My spirits were lifted up by the gracious hosts Isabella von Stepski and South African native Anthony Worsdale at the 2,500 hectares Pakamisa Private Game Reserve and Equestrian Centre in northern KwaZulu-Natal Province.
After a drive along R66 my Zululand Tours guide Mike Nel, pulled onto a dirt road past the Pakamisa signage and through burning sugarcane fields. Past the entrance security gate to the reserve it was a hairpin drive to the lodge, perched along the brow of Pakamisa Mountain. In the Zulu language, Pakamisa means “to lift up”. Bluish hillocks stepped across the horizon with Swaziland in the far distance.
The brick lane to the Reception Hall.
An Austrian noble by birth and charming by nature, Isabella brought her entire white Arabian ramuda from Andalusia, Spain to South Africa. She was strongly influenced by her Spanish residency which helped her further develop her knowledge of Arabians and other horse breeds, and after designing, building, and operating Pakamisa for over ten years, she has created the preeminent equestrian horse safari property in Africa.
Pakamisa is somewhat remote which enlivens the Reserve animals a serenity that is rubbed off on the guests. Only 16 guests are accommodated at Pakamisa at any time, in eight duplex luxury suites, which are more like Spanish-style villas. Isabella’s Spanish influence carried over in the design and décor of the Suites, with huge reddish tiles that assures a cool floor to the feet. The roof tiles are also Iberian influenced.
Pakamisa's amazing and remote bush views.
As in any hot climate, the eight meter ceilings means the rooms are naturally airy, even in the summer months. Each suite is named after an African animal and after checking in with Eve at reception I was escorted to my Elephant Suite, which was immense. In the luxury bath there was a large fast filling bath tub and separate shower with an engraved glass door.
My Elephant Suite.
The Suite encompassed an open bedroom and lounge area, wardrobe closet, and a private veranda. There is an in-room electronic safe, and mini-bar and tea/coffee facilities with complimentary tins of cookies and biscuits that are refreshed daily.
The style of the Suite is cetainly an African motif, with wildlife themes present in the indigenous paintings and local artifacts.
I stepped down to the verandah and wildebeest grazed placidly below the gnarly bushveld. Because Pakamisa is a smaller gated and fenced reserve, there are no predatory lions or large ruminants such as elephants and rhinos, but I still felt like I was in an open air zoo with the animals observing me!
My spacious Elephant Suite could stable an elephant.
I was served by Terrance on the terrace for a splendid lunch in the free-standing El Prado restaurant verandah. The always smiling Terrance is a Shoni from Zimbabwe, as was Chamu, my game driver and ranger.
Chamu and I bounced along the dirt tracks in the land wagon and we spotted the shy nyala, spiral horned kudu, the resident giraffes, a family of warthogs, graceful impala, and a zebra or two. A troop of baboons hollered on a hillside but they moved so quickly we never did glimpse them. Chamu also leads walking safaris on the property, and Eve at reception, can arrange champagne picnics under shade trees in the bush.
A reticent reticulated resident.
In a small meadow near an intermittent stream beneath a small ridge Chamu set out a sundowner with biltong, the dried meat jerky known all over Africa, Castle Beers, and other treats.
At night the large game animals come out in the meadow to graze on the succulent grass.
Pakamisa is also home to waterbuck, blue wildebeest or gnu, red hartebeest, bushbuck, common and mountain reedbuck, grey and red duiker, klipspringer, vervet monkeys, caracal, genet, as well as many smaller mammals, predators and reptiles. Over 200 bird species have been identified at Pakamisa.
A bush "Sundowner" with Chamu.
Back at my Elephant Suite the late afternoon azimuth of the winter sun made the entire property glow in a warm light that made the sandy exterior a shade of pink that blended right into the landscape as I blended right into the rays on my private terrace. After the sun set a crescent moon glided over the Max Escher painted sky.
My private verandah.
Hey Isabella, do you need "an Ol' Cow Hand From The Rio Grande?"
Before a private dining evening with Isabella and her humorous and delightful companion Anthony, I trotted off to Hunter’s Bar, a small alcove adjacent to the reception area in the main lodge.
Of all the game lodges I visited throughout South Africa, Isabella and Anthony became not only my favorite hosts, but my favorite friends. The entire staff is professional in all aspects of the reserve, but there seems to be an underlying wisp of impish playfulness behind everyone’s smile, ready to crack a joke. As a hands-on entrepreneur Isabella assured that the 5-star lodge’s magnificent El Prado restaurant meets international standards for cuisine and wines. Isabella and Anthony sourced the best vintages from around the world, and even spent a month in Italy, no doubt sampling the varietals that are now poured at Pakamisa. They also stock some of the best South African vinos as well.
El Prado Restaurant serves local and international cuisine.
Isabella markets the property heavily in Germany and Austria and after recently returning from the big Indaba Travel Trade Show in Durban, she believes more Americans and British would enjoy her equestrian safaris at Pakamisa. I grew up with horses in Wyoming, and I agreed that her stylish retreat would certainly entice horse lovers from around the world. The multi-lingual Isabella makes all her guests part of her family and speaks German, English, Spanish, Portuguese and a little French.
The next day my experienced young equestrian safari guide, Stefani, drove me down to the stables where Isabella was feeding her eight attitudinal ostriches that strutted around as if they were in charge of everything.
Isabella feeds the birds Bully's dog food.
My other safari guide, Moses, trots out King or also known as Nykhosi in Zulu, the largest horse at Pakamisa, and he throws on an English saddle (they have a couple of Western saddles too) and I climb aboard from the stepping ramp.
With Stefani on Bushman we string out of the corrals and into the bush for a swaying gander at the giraffes. I must say, seeing wild game from horseback gets us much closer than a noisy safari wagon.
