Leopard Hills Lodge situated just outside Kruger National Park, 4-8.11.2004
We arrived by charter plane around 2 PM and it took just 5 minutes to the Lodge. On the trip we realized the difference: constant talk on the radio. There are perhaps 10 Private Lodges in the neighborhood, and they all compete in a way to show their clients the best game of the day, and possibly as first of the pack.
The afternoon drive centered around 8 white rhinos. The first 4 were spotted from the dining area and when we took to the Landrover, they were frolicking in a small water hole. Later, a 3 year old female was suckling from her mother, heavily pregnant with a new arrival. Strange mammalian nature! Further up was another group of 4 rhinos, a new record for us in Africa.
|The hills at sundown||Leopard Hill Bungalows||The Boma – outside eating place|
Later, we were called to a site where another ranger had found a resting cheetah female. She was very alert but did not seem to be bothered in the least by 3 Landrover vehicles around her. We observed large wounds on her left flank and right fore paw, probably from a fight with a leopard or lion. After the sundowner drinks, we spotted a superb 10 year old female leopard. We followed her for about half an hour through the bush, with thickets of thorn bush and others, but in the end she too gave us the slip. Here, the trackers shine very strong white lights onto the animals (not impalas) which I found revolting but this really did not seem to bother the leopard at all as she continued to look for a meal. She finally jumped onto a scrub hare which she finished as a snack. That was all for a 3 hour drive – no elephants, no giraffes, some kudu and a few impala.
There are distinctly more and thicker shrubs here in Leopard Hills and also at least -10 times the number of termite hills. Another negative difference you note quickly is the fact that there are many more Landrovers present. There are 7 lodges in the neighborhood, one of which belongs to Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic. That sometime leads to crowding on the narrow roads and many encounters were witnessed this afternoon, with the ensuing dust clouds. Each road belongs to a certain lodge and the lodge owners are responsible for the upkeep of their stretch of road, but all can use them without limitation. As a result, some are better maintained than others but in general the quality of the roads in this part of the woods is inferior to that of Singita Lebombo.
Friday morning was another drive that appeared quite empty of animals except for birds of many kinds. We saw 5 large marabou storks from close below their high branches; they took off one after the other when we did not make a move to depart. They have a large wingspan. Later we saw three of them soaring high above us assisted by thermo action. One eagle was seen circling, probably on the lookout for prey.
After a lot of trial and error in reading leopard tracks, we finally found our female of the night before. She rested in the shade of a large tree where she had deposited the remains of another kill. It was probably reserved for her and her 11 month old male cub, which was seen approaching but fled when we tried to come close.
We had a coffee break near a slightly dammed river. As the spring rains are expected to fall in the coming weeks, the basin is now close to empty yet we found 4 quite active hippos in the remaining water, and some smaller crocs.
From there, we entered right into the bush where only off-roaders can go. At a spot where we could no longer advance, we found a lioness with a missing lower eyetooth panting from having eaten lots of wildebeest meat, and guarding 8 or 9 youngsters aged from 2 – 3 months. A male was suspected to lie in the shade nearby but the terrain was too steep and inaccessible so we finally gave up. Despite the lack of much other wildlife in the area covered, we had a most impressive drive.
In the afternoon drive, we tracked an impressive male leopard, who had installed himself under a bush in close proximity of an abandoned termite hill. We were watching him for a long time, as well as the sunset. When we left, the ranger accidentally backed the Landrover slightly into the termite hill at which time 2 small warthogs came dashing out from a hole with the leopard instantly pursuing one of them, barely missing the zigzagging animal obviously running for his life. All right under our noses. The leopard as well as ourselves must have believed the hill to be empty because, had he expected some animal to dart from it eventually, he would have surely had caught his supper.
The Saturday morning drive proved quite disappointing as we only managed to find a group of 7 or 8 elephants down near the trickle that is the Sand River. What rangers in these Private Game Reserves do is quite impressive and upsetting at the same time. They drive their large Landrovers into the bush, virtually next to the animals, which of course is great for us clients but must be a bother for the animals. Two of the large cows actually warned us twice that enough was enough. We got to within 2 meters of one of the inquisitive 2 year olds, but also at another time a cow came on her own bat to within 3 meters of us, pulling up roots with her foot and helping with the trunk.
We have not only many fewer animals to observe here than in Singita, but also the lodgings leave somewhat to be desired – after all they claim at every instant to be a 5 star establishment. But what we feel most deprived of here is the fabulously creative, well prepared and presented food, which also tasted very good, and the many choices for lunch and dinner accompanied by free bottles of wine, even premium ones, plus the tasty morsels they served during the morning and the afternoon drive. It is not that we are eating badly at Leopard Hills, not at all, we were just so bloody spoilt rotten at Singita that the food served here simply looks run of the mill, and the service is rather average, devoid of enthusiasm. Well, we should have come to Leopard Hills first before upgrading to Singita, not the other way round, so really it is our own entire fault! This lodge is far more commercial, with small aircraft and (right now) even choppers flying overhead, thus probably scaring some of the animals away?
Yesterday, we had to move bungalows because the air-conditioning of #2 blew the 36 degree hot air from outside into the room when we returned around 10 am. We suffered outside through the day, as repair was assured by 2 pm, but they came after 4 and could not achieve anything. I refused to spend one more night there and we moved just before dinner. When we first came to #2, we found the door to the outside shower unlocked, and open to anything wishing to enter, such as baboons. It appeared that a previous guest had lost the key. Our ranger came to install a new cylinder with a new key; why they did not do that before our checking in, beats me. The ranger also replaced an electric cable I found powering a lamp, wiring which had been merely spliced together with insulating tape!
In the Saturday afternoon drive, we found 3 lionesses lazing in the grass with a total of 10 youngsters crawling about, some of then suckling from their mothers. They were about 3 months old. It was an absolutely darling picture. We also encountered another much darker spotted female leopard which was also unsuccessful in killing a steenbok coming her way. Two giraffes that were earlier seen form the lodge terrace had vanished!We ate dinner in the villa as lightning was observed, it later also rained quite extensively.
Sunday morning started with us seeing 4 Kudu right outside our villa, 20 m away, plus 2 francolins just 8 m away. On the drive, we had a cheetah sighting just next to the lodge, then we found the giraffes which had eluded us yesterday; then we found two adult male lions resting at a crossroads: they were magnificent, and at one time, they both turned on their back and opened their hind legs wide, -to let the wind blow around their balls and to cool their shafts-, as the South African ranger explained in a-matter-of-fact voice. A few minutes away, there were 2 lionesses just where we wanted to have a break.
Then we heard on the radio that our partner had found a wildebeest kill in the North and we rushed there, to find our 3 lionesses with their 10 cubs feeding on what was left but with bellies obviously full to bursting. Nearby was a male adult and his lady but their full bellies prevented them from mating – perhaps later today when it is less hot?
The afternoon drive with new guests was standard: the cheetah in another area, a lone elephant bull, but when we went to see if we could find the 2 male lions, we ran into a real hit: we spotted them in hunting pose with an impala group very close by. Then the 2 together with the younger lioness jumped forward and got one; by the time we had managed to reach the spot several seconds later, the three had already torn up the kill and were growling and pulling. After a while, the two males tried to each secure a large portion and managed to tear the impala apart, each running a few steps away with a relative minor part, with the lioness taking the main part about 10 m away. We watched the feasting. Sure enough when one of the males had finished his small part, he came aggressively towards the lioness and managed to secure a large bone; she darted away with the rest, hitting the front of our Landrover and left blood and flesh on the fender.