Pungwe Camp in the Manyaleti

In Pungwe Safari camp there are bush rules not urban rules. There are no fences, which dictates a heightened level of awareness at all times. The camp has all the comforts but without the frills – just the way I like it.

“…few can sojourn long within the unspoilt wilderness of a game sanctuary, surrounded on all sides by its confiding animals, without absorbing its atmosphere; the Spirit of the Wild is quick to assert supremacy, and no man of any sensibility can resist her.” ~ James Stevenson-Hamilton

Pungwe Safari camp is located in the Manyaleti Game Reserve, which borders the Kruger Park and is nestled between the Timbavati and Sabi Sands reserves on the north eastern side of South Africa. The Manyaleti has no fences between any of the adjacent three reserves which enables the free flow of animals between all three reserves. The result is excellent game viewing but with the benefit of less tourist traffic so you really get the feeling of being alone in the bush and wildlife sightings without numerous vehicles at a scene.

“All it takes is one thousandth of a second. The camera captures light. The photographer captures the scene and the subject. It is the eye that recognises the possibility and pattern. The soul is fed  with inspiration and memory is timeless.” ~ Mike Haworth

You arrive to a warm welcome from the staff and are given a cool drink while the camp manager explains how things will work for the next few days in camp. Thereafter you are shown to your tent and depending on when you arrive you are given 15 minutes or a few hours to settle in before the drive game.

No one is obliged to go on the game drive and often you will see a surprising amount of game and birdlife in the camp when all the guests have left for their game drive and peace has returned to the camp. On the other hand you have no idea what everyone else is experiencing on the game drive!

Camp life has a routine. Up at 5h30 and get to the campfire by 6h00 (in winter – much earlier in summer). It is still dark when you meet around the campfire and you are offered a hot drink and  something to nibble. There is normally much chatter about all the activity in the camp the previous night. By activity, I mean sounds of hyaenas, buffalos, kudu or elephant wandering around the camp or hearing lions some distance off.

You do not want a safari camp to be too commercialised, otherwise it loses some of its bushveld charm and  authenticity. Paraffin lamps are increasingly being replaced with solar lamps. Water in some of the more isolated camps is heated with a “donkey boiler”. A “donkey boiler” is a water-heating system installed outdoors. It comprises a metal drum filled with water and heated by a wood fire. Obviously the timing of your hot shower is important, especially in winter, but it reminds you of the basic necessities of life and how simple they are to create and sustain.

One has to be alert at all times in the camp – especially at night. During each of the nights we were in Pungwe camp a pair of old “dagga boys”, old buffalo bulls,  came into camp to graze on the grass and seek relative safety. These old buffalo bulls have usually been cast out of the herd and move around in small separate groups.

“Africa gives you the knowledge that man is a small creature, amongst other creatures, in a large landscape.” ~ Doris Lessing

Breakfast after the morning game drive is a hearty affair. It is usually a “brunch”, half way between breakfast and lunch, because you only arrive back in camp after the game drive around 10h30.

Unexpected guests are part and parcel of the experience. Usually every camp has a small pond next to it to attract birds and animals to drink in the dry season. During a breakfast, a Shikra came to visit with the intention of bathing but there was too much activity and eventually it left to wait for a quieter time to bath.

The time of the year is important in a safari camp. If it is winter, it can be icy cold on occasions or quite pleasant but you never really know in advance. In summer, it can be stiflingly hot and with no air-conditioning the camp needs to have large shady trees to keep the temperature down. The Pungwe camp is located is a shallow valley with resulted in temperature inversion, so cooler than the higher areas. The early mornings were shrouded in mist due to the temperature inversion, The mist cast a moody feel about the bush.

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We were at Pungwe in mid-winter and it was icy-cold first thing in the morning but warmed up beautifully by midday.

Many safari camps have tented accommodation. The tents these days are very spacious and comfortable. The dining area is the central meeting point where there is also a comfortable lounge and bar area.

Evening campfires are different to the morning ones. After a tasty meal, people invariably wander over to the fire and sit around it.  There is something mesmerizing about a fire. With drink in hand, it is a time for reminiscing on the day’s sightings and experiences. The discussions become animated as experiences are regaled with varying amounts of exaggeration. Campfires create a perfect ambiance for story telling. When you have an experienced guide like Pat Donaldson with over forty years of experience guiding in the bush, people are entranced by his tales. It is intriguing to see bright eyes watching the storyteller intently as he or she carefully unravels the story while the glow of the flames flicker on the entranced listeners’ faces.

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You usually sit in a circle around the fire so everyone can see past the person on the opposite side of the fire which is useful so that someone will see if an animal wanders into the shadows.

“There is language going on out there – the language of the wild. Roars, snorts, trumpets, squeals, whoops, and chirps all have meaning derived over eons of expression… We have yet to become fluent in the language – and music – of the wild.” ~ Boyd Norton

At night, in winter, it can get really nippy in the bush. It is a wonderful feeling to pull the duvet up to your chin and snuggle under the bed clothes listening to all the noises outside the tent.

Some nights can be noisy. Not the barking dogs and urban house alarms type of noisy but the lions, hyaena, jackals and scops owls kind of noisy. The air is denser at night so it carries the sound better. In the bush you become very aware when the night shift takes over and the day shift looks for a place to hide and rest.

I always take photographs of the places I have visited and camps I have spent some time in. Years later when I look at the images I am transported back into that moment and I have clear recollection of that time.

“Stop the vehicle. Let the darkness envelope you. Not a word spoken. Let you eyes adjust. Look up and wonder at the immensity of the world above you. Listen to the frog-like purring trill of the Scops owl or the piping whistle of the Pearl-spotted owlet off in the darkness.  You will feel alive and a wave of gratefulness will wash over you.” ~ Mike Haworth

Being in the bush is a time of vivid experiences. Amazing tales are told around the campfires. There is time for reflection. Most of all it is like a mediation where you get a feeling of detachment from the “hurly-burly” urban life, where you feel restored, your hearing improves and you are able to see better in the bush. Most of all you can be quiet and feel at peace.

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun,

Mike

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