After going on more than fifty safaris I think at Leopard Hills I've finally found the ultimate way to spot wildlife: from a plunge pool at the camp which is situated in Sabi Sands Nature Reserve, South Africa. My review of this safari trip follows and a video that I made of the highlights...
|Table of Contents|
Suites & Facilities
Tips, Advice and Rating
|Getting to Leopard Hills|
I am often directionally challenged so getting lost on the way somewhere is normally par for the course for me but on this occasion Wilma and I managed to get to the front door of the Leopard Hills lodge without any major detours.
And we were lucky enough to spot a herd of elephant feeding lazily in the shade of an acacia tree soon after entering the Sabi Sands Nature Reserve, which lies on the western border of the Kruger National Park in South Africa.
We got there by using our car because we live in the area but as an international visitor you will have an even easier time of it getting to the reserve because you can go by air. Flights from Johannesburg International airport leave daily directly to the lodge with Federal Air.
|Lodge performance and staff|
One of the things that struck me about the staff at Leopard Hills was how friendly and personable they are. They treated us as if we were friends dropping in for a visit rather than customers on a safari tour which was great.
Vanessa greeted us when we arrived and propped a cold drink and wet towel into our hands which was very welcome after the hot drive. Marius, the head ranger of the camp also came out to meet us and Bridget took us on a small tour of the camp and then to our private suite.
I believe that service performance shouldn't be measured by the fact that nothing goes wrong but by what the response is when something does. For example, I had a small mishap with the bath that night when one of the leg bolts came loose causing it to tip and sever the cold water pipe (I can guess what you're thinking...must be time for me to go on a diet but believe me, a luxury safari is not conducive to eating less).
A water geyser was the end result that quickly started to pool along the floor of the whole suite. I called reception to send someone on the double before everything got soaked and they did, but they could only turn the water supply off because there wasn't a plumber on site.
Vanessa quickly swung into action, calling a number of the other safari lodges in the area to see if they had a dry room for us because Leopard Hills itself was full that night and she did manage to find one nearby (this is what good service is all about).
But we eventually decided to stay in the suite anyway because they had been able to dry it out and it was only one night without water. When we got back to the room there was a note of apology and a complimentary bottle of red wine with two glasses to pleasantly surprise us. And some bottled water to brush our teeth with. The pipe was fixed and the water supply restored the next day.
|Suites and facilities|
Let me put it this way, if I ever get to build that dream house in the bushveld it will probably look a lot like this Leopard Hills suite. I took a short video of the room which will hopefully give you a good idea of what it looks like. I particularly enjoyed the plunge pool and the open air shower.
You will not go hungry on a Leopard Hills safari, believe me. In fact, you will be faced with so much variety and volume that it will become difficult to choose and if you are not careful you will eat way too much like I did.
Breakfast is a buffet smorgasbord of cheeses, cold meats, fruit, eggs, bacon and cereals with juice, coffee and tea for refreshment with the added advantage of being able to enjoy it on the deck while watching game below at the waterhole.
We passed up the opportunity to go for lunch because we just could not eat anything more.
Supper was taken at a spot called the Boma which is a reed enclosure without a roof open to the stars and has a huge firepit in the middle around which the tables are placed. The starter included barbecued crocodile tail on a stick which we ate while standing around the fire and then the main course was a sumptuous choice of salads, stir fry, chicken curry and beef fillet covered in a creamy sauce.
Halfway through the meal we were interrupted by the roaring of a pride of five bachelor lions who have taken up residence in the area and wanted to advertise that fact. A very poignant end to a great day of safari.
|Game drives, vehicle, guides|
Gary was our guide and Abraham was the tracker at Leopard Hills and both of them were extremely enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the wildlife, birds and trees.
Abraham sits on a chair that is mounted right on the front of the safari vehicle which allows him to peer onto the road and into the veld for animal tracks. Gary does the driving and handles the two way radio (all the guides in the area report their sightings which increases the chances of seeing wildlife).
One of the advantages of going on safari in a private reserve is that you can drive around after dark which also improves the odds of seeing the rare nocturnal animals. On our night drive, we saw a large pack of hyena (about 22 in all) feeding on an elephant that had died of old age.
Gary also stopped at one point, turned off the engine, and just allowed us to sit in silence and listen to the sounds of the night and enjoy the glow of the moon and the billions of stars which seem brighter here than anywhere else.
