Pumba offers Africa’s Big Five with welcome pampering
Call of the wild on your doorstep
Relaxing spa treatments, exciting game drives, decadent foods and luxury five-star accommodation — there is not much more one could ask for when planning a relaxing weekend away with the family.
Now take all of the above and top it off with views of warthogs drinking from the watering hole just metres from your bedroom.
It is easy to see why Pumba Private Game Reserve was recently recognised by Somak Holidays as one of the top five safari destinations on the continent.
I was thrilled to return to the reserve exactly six years after my first visit, this time as a mother of two.
Pumba is situated about 20km from Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) in the Eastern Cape.
The reserve hosts Africa’s Big Five as well as the rare white lion, hippo, hyena, cheetah, giraffes, various antelope and more than 300 bird species, with experienced guides offering early morning and night-time game drives.
The accommodation facilities are versatile enough to suit couples on a romantic getaway, larger tour groups and then, like us, parents with young children.
I was most impressed with how the staff went out of their way to ensure that the children enjoyed themselves just as much — if not more — than the adults.
When we arrived at the lodge, as a cautious mom, I was quick to observe all the health and safety protocols put in place in compliance with the health department’s Covid-19 regulations.
Staff wore masks at all times and there were sanitising stations at all entry and exit points.
On arrival, our temperatures were checked and forms had to be filled in for each guest.
Pumba’s water lodge offers waterfront chalets overlooking Lake Cariega, while the bush lodge is set on a floodplain with scenic mountain views offering luxury thatch and glass chalets.
All chalets open onto private game viewing decks boasting plunge pools and outdoor showers.
Though it was too chilly to swim when we first arrived, it did not stop us from lazing about on the sun loungers with a G&T in hand while the children made use of the binoculars to gaze at just how close the warthogs came to the deck.
I can only imagine how on a hot summers day many an hour would be spent splashing in the pool.
Each room oozes luxury with its own minibar, earthenware fireplace, free-standing bath and heated towel rails.
For lunch, we got to choose from the simple, yet scrumptious menu and the food did not disappoint.
Emma, 5, thoroughly enjoyed dipping her freshly baked bread into her hearty vegetable soup, while Adam, 2, tucked into the chicken strips and chips the chef had whipped up especially for him.
My husband, Michael, ordered the ploughman’s platter which was pretty much a smorgasbord of all things yummy: salami, cheeses, biscuits, fresh breads, pates, olives and relishes.
The serving was so generous, he battled to finish it.
My crumbed calamari and potato wedges were so fresh it tasted like more.
The children then hopped between slurping up their giant milkshakes and chasing the monkeys that had cheekily come close to our table.
But the highlight of the afternoon was most definitely watching the magnificent giraffe enjoy his long drink at the watering hole, while we enjoyed ours.
While the boys dared to dip in the freezing plunge pool, it was off to the spa for an afternoon of pampering for me.
From facials to massages, body wraps, pedicures and manicures, the experienced therapists make sure that the spa experience is nothing short of relaxing.
They also offer a full kiddies spa menu with treatments such as a fruity facial, magical manicure and twinkle toes pedicure.
Having picked the magical manicure, my daughter was most excited to show off her rainbow nails at dinner that evening.
I could similarly not have been happier with my treatment.
The 30-minute hot stone back, neck and shoulder massage was just what I needed for my sore back.
And as I breathed in the warm oils, I could feel the tension of the past week disappear.
For the health nuts, the spa also has a steam room and gym on offer.
After a most relaxing afternoon, it was off to the bar for a quick drink before we headed to the restaurant for a three-course dinner.
Because of the noisy children, we opted for the private dining experience and a beautiful table was set up for us in the library, where the children could watch a movie while tucking into their food.
Michael enjoyed his butternut soup and bread as a starter while I devoured my fried camembert.
For the main, I enjoyed a tender pork belly and vegetables, while Michael tried something a little different: the venison steak. Both our meals were cooked to perfection.
The meals are paired with a superb selection of local wines.
We opted to have our decadent desserts brought back to the room where we retreated for the night to the hot water bottles waiting in our beds and the warm fireplace.
In the mornings, the entire lodge is awoken to the sounds of wildlife.
It was up bright and early for our family for a game drive with the friendly and experienced Gladman.
For their own safety, children under the age of six are not permitted to go on normal Big Five game drives, so the lodge offers a kids on safari experience.
This includes a one-hour game drive after breakfast, with their own species book.
We were lucky enough to spot giraffe, zebra and lions.
Being extra cautious, the buffet breakfast was done away with and each carefully spaced out table was instead adorned with fresh fruits, cereals and yoghurts before diners are able to choose which fry-up they would like.
Other activities include bird watching, bass fishing, stargazing, archery as well as nearby horse riding and golf.
It was an experience not to be forgotten — a repeat of which I hope will not be another six years from now.
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