the safari experience of a lifetime

I recently had the opportunity to embark on an amazing African safari in the Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve. This reserve lies on the border of the internationally acclaimed Kruger National Park. All the fences between the Kruger Park and its surrounding private reserves have been systematically removed over the past 20 years allowing the animals to move freely. It is for this reason that the region is home to some of the greatest game viewing Africa has to offer.

Sabi Sabi, a private game lodge in the Sabi Sands, was my base during my safari holiday. The luxurious accommodation, delicious cuisine and unbelievable service were rivalled only by the superior game drives. Game drives take place at dawn and at dusk as this is when the majority of animals are out and about.

the big five

Being one of the few Big Five game reserves in Africa our safari party was thrilled at the possibility of witnessing the lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard in their natural setting.

On our first day we encountered both a large herd of elephant and a crash of rhino. Each grouping consisted of beasts of different ages and sizes. We were fortunate enough to visit at the time of year when many of the animals had given birth to the young and fascinating to watch members of their tribes. Watching an elephant which, although it weighs more than you, is tiny in comparison to its mum and dad trying to negotiate its trunk around a young sapling is both amusing and awe-inspiring.

It was amazing to see just how protective the groups are of their young. Often we think of the wild as a harsh and unloving environment but once you've seen massive creatures tenderly caring for their young, you'll leave with a different opinion. We also encountered a rather comical hyena who immediately reminded me of silly Ed in the Lion King. Neither dog nor cat, these fascinating creatures seem to have incredibly unique personalities.

Without our private game ranger who entertained us with African myths and educated us about all things wild we would have been lost. Although a self-drive safari holiday has appealed to me in the past I would no longer consider it. By going with an experienced ranger you will see so much more than you would if you were on your own, some of the most magnificent things I saw were right underneath my nose and I would never have spotted them without the ranger's help.

Large herds of waterbuck, eland and impala grazed beside the Land Rover while we snapped away. Giraffes elegantly meandered past us while Zebra galloped by. It was truly magnificent but we were yet to see the main attractions: the big cats.

We had heard that the pride of lions most often seen in the area had made a kill the day before nearby; and would probably not move on for a few days. We resigned ourselves to the fact that we would possibly not see lions but became obsessed with encountering a leopard.

The Sabi Sands Private Reserve is one of the best locations in Africa to spot leopards, but as they are largely nocturnal we pinned our hopes on the evening drives.

Our first evening drive exposed us to a range of animals we would not have spotted during the day. With the use of a spot light we set off in search of our leopard. Trees glittered with chameleons as the light illuminated them; hares, bush babies and smaller buck were everywhere… but no sign of the leopard.

We set our hopes on the next evening's drive but once again returned to Sabi Sabi with the feeling that we had missed out on something really spectacular.

On our third and final day we set off for our early morning game drive not expecting to see any leopards as they are more commonly seen at night. We were delighted when our ranger received notification that there was a female just behind our lodge. The Land Rover suddenly went hurtling off through the bush, as we ducked and dived to avoid bushes and thorn trees that were no match for the Land Rover, our anticipation mounted. Finally the high speed chase came to an end and we came face to face with one of the most beautiful creatures on the planet.

The female leopard moved to and fro with such grace that we were spellbound - we couldn't believe our luck. As she moved we moved with her, at one stage she was close enough for me to lean out of the vehicle and stroke her, which would have been amazing if she wasn't one of the most dangerous predators in Africa. As long as I live I will never forget the way I felt when I looked into her knowing eyes, the piercing gaze of the leopard was undoubtedly the highlight of my African safari.

As I packed to leave my luxurious suite in the middle of the bush I realized that there couldn't be many experiences that would rival this one.

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