| Photo by Scott Ramsay
Named after the beautiful antelope with the shaggy golden coat that inhabits the area, Puku Ridge is a wilderness escape second to none.
Set on a hilltop with views over the floodplains and the camp’s watering hole, the warmth felt when arriving at Puku Ridge is welcome and sincere. The journey from Mfuwe International Airport to Puku Ridge takes about 90 minutes, depending on what you encounter along the way. Stepping out of the transfer vehicle, I am handed a refresher towel and accompanied to the main dining area by camp manager Sarah.
The vistas are incredible, especially when greeted by the sight of two pukus having a slumber on the cooling grass. As if on cue, a small herd of elephants arrives to quench their thirst. The calf is taking little sips from the watering hole in front of the camp, and Sarah shows me the downstairs photographic hide, where the wildlife enjoy gathering and one can get really amazing shots from this close-up level.
All meals are served on the outside deck and the food is outstanding. The choices are ample when given advance notice, and Puku Ridge caters to every taste, from vegan to halaal and everything in between. For lunch, the menu consists of Greek yogurt flatbread, a selection of tapas platters, and a delectable trio of ice cream. Dinner is a gastronomic feast, with savory seven-seed bread, Puku Ridge salad, grilled beef fillet and dark chocolate marquise, passion fruit ice cream, hazelnut yogurt, and berries. For wine enthusiasts, recommendations are made for a pairing that best suits the specific meal.
Breakfast is delightful, where we sit in the boma area around the fire and coffee is poured like in days-gone-by – from a kettle where the coffee has been brewed over the fire. Bread is toasted over an open flame, and there is always an interesting chef’s special for breakfast that seems to be very popular for the pre-safari meal. The boma serves as a great gathering spot and is notably popular for pre-dinner drinks where stories are exchanged about wildlife sightings in the South Luangwa National Park.
Eight tents are dotted across the landscape, with Tents 1 to 5 and 6 to 8 separated by the main area. I am staying in Tent 1, which is the furthest tent from the main area. Following a walk along the cobblestoned pathway, baboons can be heard and seen drinking out of my plunge pool. They make a hasty exit when they spot me, but don’t seem to be deterred by my presence when coming to lap up the liquid refreshment right outside my tent throughout the duration of my stay.
The tents are enormous, with every creature’s comfort imaginable. Grant and Lynsey Cumings from Chiawa Safaris worked in partnership with Chichele Safaris to ensure that guests at Puku Ridge experience the same level of hospitality that they have become accustomed to. “We don’t own Puku Ridge,” Grant tells me, but we’ve been engaged as managers, designers, and agents. It’s a very high-end safari camp with lots of bells and whistles.”
Lynsey continues: “We wanted to keep it on an elevated level of luxury, but authentic for guests to still feel like they’re on safari, therefore we decided on a tented camp. It really adds to the ambiance of being out in the wild. It’s a classic safari, which includes everything – the food, the people, the guiding, the wildlife – the entire package. We worked closely with Luxury Frontiers on the design and were very specific about our requirements and what we wanted in every room. They were absolutely remarkable, and the product is outstanding – each tent houses a gorgeous bedroom, lounge area, indoor & outdoor shower, outside deck, plunge pool, and a star bed! We believe it’s perfectly appropriate to South Luangwa National Park.”
What would a visit to a wildlife destination be without going on a game drive, specifically in a place like South Luangwa National Park? My guide is Lams, who clearly enjoys what he does – taking guests out on safari in the comfortable Puku Ridge game drive vehicle. Our first sighting is of a lilac-breasted roller, and we pass by a small dam where we encounter two hippos looking quite forlorn. “What are you guys doing here,” Lams thinks out loudly. “They must have been kicked out from the rest of the pod,” he tells me. A highlight is seeing the Southern Carmine bee-eaters, who flock to this part of Zambia every year to nest and raise their chicks. Leaving the area, I spot a bird on a tree branch, which Lams informs me is a melanistic yellow-billed kite.
On our morning game drive, we go in search of the most elusive of them all – a favorite amongst guests and guides – the leopard. Lams suddenly stops the vehicle and points to a multitude of tree branches. I have to blink to see what he is gesturing at and only spot her when we get closer. “This is Lucy,” Lams tells me. “We give the leopards names for identification purposes.” Lucy is fast asleep on the tree branch, looking as comfortable as only a leopard can be. Lams tells me that she has a young cub, and this stunning cat is an accomplished hunter, mother, and nurturer. She has raised her first cub, a male to independence and is still hiding the new one somewhere safe from harm. I’m curious to see her face and just as I imagine she must be as magnificent as only leopards can be, she looks up momentarily, meets my gaze, gracefully turns her head the other way, and goes back to sleep.
How to Book with The Luxury Safari Company
Heléne’s flights with Airlink were generously sponsored by The Luxury Safari Company. Founded by Rose Hipwood in 2010, her passion for Africa is clear in the seamless arrangement of bespoke, luxury safaris across Africa that are made special by the people involved, the unique locations of the lodges, and the meticulously executed nature of each trip. Clients of The Luxury Safari Company can expect personal 24-hour service safaris which take them into new territory with the right people at the right time, and imaginative itineraries. To book, call +44 1666 880 111.