aren't many occasions where getting up at 5 a.m. on holiday is a good thing.
Yet the prospect of seeing my first leopard out in the African bush had me
leaping out of bed and scuttling down to the lodge before I'd
even remembered to brush my hair. What are safari hats for anyway?!
Sand Game Reserve is one of the best places in South Africa to see the elusive
leopard, which was why my husband Peter and I decided to spend a few days at
Ulusaba luxury lodge.
life inevitably revolves around the animals, which means being out and about at
both dawn and dusk. However the bush breakfasts and blood red African sunsets
more than make up for the lack of sleep.
what a typical day at Ulusaba is like:
05.15 After an
early morning wake-up call we head down to the main lodge for coffee and freshly
baked goodies, and our ranger Sean asks us what we'd like to see today. A
leopard. It's the one word on everyone’s lips.
05.30 We huddle together under a blanket at the back of the safari vehicle, wondering what we're going to see today. It’s surprisingly cool and I'm trying not to think of my enormous warm bed back at the lodge. Or what could be watching us from the inky darkness
pulls over on a bluff so we can watch the sun rise over the plains whilst
sipping on hot drinks laced with our choice of poison. I think it’s a bit early
for vodka so I stick to the biltong and sausages. As the rays of the sun slowly
creep across the reserve the bush comes alive with birdsong, cracking branches and
We've already seen a pride of lions, a few elephants and the ever present
impala, but our tracker James has spotted something far more exciting. Leopard
tracks. The thrill of the chase really gets the blood pumping, and we
realise the excitement of safaris is as much in the anticipation as it is in
there he is. A magnificent male leopard, so intent on following the scent of
his potential breakfast that he ignores us completely. Which is fine by me. The
hairs on the back of my arms are standing on end remembering this moment. It’s
moments like this that stay with you forever.
says he has a surprise for us, and moments later we arrive at Kings Rock where
a chef in dazzling whites is rustling up some pancakes complete with chocolate
sauce and strawberries. I think there is fizz too, but I’m too busy taking
in the view to notice.
09.00 Back at the lodge we tuck into our fourth breakfast. After the pancakes we're not hungry, but it all looks so tempting we figure it would be rude to resist.
time for our bush walk, and I can't decide whether to be nervous or excited. We
tread stealthily in Sean's footsteps, eyes darting all around to make sure we
don't inadvertently trip over a sleeping lion. As we relax we begin to enjoy
the feeling of freedom that comes from being on foot, and we start learning
more about life in the bush. There's the toothbrush twig tree, giant termite
mounds and a lot of time spent examining dung.
13.30 After a
bit of a snooze back at the lodge (who am I kidding, we spent the entire time
watching monkeys from our veranda) it’s time for lunch. Ulusaba is all about
indulging, and since food is included we want to make the most of our
experience. The duck salad and chocolate cheesecake slips down with surprising
Afternoons are for sleeping, swimming or getting stuck into that book
you've been meaning to read for ages. We're not good at staying still for long,
so we head out across the rope bridges to watch the hippos.
16.30 After a
spot of afternoon tea we’re back out on safari and find several grumpy buffalo
and a kingfisher. Peter gets a ride on the ‘jump seat’ and is put in
charge of finding some tracks to follow. We encounter little more than a thorny
bush and some marching ants, but he’s buzzing with excitement.
18.00 We take a
whirlwind Ferrari safari
through the bush and soon arrive at a watering hole. It's surrounded by a pack
of wild dogs, which are pretty rare to see. Elated, we snap away with our
cameras, and follow them as they play, wash and even attempt to hunt a giraffe
19.30 It's time
for sundowners and a night drive. The bush looks different and slightly eerie
in the moonlight, especially with the hyenas we have for company. We are
welcomed back to the lodge by a roaring campfire, tribal dancers and BBQ. Over
dinner we swap stories with other guests, everyone feeling secretly smug that
their days sightings had been the best. Which is just how it should be.
drinks at the bar with some of the guides, we sleepily stumble back to our villa.
It won't be long before the alarm goes off and we do it all over again. I can't