At breakfast on the last day of my visit to Leopard Hill Safari Lodge which I now think of as Dead Giraffe Safari Lodge, I lamented my lack of leopard hunting skills. I had seen a leopard once in the wild but I didn’t count it as it was depressed – yes it was a very sad leopard sitting in a field at Pumba – I have later learned that where I saw it is where they release animals into the reserve when they first arrive, so no wonder it looked sad and dazed and a little lost! Bill – remember the vet and father of four from my last blog – informed me that if I want to see a leopard then I must go to Sabi and another diner agreed and added ….if you want to pay R30 000 per night! Well I don’t have that kind of money but I did get home and google “Sabi Sands + leopard + cheap + camping” and Eureka I found a bed in a tent at Sabi Sands that I could afford. In fact it was very reasonable and my flights, transfers to Mpumalanga from OT airport, two nights’ accommodation (plus a night in JHB with airport shuttle), game drives and meals came in at under R 10 000.00. Eat your heart out Bill!
So with a fully loaded camera, warm clothes and spades of optimism I set off into the wild again. I arrived here at Tydon Safari Camp midday and was told that I had been upgraded – apparently I am the only person who had opted to stay in the Bush Camp and they didn’t think I would be happy there alone so I was asked if I minded staying in the Safari Camp – to tempt me further they said that there was another lone traveler there – a guy – an Australian! Yippee! That’s all I needed a night with Hugh Jackman 😊 Welcome to the land of zips – everything had a zip on it – EVERYTHING! This was glamping not camping and as I unpacked my emergency bandana I was relieved to see there was a hairdryer in the chest of drawers in my tent. In fact, there was everything in my tent that a 5* room at the Ritz would contain including fresh flowers and a jar of rusks in a zip lock container. I zipped off for lunch and to meet Hugh Jackman – who turned out to be called Darren and the Australian version of Stephen Hawkins. :-0
An hour later I was bumping around the Kruger – not my favourite place as it’s like game viewing from the N2 with tourist acting like tow truck drivers is there is even a hint of a lion or a kill of any kind. We saw lots but nooooo leopard. Hugh/Darren/Steve tried to make it up to me by showing me his photos of the leopard he had seen yesterday sat in a tree with its prey while blood dripped onto the vehicle – Thanks Hugh/Darren/Steve I wanted to slap him – Leopard envy is a terrible thing! Once out of the park and on the way back to camp though we stopped and star gazed in the still night – one of those skies that is full of stars and you sit there and feel utterly insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
I was escorted to my tent by an armed ranger and zipped in for the night – Panic attack – not because of the thoughts of marauding animals but because I was zipped in and it was pitch black – my claustrophobia was in full throttle and I had to unzip an inch or two before I could settle for the night. Up at 5.30 and telling myself that this was going to be the day – we set off again – this time to Sabi Sands. Watching the sun rise in the bush and hearing the birds wake up is a fantastic experience and one that I never get tired of. We saw the big four but again no leopard and I returned to breakfast and a hot shower and yes – a little snooze.
We were joined for lunch by an American family – that’s the great thing about travel, you meet such a wide variety of people and these guys had a son working in Mozambique and had traveled thousands of miles to see him ----- as parents do! Their first bush experience and they were thrilled to see nyala, a kudu, and even a bushpig and marveled at a yellow eyed malachite starling. Then we stopped, reversed, our guide had spotted tracks and YES it looked like the site of where two leopards were reported fighting yesterday. I grabbed my camera as we crept along and there it was, hardly distinguishable in the long grass. I was about five metres away from A LEOPARD. It was such an awesome moment. He sized me up with those mean amber eyes and sat perfectly still. It was a amazing sighting……..after a few minutes, he almost disappeared as he stalked silently though the long yellow grass and then again he re-appeared and paused - not taking his eyes off us once. We sat for about 20 minutes in absolute silence just enjoying his gaze. This must have been a first for the three Americans – I have never known an American to be silent for this length of time but how lucky were they to see something that I have waited all my life to witness. The leopard came towards our vehicle and walked right next to me – I could have just reached out and touched that pompom tail but I knew better! WOW! He slowly crept off again into the grass and we were alone again ….and yet we knew we were not.
Everything I saw after that was a bonus and as we journeyed back to camp. The sunset lit up a herd of elephants giving them golden highlights and while we were off the vehicle enjoying our sundowners, a hyena trotted by – I was happy! Back in my tent that night I thought of my leopard not too far away and zipped myself in tight……… I wonder if he thought of me?
PS - I can thoroughly recommend Tydon Safari and Bush Lodge - Excellent!