They associate the horse and rider as one animal
We stirred up some disgruntled warthogs that preferred their own company and privacy, the snooty snobs. We follow the giraffe herd and wait for opportune photos between their grazing and rubber-necking inquisitiveness. We waited patiently for the giraffes to quaff their thirst at a drinking hole so our horses can slurp and slake.
A male Kudu wanders Pakamisa.
The sky blue-eyed Stefani points out other game along the track we would have missed without her directions. Moses and I heard the baboon clan chatter on the mountain side, I wondered what their tattling gossip entailed. Workmen were busy cutting back invasive shrubs that when removed opened up the bush to better grazing for the animals and better views by horseback.
A horseback safari with Stefani at Pakamisa.
Pakamisa’s stable area also has a lounge and veranda with cool drinks and snacks served after each ride, but Sonto’s culinary staff can cater complete dinners at the stables, or in the bush.
After patting Nykhosi a good afternoon, Stefani explained that the Boers or Afrikaner pioneers developed their own tough breed of horse called Boerpad, which have such strong hooves that they don’t have to be shod. Elena is a Boerpad mare and as we stoked her head, her jealous juvenile son El Dorado raced over but then stopped suddenly when he spots a bunch of grass to eat. After Nykhosi El Dorado was my favorite horse, and his beautiful midnight black mane highlighted his dun colored buckskin. In a corral a spirited black Arabian stallion looks like he would be a wild ride, which brings me back to the days I rode quarter horses saddle-less across the expansive Wyoming Thunder Basin grasslands chasing wild mustangs. Yeah, when Isabella and Stefani aren’t looking maybe I could ride and wrangle the wild wind.
Stefani with a Boerpad mare, Elena.
Later that afternoon I am seated comfortably in front of the fireplace in the Trophy Room of the main lodge reading about Isabella’s exploits in newspaper and magazine clippings in her thick scrapbook when Bully, the pet hound dog, climbs into the seat next to me to keep an eye out.
Catch a good read in the library.
The main lodge also included the splendid Rock Pool on a large terrace with umbrella dining where meals can also be served.
The library is stuffed with wonderful hard-bound picture books and old and rare editions. I could have spent many hours there if Bully kept me company.
Bully will no doubt join you in the Trophy Room.
There’s no TV in my Suite, just the sounds of cicadas as night falls. There is no radio, just the brilliant stars that are soon overwhelmed by the waxing sliver of moonlight. It’s BBQ night at El Prado so I slip out to Hunter’s Bar where guests from Germany have recently arrived, and I meet up with Stefani, Pippa, Isabella, and Anthony.
After good cheer I anticipated the wild game grilling on the spit. On white linen the starters and wine are served by Terrance and Douglas. Suddenly Bully bullies his way onto my lap for a scratch behind the ears. Even Bully is the most hospitable dog in Africa. I thought I was special, but he then jumped into the lap of the German lady; he would have made the rounds if the call to the grill hadn't been announced.
Home on the Range with BBQ wild game.
It is self-serve at the BBQ and Isabella points out the lamb chops, nyala steaks, and the famous pioneer Voortrekker sausage called Wors, but pronounced Vors, all grilled to perfection. A separate table holds fresh salads; Pakamisa grows its own vegetables under screens at the stable gardens where there is plenty of equine fertilizer.
“When cooking wild game it shouldn’t be grilled past medium,” states Isabella, “otherwise it is difficult to chew.” The flame broiled nyala antelope steaks demanded a return for seconds. I would like to return to Pakamisa for one of Isabella’s famous Gala dinners with concert music.
Eve at reception can arrange all your wedding or honeymoons events, even on horseback. Pakamisa is well known for its meeting and conference capabilities, with the latest audio-visual equipment. Eve was proud of her new internet satellite dish. Contact Eve or Pippa for special conference rates.
Lunch can be served at the pool.
Pakamisa boasts its own shooting range in a mountain location (far removed from the lodge to avoid noise disturbance). Here a modern clay target parcours is available for enthusiastic shooters. Reception can also arrange exciting Tiger Fish angling at Jozini Lake or along the Pongola River about an hour away; or take a boat cruise through iSimangaliso Wetlands Park much farther away on the N2 highway. There’s also golf in Pongola 40 minutes away. Arrange a day excursion for Zulu warrior dancing, or arts and crafts shopping in the nearby traditional villages. Pakamisa also offers a safari package at the nearby Amakhosi Safari Lodge. Read the Jetsetters Magazine feature about Amakhosi.
Pakamisa is 15 miles SW of the town of Pongola and you can fly from Joburg to the regional airport. Anthony has his pilot’s license for a four seat Cessna he parks at the Pongola airport, and he often ferries guests from around South Africa to the property. By road from Joburg or Durban stay on the R66 toward Magudu then follow the dirt road eight kilometers to the Pakamisa entrance gate where they can send down the safari wagon or take you up.
Pakamisa glows in the winter sun.
It was difficult to leave the horsey haven of hospitality of Pakamisa and I missed everyone there, even Bully, who was sunning on the bricks with a lizard crawling around his neck, and so I left with a song in my saddlebags, but I will be "Back In The Saddle Again" someday at Pakamisa.
Pakamisa Private Game Reserve
PO Box 1097
KwaZulu Natal, South Africa
Tel: 27 (0) 34.413.1817
Cell +27 (0) 82.229.2116
For tours or transfers in the northern reaches of KwaZulu-Natal contact Mike Nel of Zululand Tours.
Mike operates out of Dundee and can arrange traditional cultural village visits, and battlefield and wildlife tours.
I highly recommend his services.