When we almost bumped into a big male buffalo less than five metres inside the reserve’s entrance gate, I felt sure it was a good omen for the coming days.
I’d already heard many positive things about Pumba Private Game Reserve before we’d hit the road from Cape Town, and was looking forward to getting properly acquainted.
Pumba is one of the newer members of an increasingly prestigious list of excellent malaria-free Big 5 reserves in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, where large swathes of former farmland have been restored to pristine wilderness areas, and repopulated with wildlife long since hunted or chased out of the region.
I’d come to Pumba with a group of photographers and journalists to test drive the new wildlife photography workshop that Pumba is running in conjunction with Pangolin Photo Safaris.
After a night of fine food and a couple too many glasses of some excellent Cab Sav at the luxurious Pumba Bush Lodge, we made our way to the newly-completed Gameston Lodge, our home for the following few days.
Gameston sits on the hillside on the site of the reserve’s original farmhouse, and is now a budding wildlife photographer’s dream home away from home. There is state of the art equipment and plug points galore, and spectacular views across the undulating hills and dense bushveld of the reserve.
We were joined at Gameston by award-winning wildlife photographer Peter Delaney and longtime Go! photo editor and photography coach Sam Reinders, both of whom will be helping to run the Pangolin Photo Academy along with Neale Howarth, the son of the owners of Pumba and an avid and knowledgable wildlife photographer and guide in his own right.
We made our introductions over coffee, swapped a few jokes and war stories, gathered our gear and set off on our first game drive.
It wasn’t long before we’d found three of Pumba’s famous white lions, an incredibly rare sighting anywhere in Africa, and a first time experience for me.
Peter, Sam and Neale shared some tips and tricks as our cameras clicked away like machine guns, then we all put our cameras down for a moment to appreciate this special moment. The lions lapped it up for a few minutes, giving us a couple of perfect yawns in-between the hard stares, then they flopped back onto their sides and resumed their slumber.
We were to find the same lions again on various occasions over the coming days, but there were other equally spectacular sightings too, including a large and rather excitable bull elephant getting so close to our vehicle that I had put down my camera because I thought he was about to knock it out of my hands.
In the evenings, we’d go over our images with the experts, and sit on the comfy sofas while Neale and the others covered the detailed course material on a big screen. Then we’d move out to the warmth of the fire in the boma with gin and tonic in hand, and recount good old fashioned bush tales beneath the star-studded night sky.
When the time finally came to leave, it was with a certain reluctance that we were dropped back at our car at the main entrance to face the long road back to Cape Town. The buffalo who had welcomed us obviously didn’t like goodbyes ― he was nowhere to be seen.
I found myself already looking for excuses to come back to Pumba as soon as possible, but in the meantime I had a thousand or so pictures to sort through. After all the help from the pros, a great number of those images managed to do the experience justice.