Spanish architecture and an Austrian host. Incongruous, perhaps, in Pongola in Northern Kwazulu-Natal. But it all makes sense once you are at five star Pakamisa Lodge, perched on the high plateau of the Pakamisa Mountain, with forever views over the valleys and plains of the Pongola River to the east and the rolling hills of natural bush of the reserve in the west.
Pakamisa, isiZulu for “lift up”, does indeed lift you up. It certainly did for Austrian Isabella Stepski some 20 years ago. After working with horses in Spain for many years she sought change and, to cut an interesting story short, fell in love with and bought what is now Pakamisa Lodge and Private Game Reserve.
The work Isabella has put in is impressive- especially considering what a steep climb it is to the lodge. In the first year- 1996- the infrastructure with 52kms of dirt roads was established and secured with 24kms of fencing around what was a 2500 hectare cattle farm, now pristine savannah and bushveld, stocked with game.
In December 1997 the stables- equestrian centre is more apt- were completed and Isabella’s precious Arabian stud horses, imported from Spain, were in residence.
For many, probably most, Pakamisa is all about the riding. Me? I’m over the 90kg weight limit but my (inexperienced) brother had a wonderful time. One thing is certain, game viewing from horseback is way more rewarding than from a vehicle. There are no predators so the game is in any case pretty chilled, but you get really really close.
There are plenty of walks too and head guide Chamu Chordwaza is an excellent teacher and companion.
Walking and riding were curtailed, however, with the advent of a spectacular thunderstorm over the parched land. This may have upset a few riders but it brought relief to the land and made for superb views as low clouds snagged on Pakamisa Mountain and the lodge itself, while the valley below and Swaziland and the Lebombo mountains beyond remained visible. Perfect for a gin and tonic or two on the lodge’s massive veranda, or one’s own.
I had never seen Northern KZN from such a viewpoint so was delighted, as were the birds and of course the plants. It was amusing watching young warthogs who had never encountered rain acting like Chicken Licken (the story not the fast food franchise).
It wasn’t all rain during our stay but even if it had been Pakamisa has one of the largest libraries you’re likely to explore at a lodge, plus a tv lounge and oodles of indoor space to lounge about in while admiring interesting artifacts and art.
You won’t be bothered much while relaxing since Pakamisa has just eight freestanding, very spacious, well-appointed and comfortable suites, all with fabulous views and stocked bar fridges. Eight metre high ceilings and fans keep them cool, though you’re likely to be out and about- either poolside or taking part in activities. If you’ve never tried clay pigeon shooting, I recommend it- probably because I seem to have a knack for it. Great fun. Archery? I was disappointed with my lack of aptitude, especially when my brother, never having raised a bow, hit absolute dead centre with his first arrow. I was somewhat mollified to learn from Chamu that a slender German lass was the best yet seen, striking the bull from 40 metres.
You can also receive expert instruction with airguns, hand guns and rifles.
Another reason people visit Pakamisa? Food, glorious food. In changeable weather bush breakfasts and picnics were not happening but breakfasts and light lunches on the terrace at El Prado restaurant were delightful. Elegant four course dinners after a drink and chat in the Hunters Bar even more so. Head chef Thandeka Nxumalo is to be commended. She turns her hand to a diverse menu, including lovely soups, seafood, venison and delightful desserts. I’ve not had more flavourful quiches and I was so glad I tried the tuille basket, a dessert I’d previously not had much time for.
The relatively cool weather as it gave me a hint of how glorious winter visits must be, with fires stoked and all day riding. It also gave an extra flush to the cheeks of a little girl, just back from her ride, who was squirming out of her skin with delight.
Call 083 229 1811 and visit www.pakamisa.co.za