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My heart is pounding so hard I can hear it in my ears. Suddenly my daughter shoots a dirty look my way and says through gritted teeth ‘he can sense your fear’. Little does she know it is excitement instead of fear. My favorite predator is making eye contact with me – a majestic leopard is grooming the remnants of his warthog kill off himself while we look on.
We had traversed the Sabi Sand reserve earlier in the afternoon and tracker Betuel Sithole thought he spotted leopard paw prints. A smell so foul permeates the air that ranger Andries Mathebula exclaims we have just driven over leopard ‘poopy’. Unbeknownst to everyone on the vehicle Mr Leopard, affectionately known as Tingana, has stashed his warthog kill in the entrance to a burrow. We smell the carcass before we see the leopard. He is having trouble extracting his meal that is stuck and is taking little bites out of the dead animal and re-emerges to chew. After a particularly intense feed where he has blood streaming down his chin, he elegantly starts his fastidious grooming process. We leave the sighting and the now unbearable stench of the decaying warthog.
Let me start at the beginning. Due to a rental car problem, we arrive at Chitwa Chitwa Private Game Lodge much later than anticipated. Assistant general manager Dinho Pelembe arranges that our luggage be offloaded and our ranger will meet us at reception to join the evening game drive. I am so exultant that my animal FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) would not be jeopardised, I could have kissed him!
Through a cloud of dust, Andries arrives and loads us into the game drive vehicle. ‘There is a special surprise for you’, Dinho joyfully declares. Excitement abounds, we pass by a waterbuck, a brown snake eagle and a nyala into the setting rays of the sun. Across the water from the lodge, the drinks stop is illuminated with fairy lights and is named ‘Hlangano’. This is not your average drinks stop – it is a beautifully displayed food truck containing biltong, samoosas, home-made crisps and the most delicious pizza you can imagine! All lovingly attended to by the Chitwa Chitwa staff and executed to perfection by General Manager Stefan du Toit.
Back at the lodge, we are taken to our impressive room, Suite 10, which is stylishly decorated in shades of white, charcoal and dark wood. A fire is crackling to ward off the evening chill and a swift diving sound has Dinho scurrying for a torch. Below our deck a hippo is taking refuge and I quietly decide tonight is not the night for an outside shower.
The room is substantial in size, with a very large en-suite bathroom, double vanities, a sunken bath and an indoor and outdoor shower. Patio doors open onto a view of the watering hole with a comfortable daybed for your indulgence. Here, you can spend your days in the plunge pool and be assured that the only disturbance you may encounter is that of an animal grazing or your butler serving lunch in the privacy of your Suite.
Our delicious dinner is served by Leah Chauke, consisting of Broccoli Soup, Duck liver & Port paté, Chitwa Oxtail, René’s Lemon & Garlic Butterflied Prawns, Chicken Supreme, Boer pampoen (pumpkin) and concluded with Pear and Almond Tart for Dessert. The food quality and taste is excellent, but what impresses me most is Chef Oscar Marimane coming to every table to ask about the enjoyment of the fare.
After a cleansing shower with the wonderfully fragrant Healing Earth Argan Oil and Lemon Verbana shower gel, shampoo and conditioner, I retire to the oversized mosquito-net clad bed.
In the midst of a dream, I am startled by the ringing phone at 05:30. It is Andries giving us a wake-up call and we hurriedly get moving so that he can escort us to the dining area where a brief caffeine, tea or juice fix and rusks eliminate any sluggishness.
Ready to go, I can make out Andries saying ‘mdoda ngala’ and there he is, fast asleep in the open – the most beautiful male lion. His full belly and blood on his chest is the only evidence that he must have feasted on something the night before.
Impalas are basking in the warmth of the early morning sunlight and the cutest juvenile elephant is throwing sand over himself to cool down. Up in the treetops, the vervet monkeys are having a skirmish and all of sudden Betuel puts his hand up, gesturing Andries to stop the vehicle. Silence falls as everyone gasps at the magnificence of the exquisite creature that nearly eluded our view. She walks completely noiseless as the pads under her feet cushion any sound. Splaying herself down in the shade of the camouflaged vegetation, she rasps for breath – this stunning leopard seems in search of refreshment.
She pauses by a tree and with the most effortless leap, positions herself perfectly to scan the outer-lying area for prey.
We return to the lodge for a delicious breakfast while being serenaded by the call of an African Fish Eagle. The day has warmed up as we stroll to our Villa to relax and try out the plunge pool. After lounging in the sun, the water is quite refreshing. We opt for lunch to be served in-room, dining on succulent calamari and fries with delectable vanilla ice cream for dessert.
Our afternoon game drive is eventful, with sightings of a juvenile crocodile, a male lion and the leopard with his warthog kill. The highlight of the day is a Bush dinner, where tables and lanterns are positioned around a huge fire pit. Dinner is a selection of traditional South African barbeque offerings, such as ‘braai broodjies’ (bread toasted on a fire with cheese, tomato and onions), rib eye steak, boerewors (sausage), corn on the cob, vegetables, salads and dessert. The evening ends abruptly as a huge gust of wind wreaks havoc, fortunately after everyone had eaten.
After a good night’s sleep, Andries sets off in the same direction where we had found the leopard with a kill. The smell is unmistakeable. Tungani has hoisted the remainder of the warthog in a tree. Two hyenas are anxiously waiting for scraps to fall, but Mr Leopard is keeping a close eye on them. He does not let on that the only remainder is the skin of the warthog – he will keep them in suspense.
For more information, visit www.chitwa.co.za
Views expressed are the author’s own. Thank you to Chitwa Chitwa for hosting us.
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Route Specific Information: Travel extraordinarily to the heart of the African bush, Airlink flies direct from Johannesburg and Cape Town to Nelspruit KMIA and Skukuza Airport. A short air transfer from the lodge airstrips or Skukuza to Nelspruit KMIA connects you conveniently to Livingstone, Zambia and Vilanculos, Mozambique. A short 20 minute apron transfer connects you onward to the doorstep of more safari destinations on Airlink’s Lodge Link service, with the Arathusa airstrip being the closest to Chitwa Chitwa.
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