1. Leopardsong Game Lodge – South Africa

    When I received an email from a colleague asking if I would be interested in visiting a game lodge on a work trip to Johannesburg, I did not even have to hesitate in replying a million times yes. Despite visiting South Africa so many times over the years, I had never seen any of the “Big Five” and it was something I had wanted to do for a long time.

    After a long overnight flight to Johannesburg on which of course I failed to get any sleep, seven of us met in our hotel lobby in Sandton just after midday waiting to be collected by the amazing Eric for our drive to Leopardsong Game Lodge where we would be staying the night before returning back to our hotel the following lunchtime. The drive to Leopardsong which is located on the Dinokeng Game Reserve north of Pretoria took just under an hour and a half and during the journey, Eric told us what our options were for lunch (lots of toasted sandwiches – yum) and asked what we would like so it would be waiting for us when we got there.

    As soon as we arrived at Leopardsong, we were welcomed like family by the amazing staff and shown around the beautiful property before sitting down for lunch.

    After our much needed lunch, we were each shown to our own rooms (Leopardsong Game Lodge has a total of ten rooms). The atmosphere and the decor in my own room made me smile so much – I really felt like I was on an epic adventure and something so different to my usual trips to Johannesburg. The bed was so comfortable and thankfully as it was so hot, the air conditioning and ceiling fan were working well. My room also had a bath and shower as well as the all important kettle to make a much needed cup of tea. I loved my view outside though – my room looked out to nothing but the African landscape – it truly was perfect.

    We had some free time before our first game drive so we all sat by the small swimming pool at the lodge. I also used this time to look around the property and take some photos as well as make sure that both my cameras (I took both my Canon EOS M10 and Canon EOS 100D) and my various lenses (10-18mm, 18-55mm and 55-250mm) were all ready to go. This is exactly the kind of trip where you need to have a good camera and a telephoto lens with you as well as extra memory cards and batteries. Taking photos with an iPhone or iPad (even the latest models) is definitely not going to get you the detailed high quality and amazing zoomed-in photos that you want and have envisaged before your trip.

    At 4:30pm, we all met Therese who was going to take us all out on our first game drive of our stay. We were also given the chance to get any last minute drinks to put in a cooler to take on the drive for when we stopped for a break. The only other decision to make was to decide where to sit for the drive – I decided on the back row as it was higher up and it also meant that I could see behind the vehicle too.

    Even though it was still warm out at this time, I made sure to take a jumper with long sleeves with me which I was very grateful for once the sun started to go down as it did get breezy and a little chilly.

    Luck was immediately on our side as we saw a group of zebras (including one very pregnant one) as soon as we left the lodge and entered the reserve. Only a few minutes later, we saw a family of rhino (our first sighting of one of the Big Five) who I managed to get a few photos of before they ran off – I never thought rhino could move that quick!

    We carried on driving around the reserve and saw so many other animals – some which were too quick to take a photo of but none of the other four of the Big Five. Our driver and guide Therese was absolutely amazing and a complete mind of knowledge about every single animal we saw – it was so interesting to hear all the information she had. We also could hear thunder in the distance – it never rained but we were treated to an incredible sky as well as a rainbow over the African bush.

    Nearly two hours into our drive, we heard from one of the other vehicles over the radio that some lions had been spotted so we drove very quickly to the area of the reserve that they had been seen and were luckily enough to see a lioness in the distance.

    After seeing the lioness, Therese drove us to a lake where we could get out of the vehicle and walk around and have the drinks that we had brought with us whilst watching the sun set. It truly was a perfect evening.

    It was completely dark on our drive back to the lodge but we were lucky enough to see a baby hippo which was incredible to see. I only have a blurred photo of him though as we drove slowly past as it was too dark for any photos to come out.

