Our adventure to Black Leopard Mountain Lodge begins with a crash of thunder, and then, the heavens open. I’m convinced Mother Nature instructed the clouds to dump every single drop of water on us, in one go.
The driving rain forces us to slow the car down to a crawl. According to the Maps app on my phone, we should be coming up to the lodge’s turn off soon. With my eyes firmly glued to my phone, I count down the distance … “100 meters!” … “50 meters!” … “Hard Left!” Ok, to be honest, it was more of an “I think this is it,” whimper.
The lodge has sent us instructions to call ‘when entering the bottom gate in the citrus valley’, which we do. At first, there is some confusion as to which gate we should use, but that is quickly resolved. And, guess who has to jump out to open and close the gate in the pouring rain? And the second gate? Me! I am soaked by the time that I have closed the second gate.
Naturally, the rain stops after I close that last gate. But life in my slightly damp world improves a welcoming committee of giraffe waits for us in the parking area. They move off into the nearby trees where they peer through the branches at us as we unload our bags, and our trusty cooler box, onto the open game viewing vehicle the lodge has sent to fetch us.
Beautiful Views and Scary Moments
Our driver is texting as we drive away from the parking area. We aren’t too concerned by this as we are most probably about to lose signal. We are sure that he will put the phone away soon.
From our lofty perch on the back of the game drive vehicle, a magnificent vista reveals itself in slow increments. Layer upon layer of green mountains fade to an almost imperceptible grey in the distance as we chug steadily up a narrow, and most definitely 4×4 only, dirt track along the side of the mountain. I pat myself on the back for booking the transfer, our soft 4×4 would never have made it up the mountain.
I’m lost in absolute awe at the beauty laid out before us. A warning yell from my husband to duck as a tree branch almost thwacks me in the face draws me back to the vehicle. And that is when I notice that our driver is still texting!
I’m just about to say something when I think he senses my terror, now tinged with a healthy dose of rage, and puts his phone away for good. But our mood and enjoyment of the ride is ruined by his reckless disregard for us. And as we will soon discover this indifference towards the guests is the prevalent attitude of the game ranger staff at Black Leopard Mountain Lodge, an attitude that stands in stark contrast to the attentive and friendly lodge staff.
A Warm Welcome to Black Leopard Mountain Lodge
We are slightly grumpy and wondering if Black Leopard Mountain Lodge is going to be worth the effort when we stop next to an intriguing wooden walkway that disappears into the tree canopy. A lazy wisp of smoke curls into the air behind the trees, the only sign that this might be the entrance to the lodge. The air has that post-rain, fresh and earthy smell tinged with a touch of wood-smoke and from the cliffs, a baboon barks a welcome.
With a huge welcoming grin and a ‘don’t worry about the cooler box, we will unpack it,’ for you, Julius, the lodge manager, whisks us across the walkway that zigzags through the treetops. We emerge on a stone pathway that soon deposits us at our safari-style tent. It stands in perfect seclusion amidst the thick African summer bush.
Our home for the next couple of days is exactly what we were hoping for. From the Turkish rugs scattered across the wooden floors to the old travel trunks on our private deck, each item has been carefully chosen and placed with love and thought to create an unforgettable ‘Out of Africa’ stay.
Wash Away That Travel Grumpiness
While our tent is exquisite, our private outdoor bathroom must be one of the best in Africa. It has been built around the base of a tree and every effort has been made to keep the shrubs and grasses growing inside the bathroom intact. There is even a Victorian claw-footed bath next to a convenient rock for your toiletries and a glass of wine.
This area is experiencing a drought, so I forego the bath for a quick shower. The bathroom’s canvas walls are built to shoulder height so even a short person like me can see out. I can see the resident troop of baboons on the nearby mountain slope going about their baboon business under the watchful eye of the alpha baboon sitting on a sunlit rock.
But he can also see me. I jump under the shower, and he howls, it’s more of a scream of terror actually. He jumps off his rock and scampers up the cliffside closely followed by his howling and screaming troop. I console myself with the thought that it wasn’t the sight of naked me, but rather a leopard stalking the troop that terrorised him.
In Search of a Cold Beer
Refreshed, we head down to the communal area of the lodge in search of our cooler box and a cold beer.
A light welcoming breeze wafts down the mountainside into an open-sided lounge-bar area with comfortable sofas and views across the valley to the mountains in the distance. It’s a perfect chill spot to hang out with the other guests at the lodge. At full capacity, the lodge only takes 12 guests, and I imagine whiling away the late afternoon socialising with like-minded bush loving people in this perfect setting.
You know that feeling of intrusion when you walk into a room, and everyone suddenly shuts up? Undeterred by the deafening silence, we go ahead and introduce ourselves. Amongst the group is a rather grumpy guy dressed in khaki, it turns out that this less than friendly fellow is the head ranger at Black Leopard.
A Hasty Retreat to Our Private Deck
We beat a hasty retreat to the pool deck with our cold beers. We are happy to simply unwind, and watch the sporadic rays of sunlight pierce through the cloud cover highlighting different spots in the valley and on the mountains in the distance. My friends, the baboons have returned to the mountain slope, and bird song echoes off the cliffs above us underscored by the low conversation coming from the lounge area.
