In the Zulu language Pakamis means to ‘lift up’ and you are certainly lifted when you reach Pakamisa Private Game Reserve. Lifted in height from the steep approach road and then in spirit by the warm welcome of staff and surroundings.
I have to say I was a little apprehensive about visiting Pakamisa, after all the reserve specialises in horse back safaris. I had ridden twice, once on the vast flats of Hunstanton beach, at the tender age of 6 or 7 and secondly on a school trip to Longtown at 13. Now at 43 was I really ready to climb back on a horse?
Isabella Von Stepski, expert rider, host and owner left the decision up to me. But if I was not to ride then what was I to do? “Would you like to walk this evening, I have a guide and two other guests leaving later?” The following morning there were riders going out, but two were ‘first times’. So again I opted to walk and reduce my hosts stress levels.
There was a compromise though; I could not visit without at least a little horse interaction. So Isabella kindly took me to her stables and gave me a guided tour. The stables were busy as attentive staff were grooming and packing tack away. Her Arabian horses, even to me, looked truly impressive. And a couple were very keen to introduce themselves. Maybe I should have been braver? I spoke to returning riders who had found that being on horseback, rather than on foot or in a vehicle, meant a greater interaction with the reserves game. They had ridden through small herds of giraffe, wildebeest and zebra at close quarters without the wild animals being alarmed.
Walking I can honestly say was an absolute pleasure. It had been a long time since I been on foot in a reserve. Our guide, Chamunorwa, was eager to point out birds, plants and insects. These are the things that are often forgotten when looking for the bigger things that Africa has to offer. We stood still and watched a small flock of white helmeted shrikes approach the tree we were standing beneath. “They are cooperative birds and work together when raising young” Chamunorwa told us. Then with a huge white smile he pointed up. There right above us was a nest with adult and chicks.
Chamunorwa took us a tree and told us that his grandfather had taught him that this, a waterberry, could find water. It grew in close proximity to underground water sources and its branches would point to water. When he showed us his grandfathers’ technique, we knew he was dowsing.
During our walks our guide took great pleasure in showing us many indigenous trees and shrubs including monkey & custard apples and cabbage trees. He even persuaded me to try a wild medlar fruit, which reminded me of a flowery apple. He exchanged calls to black headed orioles. And on hearing a red spotted barbet, he answered, its call. “It’s looking for a mate” he said. And after several exchanges there the bird was, right next to us looking down at Chamunorwa, its new mate!
Dinner was a multi national affair as fourteen of us sat around a large table on the Pakamisa restaurant balcony. This was the first time I had stayed anywhere where all the guests and owners had shared one table. The conversation flowed in Austrian, German and Swiss with a little English thrown in. Stories were told and experiences shared over a meal fit for what was a special occasion. Every meal taken amongst new friends under a balmy African sky should be marked as a special occasion.
Before departing Isabella had arranged two more post breakfast activities. Archery, new to me, and air riffle target shooting. Archery proved a challenge, although I did manage to hit the hay bales that held the target. Chamunorwa my shooting partner was as shocked as me at my efforts with the air riffle. “I want you on my team!” He said through that now familiar smile. Fifteen shots, fifteen targets downed! A great end to a great stay.