Positioned in one of the most unspoiled wilderness areas in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, Kwandwe Private Game Reserve spans over 54,000 acres of pristine landscape. Add to that the most spectacular accommodation, food and game viewing, and you realize you have discovered pure bliss sighting.
“Mom, look over there”, my daughter instructs me, holding the pair of binoculars close to her face. I’m squinting, trying to look harder but I notice nothing. Our ranger hands me his binoculars and suddenly, I spot them – one mother, and one, two, three, four, five cheetah cubs! “Are we able to get closer”? I ask. This is really a once-in-a-lifetime sighting as a cheetah mother with five cubs is not something you see every day.
Our ranger, Brendon Dredge has already loaded tracker Dennis Yoli into the passenger seat and accelerates the Toyota Land Cruiser up the steep embankment. I wonder if we’re going to make it over the uneven, rocky surface and as Brendon stops the vehicle and turns the nose to where he thinks she might be, the most beautiful cheetah elegantly strides towards us, followed closely by her five cubs.
She looks hungry and is sniffing upwind to see if there is any prey in the vicinity. Having to look after five cubs and maintaining enough sustenance to feed them on a regular basis is no mean feat. The cubs are all sporting the adorable mantle that young cubs have to camouflage them from other predators. Mom trying to hunt turns into a game for the cubs and one by one, they run up to her, wanting to play. She is having none of it and eventually settles in the shade of a tree for them to all rest collectively.
Back at Uplands Homestead, our phenomenal accommodation for two nights and three days, we are warmly welcomed by host Somi Mngcongo. The homestead, originally built-in 1905 as a farmhouse, was lovingly restored after Kwandwe’s owners purchased the land. Decorated with antiques and collectibles evocative of a settler home from the 1820s, Uplands Homestead is the ideal home for exclusive use by six people or families traveling together.
My husband and I are staying in the master suite while our daughter is accommodated in the suite adjacent to ours. Each suite has a full en-suite bathroom with a modern twist, tiled to perfection and our huge bath is known as the ‘elephant trough’, large enough for a herd of elephants to drink from. Interesting story – when a small herd of elephants was relocated to Samara Private Game Reserve, Kwandwe used the crane to lower the bath into the bathroom.
The beautiful wooden floors remind me of my grandparents’ home on the farm and so do the doorways, even the doorknobs are reminiscent of what was vogue in the 1900s. Meals are best enjoyed in the dining room or outside, alfresco style. Responsible for the most mouth-watering, delicious food is chef Ntiski Jackson.
Part of the well-oiled machine that ensures the smooth running of Uplands Homestead is Grace Thafeni, gardener Scura Mthana, and housekeeper Myina Kebe. What makes a stay at Uplands Homestead even more perfect is that you have your own private ranger and tracker as well as a whole staff compliment to look after your every need.
It is early afternoon as we embark on a game drive with Brendon. We are driving towards Fort Dam and as the golden light sets in, we notice the outline of an animal in the distance. As we edge closer, we see it’s a sub-adult lion, basking in the late afternoon glow. There is a rustling in the bushes behind him and bounding out are three more sub-adult cubs – one male and two females.
We make our way to Heatherton Towers, where a lone cheetah had been seen earlier in the day. Brendon immediately sees her as she is sitting upright, looking towards a herd of impala in the distance. She is perfectly positioned to stalk and pounce but seems rather lethargic and as she lays down under a tree, we notice that she looks very pregnant.
The sun has started setting and Brendon suggests we see what the sub-adult lions are up to. As we get to where we have left them, they are up and about and on the move. They pause every few yards to listen – their mother is calling in the distance. We follow them until we get to an inaccessible patch and hope that they will be reunited with their mom.
Back at Uplands Homestead, the most delectable dinner is served, with calamari for starters, followed by delicious kudu venison, mashed potatoes, and vegetables. For dessert, we all enjoy three different types of chocolate mousse.
Tonight, I indulge in a bath, filled with bubbles. The Karoo Lavender products are fragrant and very relaxing. Sparkly clean, I climb into the huge bed and as soon as my head touches the silky soft pillow, I am off to dreamland.
After a wonderful breakfast consisting of croissants, pancakes and English breakfast and the most perfect cappuccino, expertly made by Somi, Brendon takes us on our morning game drive. As we cross the Great Fish River, the white-fronted bee-eaters are out in full force, warming themselves up in the sunshine. With the incredible cheetah sighting forever etched into our memories, we stop for a delightful early morning bush coffee stop, followed a little while later by an outdoor lunch at Uplands Homestead.
Ntsiki has outdone herself with a table laden with the tastiest food – vegetable penne pasta, beef sirloin, grilled baby chicken, artichoke salad and fruity pavlova for dessert. Before our afternoon game drive, we are treated to the most scrumptious high tea.
On our afternoon drive, Brendon tries to find a leopard, but to no avail. Instead, we spot bat-eared foxes and the same cheetah with five cubs we encountered earlier. The tiny fluffballs are fast asleep until mom gets up to hunt. Hoping they will stay behind and don’t ‘blow her cover’, she stalks unsuccessfully while the cubs are running amok.
We are in for a treat tonight and driven to a secret location. Sundowners in the bush! The accompanying ‘snacks’ are to die for – imagine barbecued lamb sausage, beef sausage, pork sausage, chicken sausage, venison sausage, washed down with your drink of choice.
I can’t even think of having dinner at the ‘snacks’ were incredibly filling, but when I hear that we are dining on the fillet, hand-cut fries, and vegetables tonight, I know resistance is futile. I might just forget about fitting into my already tight clothes again.
The most astounding sunrise heralds our last day at Kwandwe. As we exit the gate at Uplands Homestead for our morning game drive, Brendon finds lion tracks. I remember him telling me the previous day that people (and it seems like animals too) fall in love with Kwandwe when they first set foot here and end up becoming return guests. That sounds like the most genius idea ever! See you soon!
| Photographs courtesy of Kwandwe and by Heléne Ramackers
** Thank you to Saskia Brown from Kwandwe and Lucinda Lacon from Limosa Communications for arranging our stay.
** Views expressed are the author’s own.
*** If you, after reading this article feel inspired to also go on a Safari, it’s important for us to recommend you get the right gear. A pair of binoculars is truly a necessity when going on this kind of trip. For finding the right ones I’d check Consumer Reports, Amazon or check out our top 5 choices