    Back at the lodge, a campfire had been lit and we all sat around it under a beautiful night sky as our dinner was prepared. Before we left on our game drive, we were asked if anyone had any dietary requests so myself and one other person in our group let them know we did not eat meat. My dinner was simple but absolutely delicious. I had roasted squash with vegetables stir-fried with chilli and served with cheesey dauphinoise potatoes. I skipped dessert as at that point I had been awake for about thirty hours and I could not keep my eyes open anymore. I was completely ready for bed and wanted to get to sleep as we had an early wake up call for our morning game drive the next day.

    As our morning game drive was set to start at 6:00am, I set several alarms starting from 5:00am as I did not want to oversleep. I should not have worried though as I was already awake before my first alarm went off. After getting dressed, I walked around outside before sitting and watching the most beautiful sunrise. The peace and quiet around me felt incredible as no one else was awake apart from a group of blesbok nearby. The lodges are in a fenced off area in the game reserve so it is safe to walk around and you do not need to worry about a lion or any of the other Big Five sneaking up behind you.

    Just after 6:00am we set off for our second game drive of the trip. For this drive, I chose to sit in the first row of the vehicle so I could see the road ahead of us clearly and be able to take photos without any obstruction. For the first hour of the drive, we hardly saw any animals at all apart from some guinea fowl. We were all looking in every direction but there was nothing to be seen.

    Over an hour after we set off, we finally spotted a pride of lions which was definitely worth the long wait of not seeing anything and the early wake up that morning. We stopped and took a few photos before Therese drove a little further along as she said they would walk in front of our vehicle as that was the direction they were heading. For the next few minutes, you could hear a pin drop as we waited for the lions to walk past us. It really was a moment of pure excitement that left you completely speechless at the same time.

    After our luck at seeing the lions, we then saw so many more animals but still not any elephants or giraffes which we all really wanted to see. We saw warthogs, springbok, wildebeest as well as a very cute baby jackal. Looking back now, one tip that I would give anyone and one thing that I would do on my next game drive is to bring a small notebook with me to write down all the animals spotted.

    We stopped close to a river to get out of the vehicle and have our morning cup of tea or coffee and a biscuit. Everyone was on such a high after seeing the lions and we were all talking excitedly in the hope of seeing even more animals on the rest of our drive that morning.

    Whilst we did not get to see any elephants or giraffes on the rest of our game drive, we did see a herd of buffalo lazing around in some mud which was the third species to tick off our list of the Big Five (after already seeing the rhinos the day before as well as the lions).

    Once we were back at the lodge just before 9:00am, Therese introduced us to the adorable Zorro – the resident meerkat at Leopardsong and it’s completely fair to say we all fell in love with him immediately – we even got to stroke him. Who could resist his cuteness?

    We all sat down for breakfast and there were cereals as well as a full hot breakfast cooked to order that we could have. As I do not eat meat or eggs I stuck with one of my favourite breakfasts of mushrooms and beans on toast and several cups of tea – I seriously was as happy as I could be.

    After finishing breakfast, we all had the sad job of heading back to our rooms and packing our bags ready for the drive back to Johannesburg. Our stay reached a perfect end when as we were paying our bills, a group of zebras walked right up to the lodge to bid us farewell and once again, we were all speechless

    Just as we were leaving the game reserve, we had another amazing moment of luck as we finally saw a group of giraffes – talk about good timing! Eric immediately stopped the minibus so we could all take some photos out of the windows. After the zebras, then the giraffes, I really did not want to leave.

    I cannot remember any of the drive back to Johannesburg as we were all so tired that we slept for the entire journey. We arrived back at our hotel in Sandton at 11:45am so we still had time to sleep more at the hotel before flying back to London that evening.

    I still cannot believe that I was lucky enough to be able to spend the night at a game lodge and go on two amazing game drives. I honestly felt privileged (and still do) to have been able to see these magnificent animals up close in their natural habitat. It will also make you feel even more incredibly upset and angry (I know it has for me) to think of these animals being hunted for no reason after seeing them in the wild.

    Once again I would like to say a big thank you to Susan, Therese, Eric, Christina and all the other wonderful staff at Leopardsong Game Lodge for being so warm and welcoming during our stay. It really was an unforgettable trip and I will definitely be back again soon as I still need to see an elephant!

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