You go on two drives during the day at Leopard Hills. One in the early morning which starts just before first light (remember to take something warm because it can be chilly before dawn) and ends at around 10 am. During this drive we stopped at a fantastic hide overlooking the river to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate and muffins while we watched the antics of hippo and water birds down below.
The afternoon drive takes place at around 4pm and just before sunset Gary stops the vehicle so that sundowners can be enjoyed (and snacks again. I did warn you that you would be eating a LOT!!) while watching the sun spectacularly dip below the horison.
Then you start moving into a very exciting wildlife spotting time as darkness falls and the spotlight comes out because the rarely seen animals start moving about. One of the other safari vehicles came across two honey badgers around this time which is a very rare sighting (pity we weren't so lucky).
|Leopard Hills Wildlife|
For the ultimate in wildlife spotting experiences just climb into your own private plunge pool at the Leopard Hills Game Reserve and wait for the wildlife to come to you instead of charging around after them in the safari vehicle.
There are no fences around the camp so the wildlife can come and go as they please. And they do. I watched a string of kudu and two bushbuck walking silently along from inside the pool (the video has the picture).
There was also a herd of elephant who came to investigate the pool just before we arrived (Bridget saw them) and other guests have watched in awe recently as a leopard drank its fill from their plunge pool only metres away while they watched from behind the safety of the glass sliding door.
Talking about leopards we saw them on two occasions on the safari drives. The first was a mother leopard and her cub that were stalking and play pouncing on each other next to a dam. We watched them for awhile and the leopard cub came so close that it brushed against Abraham the tracker's foot while he was sitting in the jump seat in front of the vehicle. Amazing experience.
On the second occasion I spotted (ahem) the leopard right next to the road and we followed her through the bush for about ten minutes before moving on.
We also saw a white rhino with the biggest horn I have ever seen and a massive herd of buffalo. The highlight of the night drive was seeing all the hyena feeding on the dead elephant.
I managed to get video clips of all these animals...
Warm but not meltingly hot and cooled down enough in the evening to make a long sleeve shirt an option. At the height of summer the air conditioning in the suite will be very welcome and probably be working overtime. We didn't experience any rain at Leopard Hills while we were there.
|A typical day|
Early to rise and early to bed is the way of most safari trips and this Leopard Hills one was no exception. We were up at 5:30 am and then a short walk to the deck overlooking the waterhole for a warm beverage and to meet up with the guide, then all aboard the safari vehicle as we went on the first game drive of the day.
After a fantastic few hours of driving along bumpy tracks and into (and sometimes over) the bush following a leopard we got back to the camp mid-morning and freshened up a little before we went back to the deck overlooking the waterhole for some breakfast.
We decided to take advantage of the bush walk after this, and Raymond met us and another couple at the reception with his rifle at the ready and took us along the road and into the bush for a very enjoyable one hour walk, where we got to learn more about the animals, birds and trees at close range.
And then it was time to get down to some serious relaxation in the sun next to and in our private plunge pool until lunch time (yep, eating again). After lunch you take a short nap to combat the worst effects of the early mornings until around 4pm when you meander up to the deck again to meet your guide for the afternoon game drive.
When you get back in the darkness there is a bubble bath awaiting you so that you can freshen up before going to dinner at the boma to listen to the wildlife stories of your guide and to chat to the other safari guests and then you get to bed early to start the whole process again the next day (tough life, but someone's gotta do it).
|Tips and advice|
Definitely bring a digital camera and if it has video capability even better. You will be getting some once in a lifetime shots here just like I did.
Don't be shy to ask the guide at Leopard Hills a lot of wildlife questions because he will be more than pleased to answer you and is very qualified to do so.
Make sure that the safari hat you take with is tight fitting because otherwise it can blow right off your head when the guide goes a little faster in the open topped safari vehicle.
Do go on the bush walk because it is a very different experience to driving through the veld.
And finally, be very careful when you use the bath (kidding).
I highly recommend a Leopard Hills Game Reserve (make an enquiry) safari. The accommodation, food, safari guides and service is impeccable and if you stay a few days you are almost assured of seeing the big five.
This is safari travel at it best. 9 and a half out of ten!
|Safari Location:||Sabi Sands, South Africa|
|Safari Company Used:||Seasons In Africa|
|Traveller Details:||Bruce & Wilma Whittaker, African Safari Journals founders (about us)|
|Rates & Availability:||Make a Leopard Hills enquiry|