Written by: Tessa Buhrmann
It started out as an overgrazed cattle farm but the swathe of savannah and bushveld at Fair Trade Tourism certified Pakamisa Lodge and Private Game Reserve is about as far removed from its former self as it’s possible to get.
This is not your typical game lodge experience. At Pakamisa, owner Isabella Stepski’s love of horses and extensive stables, enable guests to view wildlife from a different perspective. Many of the 30 well-schooled horses at Pakamisa are descendants of Arab stock imported from Spain, with some bred with local “boerperde” to make them more adaptable to the harsh Zululand conditions.
Guests soon learn that the Pakamisa stables offer more than just an exciting way to view game, they are Isabella’s way of sharing horsemanship and equine management with the local community. Through her “Well Groomed” project she has, over the past 20 years, trained a number of local staff in horsemanship and is proud to have people like head groom Simon Mthembu, as well as Frank and Nelson (who have been with her for 16 years) on the Pakamisa team.
Simon, who comes from the local community, began working at Pakamisa as a labourer on the farm, but his love for and capacity to work with horses soon saw him trained and an important member of the stables. Guests are likely to meet him when they head to the stables for their ride – which is always a thrill in the bush.
There is nothing more exhilarating than riding along dusty farm roads, through grasslands, beneath towering trees and seeing Africa’s wildlife at close quarters. Horse and rider become one with the environment enabling you to ride into a herd of impala, wildebeest and even giraffe before they move off unperturbed.
When stocking Pakamisa, Isabella chose to leave apex predators like lion out of the equation, and although leopard occurs naturally in the rolling hills and mountains which make this area of KwaZulu-Natal so appealing, guests are nonetheless able to enjoy bush walks, mountain biking, bird watching – all accompanied by experienced and knowledgeable guides and in relative safety.
Back at the lodge you’re likely to come across Thandeka Nxumalo, the delightful chef responsible for the delicious gourmet cuisine emanating from the kitchen. When Thandeka, who also comes from a nearby community, started at Pakamisa she had a love for cooking but was unskilled and, like most of the employees, was given the opportunity to be learn and follow her passion. A similar story is told for local girl Nokwanda Buthelezi who, having never worked before, was offered the opportunity to work in housekeeping and now, 10 years later, is in charge making sure each luxurious suite lives up to its five star standard!
Pakamisa’s commitment to the local community extends beyond just job creation and upliftment. It has involved employees in a voluntary programme run by the Siloah Lutheran Clinic offering AIDs education, testing and counselling. As in many rural communities, HIV and AIDs is a major problem, so the knowledge gained helps to stem the tide of this disease as well as dispel some of the myths alienating those suffering from the disease.
What started out as Isabella’s love for this piece of Africa has certainly developed into a love for the land, for conservation and for Africa’s people – which is pretty apt, as Pakamisa in the Zulu language means “to lift up”.
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