy at sunset. Although we thought we were warmly dressed, it was much colder than we anticipated, but luckily Vuyani had some super warm ponchos for everyone. Once back in the Lodge, we were greeted with warm towels and a hot cordial drink. There were 2 fireplaces going in the Lodge and the bar was open. We had an excellent dinner and they did not disappoint any other night either.
We spent the next 2 days doing a morning drive and an evening drive. We focused our search on the rest of the “big five”. The big five is a term from the big-game hunters of days gone by used to describe the most difficult and dangerous African animals to hunt on foot and include the elephant, Cape buffalo, rhinoceros, lion, and leopard. We got close to the white lions and found the rhinoceros in some thick bush, however, we were not so fortunate with the Cape buffalo and leopards. During our drives through the 7,000 hectares of property we crossed some open plains, but it could mainly be described as bushveld with plenty of thorny bush. Pumba is set in a valley with steep valley walls forming the natural boundary. We saw scores of other animals such as the impala, blue and black wildebeest, cheetah, Burchell’s zebra, black-backed jackal, kudu, nyala, waterbuck, red hartebeest, bushbuck, eland, and kingfisher, hornbill, and secretary birds. We were also very fortunate to find one of the female lions mating with the dominant male.
Between the morning and evening drives, we’d relax on our patio and have a leisurely lunch overlooking the lake. The first afternoon, I tried my hand at archery. The next afternoon, we joined 3 other couples on a bush walk. We were told that the 2 guides would try to avoid the animals and focus more on vegetation, insects, dung types, etc., but they were both carrying high-powered rifles as we would be walking through lion territory. We first came across one of the adolescent male lions relaxing under a bush. We were separated from it by a small watering hole. One ranger led 2 couples at a time along the water’s edge to get a closer look at the lion while we stayed back with the other ranger. We went second and just as we reached the point at which we were going to view the lion from, we heard a huge splash behind us. We looked back and saw an enormous wake from where some animal had obviously jumped into the water very close to where we had been standing just minutes before. The most unsettling thing was the look on the rangers faces, like “Oh sh*t!” A hippopotamus soon surfaced not far from the water’s edge and he was clearly unhappy based on the snorts and grunts he was making in our direction. The rangers hurried us out of the area as calmly as they could. I guess hippos kill more people in Africa than any other animal for this very reason. You do not want to find yourself between a hippo and the water as they will simply charge right through you to get back to the water. With the group out of danger, we continued across an open plain, but when we reached the bush on the other side the rangers seemed to sense something was there. We waited while one of the rangers went ahead to clear the bush and ensure that we didn’t startle anything else. He came back to say that we’d run directly into the elephant herd. We waited a while before going further, but the rangers were concerned that we had unknowingly put ourselves between 2 of the adolescent males who had stayed behind the main group. We had to keep our distance behind the main herd as they moved forward, but when the 2 males appeared on the horizon behind us the rangers were again scrambling to get us out of the area and up an embankment to safety. With the 2 males passing by, the rangers said that that would be enough excitement for one day. Later that night, they confessed that our bushwalk proved to be the most memorable in quite some time!
On our last day, we would only be doing the morning drive then leaving Pumba for Port Elizabeth. We knew the lions hadn’t made a kill since we arrived and hoped that today would be the day. We found the lions that morning and saw an excited reunion of a young female, who had been on her own for a few days, with the rest of the group. The lions then started to head straight back to the plain near the Water Lodge where, we were told, they make a lot of their kills. We stopped on a ridge overlooking the plain below and could see the lions. They seemed to be relaxing so we stopped to stretch our legs and have a coffee with amarula, but when we saw the dominant lioness start to chase some wildebeest we immediately loaded up the Land Rover and headed that way. Vuyani raced down and we arrived on the plain, turned a corner, and spotted a younger lioness panting over a black wildebeest. The deed had been done. She was dragging the wildebeest off the plain and into the bushes. Such power! It was the icing on the cake for us after a spectacular safari.
We flew to Johannesburg that evening and over-nighted at the airport before catching our flight back to Abu Dhabi. The safari was such a great way to end our vacation in South Africa.