Sunday, 24 November 2013

Leopard Hills Safari Adventure

In August I went on a Safari in South Africa at the fantastic Leopard Hills Private Game Reserve.


Day 1

Our Leopard Hills experience started when we were greeted by Hugo, our ranger, at the air strip. My wife Sarah and I had flown in on the small Fed Air plane along with Sandy, a Canadian woman, and her son Trevor. We didn’t know quite what was in store for us at this stage or that we would be spending a lot of the next few days with Hugo and fellow air passengers.

On arriving at Leopard Hills we were greeted by the friendly staff, who made us feel most welcome. We were given drinks and then shown to our suite. We had seen photos of the suites prior to our arrival, but in reality they exceeded our expectations and the views were breathtaking.


Leopard Hills Room


After settling in we headed back to the main building to meeting up and set off on for our first game drive. Hugo, and Eric our tracker, took us out for the evening drive and so our adventure began. Hugo asked us whether there was anything in particular we wanted to see and they went to work finding us something interesting. Luck was upon us and it wasn’t long before we were given the chance to see two leopards mating within a few feet of our Land Rover. It was a surreal experience being so close to these magnificent creatures. 


Sabi Leopard


Mating Leopards



We stayed in this spot for about twenty minutes, and then moved on when another vehicle arrived. One of the big differences about a private reserve is the number of vehicles, they have a rule of a maximum of three at a sighting, but I think this was just about the only time we had to move on because of this.


Lone Zebra


As we continued on our drive we bumped into a few zebra before heading to a river bed area to stop for a sundowner. This is when Eric opens the bar and offers you a drink and selection of snacks. We got to stretch our legs, slightly nervously, not knowing what might be lurking nearby.

By the time we started to head back to the lodge the sun was coming down, but that didn’t stop Eric spotting the first of our lions, one of the Selati coalition. It wasn’t long before one of his brothers joined him and we heard and felt the mighty bellows as they called out to a third brother somewhere in the darkness, quite an experience.


Tired Lion


That evening we dined as a group in the main building along with Hugo, Sandy and Trevor. The meal was fantastic and we really enjoyed the company, discussing the days events and getting to know either other.


Day 2

The 5:30am wake up was always going to be a struggle, but it was soon forgotten as we drove off on the Land Rover with blankets and hot water bottles to ward off the chilly morning air. The sun was soon up and it wasn’t long before Eric spotted some tracks leading down the road, he walked on ahead and stopped a hundred yards away having sighted two of the Selati lions again. This time the light was better for our photographs and although they seemed somewhat subdued like they had just woken up they were happy to pose for us.


King of Kruger


Our next sighting was another leopard. This time on its own, waiting by a termite mound for something to kill. Unfortunately for both of us, no warthogs appeared, but we did see a hyena wander past and for a moment we thought we might see some action.


Leopard in the Sun


We moved on and headed for an area to stop for a morning drink. Once again Eric pulls all the stops out with his special coffee, hot chocolate, Amarula and muffins to keep us going.

The next encounter was with a white rhino. These are impressive beasts up close and luckily we found this one in a fairly open area.


Feeding White Rhino


We were nearly back at Leopard Hills when we stumbled upon this elephant strolling along on his own. Only our second drive and we were up to four out of the big five already. Just the buffalo left to see.


Sabi Sands Elephant


After a great breakfast back at the lodge we decided to try out the spa facilities, both enjoying excellent massages. 


Leopard Hills Sundeck
Time flies at Leopard Hills and despite the great suites, you don’t have hours to spend enjoying the deck and the views so it wasn’t long before we were back in the main building enjoying lunch overlooking the watering hole. The timing was perfect as an elephant came down to bathe and keep us entertained.
Leopard Hills Lunch

Later that afternoon we headed out for the evening drive, this time there were six of us as we were joined by a German couple. Anyone that has been on a safari will know that the impala is not the hardest animal to find, but they often run off before you can grab a good shot of them.


Impala Duo


Our first big sighting was a large herd of elephants, including a number of young calves. We watched these guys for a while and had a close encounter as we left when one of the mothers got over protective.


Elephant Duo


That evening we enjoyed the Boma dinner outside around the fire with the soundtrack of bellowing lions nearby. Once again the staff were all superb and friendly and the food and drink excellent.


Day 3

A few drinks and a slightly later night had, but when 5:30am came again we couldn’t wait to get out there. Our first experience was a fast chase through the trees after some wild dogs, too fast for photos, but we caught up with them again and one stood still long enough for a snap.


African Wild Dog


Next was one of my favourite sightings, a rhino with a young calf. At first they were concealed by the trees, but we were in for a treat as they crossed the track right in front of us.


Strolling Rhinos


Our next encounter was the closest we got to witnessing a kill. Vultures, a hyena and a leopard with the remains of an impala up a tree.


Peering Hyena
Leopard in the Grass











Watchful Leopard

Elephants graced us again as we were returning to the lodge, a large herd chomping away on the trees by the site of the road, including this young calf.


Hungry Baby Elephant


On the evening drive we all decided to head for a pride of lions that had been seen in the north. I think this was our favourite experience of our time at Leopard Hills. We drove along a dried up sandy river bed and eventually got to the pride of lions, consisting of three females and six cubs.


Mother Lion


The females headed off just as we arrived, as they went to find something to kill for dinner. The cubs played around right in front of us as the sun came down.


Lion Cub Trio


Lion Cub Siblings









I'm watching you

One of my favourite photos was when this cub sat on his own on this rock.


Lone Lion Cub




Hugo Ranger



Hugo did a great job of positioning the Land Rover, which included some handy off road driving skills and some excitable swearing from the female passengers, but we all managed to stay in the vehicle!





Eric came good on his Big Five promise and found us our buffalo, a herd of about twenty, including these two butting heads.


Buffalo


Sunset Buffalo

Leopard Hills Sundowners

We stopped again for sundowners and as we sipped on our gin and tonics Eric told us stories of being charged by buffalo.





Day 4

Our last morning started the same as the two before it with a spectacular orange sky and the expectation of another drive.


Sabi Sunrise


We spent some time tracking a leopard and also some drag marks left by hyenas and their kill.


Early Hyena



Eric Tracker

We actually left Eric for about twenty minutes while he tracked on foot, and thankfully found him again unharmed. We then worked our way towards the hyena’s den.






We found two adults with two excitable puppies, happy to perform for us.


Playful Hyena Cubs

Hyena Cubs


Our final experience was to get out of the Land Rover and track a giraffe on foot through the trees. Hugo told us not to run if something came towards us, but my wife said she couldn’t make any promises. Unfortunately the giraffe was quite skittish and kept running away as we got close.


Giraffe on the Road


We arrived back at Leopard Hills for the final time, sad it was over, but still on a high from all we had seen and done. Hugo and Eric were fantastic, knowledgable and entertaining, and the service from all the staff back at base was exceptional and they made us feel like old friends. I’m sure most people leave Leopard Hills wanting to go back and we were no different in that regard and we cannot wait to get that chance.

A big thank you to all at Leopard Hills.

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