Hakuna matata when you go out of the city for a day

Zebras are just some of the animals roaming the plains of the reserve. PHOTOGRAPH: GUILLAUME DE SWART

JUST over an hour’s drive from Port Elizabeth you can lose yourself in the beauty and nature at one of the Eastern Cape’s many game reserves and experience an abundance of wild animals and birdlife up close and personal.

Putting the experience within reach of the man-on-the street, the Pumba Private Game Reserve & Spa, home to the big five and known for their endangered white lions, not only offers amazing overnight stays but also day trips which are perfect for a quick escape from city life. For those pressed for time, a day trip is just long enough to fill your day with excitement and relaxation, before heading back home in time for dinner.

On a crisp winter’s morning, as the sun shone over the graceful plains where antelope graze and lions hunt, we arrived at Pumba after a speedy drive from Port Elizabeth. Friendly staff welcomed us with coffee and a snack before we drove off into the bush for the five-hour outing. 

The reserve, which is a member of African Pride Hotels and The Port Elizabeth Hotel Group, has achieved gold status for its environmental responsibility and a five-star rating for its accommodation facilities. Day visitors are offered an exquisite, yet affordable, outing in equal luxury.

As head game ranger Jonathan Pledger states, “Everyone is a VIP here”.

On the back of the open vehicle, and cozy under blankets, we were treated to a game drive with a difference. At Pumba the animals are habituated and have become accustomed to the rangers and their vehicles, allowing visitors to come face-to-face with these spectacular creatures without losing the element of being witness to wildlife in their natural habitat.

The reserve only allows guided tours, limiting the amount of vehicles to two per site and adding to a unique, solitary experience of nature.

Wildebeest, impala, warthog, hippo, giraffe, elephant, cheetah and almost 300 species of birds are just some of the animals that call the bush and grassland of the 6000ha reserve home, and your field guide not only shows you around but also shares a world of knowledge of the bush with tidbits of extremely interesting information about the animals and history of the reserve.

The farm dates back almost two centuries, when it was owned by historical figure Piet Retief who built a house, and also the oldest prison in the region, on the property.

Unlike many game drives, the animals don’t scatter as we approach. At every sighting we spend a generous amount of time, watching and listening, before Jonathan shares fascinating facts about each animal.

We spot a herd of elephant, also known as a memory of elephant as I now know, by the river and then move on to visit a fresh kill site where lions dined the night before. From there we drove through the stunning yellowwood forest, of which there aren’t many left in the district, and returned to the grasslands to soak up the bush vibe.

Day trips are set up for a maximum of seven people per vehicle, allowing for ample space but also a social experience of sorts. Jokes are made, animals are met and before you know it, lunch time is upon you.

After just more than a two-hour game drive we were taken to the Msenge Bush Lodge for a decadent buffet meal and drinks. The menu is created to showcase traditional African cuisine and, as we dined on venison stew, bobotie and malva pudding, monkeys were playing in the trees. The serenity of the sounds of nature will never cease to amaze.

With our tummies full we slowly drive back to our point of transfer, spotting more animals on the way, before departing on our very short journey home. Having left the beautiful bushveld behind and with the city in the distance in front of you, you realise that this escape is just what you need to recharge your batteries.

This
is a version of an article that appeared in the print edition of the Weekend
Post on Saturday, June 8, 2013.

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