My soul is just about to whisper that this is good when the distorted sound of music blaring at maximum volume on a mobile phone breaks the tranquillity. The owner of the phone joins us and he complains that it is too quiet.
I want to ask why he came to the bush but refrain after my husband gives me a stern look, he knows what I want to say! We retreat again, this time to the seclusion of our private deck. It is peaceful, exactly what we want, until a generator starts up nearby, and runs till the early evening, ruining the tranquillity of our deck.
I have an appointment with Master P.
When Julius left us to settle in he said, ‘I have made an appointment with our chef, Master P, for you at five!’ I’m surprised, we had an option when we booked, either a catered package or to self-cater. We chose self-catering, the lodge’s website did say that the staff would be on hand to assist us with meal prep, but a chef! I wonder if it’s a shared kitchen area, Master P will explain any kitchen quirks and quite possibly the dos and don’ts of his domain.
I duly present myself at the appointed time. Master P informs me that he has inspected the contents of my cooler box and would I like him to grill our steak over open coals for our dinner tonight? He was thinking of the barbecue marinade but sees that I have other spices too. How do we prefer our meat cooked, medium-rare? Would I like a Greek salad or an avocado pear salad with that? And maybe a baked potato too?
I’m stunned, I never expected this luxury, a chef preparing our self-catering meals for us. We agree on the menu, and Master P gently but firmly ushers me out of his domain telling me our dinner will be served at 8pm in the dining-room.
A Perfect Meal
We duly present ourselves at 8 pm. Julius ushers us to a beautifully set table complete with an oil lamp and presents Master P’s perfectly cooked meal. This sets the routine with Master P over the next couple of days – I go in to request a meal and he prepares it – what luxury.
After dinner, our fellow guests are in a party mood, but neither of us is in the mood to socialise. Instead, we retire to the seclusion of our private deck with a bottle of red wine. Our timing is perfect, as we settle down a full moon rises above the cliffs casting her silvery light on the bush. The solitude, the wine and the sounds of the African night are a blissful ending to a long day.
The Symphony of the Dawn
Nature’s symphony of the dawn wakes us, and we snuggle back under the sleep-warmed cotton bedlinen, enjoying the sounds and the pleasure of nowhere to go and nothing pressing to do.
The warning bark of my friend the alpha baboon echoes across the narrow valley and the dawn symphony pauses, almost as if they are holding their breath and then, there is a light thud on our private deck. Another breath and the dawn chorus resumes.
The thud was Julius placing a thermos flask of hot water for our coffee, and the seed of early morning coffee has been planted in my brain. The rough but not unpleasant pile of the Turkish rugs scattered across the floor embrace my bare feet as I pad across the tent to fetch the thermos.
Armed with our coffee and still in our pj’s, it’s that kind of a place, we follow a short footpath through the bush to the deck at the communal lounge area. There is not a single soul around. We sip our coffee in quiet contemplation of the picturesque view across the valley to the mountains in the distance as the dawn symphony slowly peters out. It’s the perfect slow way to start the day.
A Sunset Game Drive?
After breakfast, I approach the grumpy head game-ranger with a cheery good morning which he acknowledges with a grunt. I ignore this and ask to book a sunset game drive. He responds with ‘I’m very busy, maybe’, and walks away. I’m stunned by his rudeness.
Julius finds us a little later, comfortably ensconced on our deck with our books, and informs us that we are booked on the sunset game drive. The ranger will be waiting for us in the communal lounge at 4 pm, and please don’t be late.
Of course, there is not a single soul in sight at 4pm. We wait for fifteen minutes and then head off in search of our ranger. We eventually find the ranger-driver from yesterday’s 4×4 parking lot transfer next to the game viewing vehicle deep in conversation with a friend. Apparently, the two of them are taking us out.
On a game drive, the ranger is supposed to engage with their guests, relating interesting facts about the area’s fauna and flora while frequently stopping to point out creatures great and small. Our ranger was engaged, with his friend. Each time we wished to stop, we had to request a stop.
Despite our driver, (I can’t bring myself to call him a game ranger), we have a pleasant drive and frequently stop at our insistence to view a wide variety of wildlife. At times, the drive is serene, winding along narrow green riverine valleys and at others, exhilarating as we chug slowly up steep mountain slopes to the spectacular landscape views at the top.
Another Almost Perfect Evening
Night has fallen by the time that we return to the lodge and another fine meal prepared by Master P. We are both much more sociable this evening, and join our fellow guests around the bonfire after dinner.
I don’t know why, but there is something about a bush campfire in the African night that creates an instant camaraderie amongst strangers. Underscored by the hiss and crackle of the fire, our conversation is easy going and companionable, punctuated by occasional pauses, to listen to the creatures of the night calling to each other. It’s perfect.
That is until the sound of distorted music heralds the arrival of mobile-phone music man. He is still complaining about the silence and is determined to party. We beat a hasty retreat to the sanctuary of our private deck.
We sip the last of our wine as the moon rises above the cliffs. And we ask each other, “would we return to Black Leopard Mountain Lodge?‘
Would We Go Back to Black Leopard Mountain Lodge?
It is a beautiful, budget-friendly location with the most perfect ‘out of Africa’ style safari accommodation. There are plenty of spaces to be sociable in, or to be on your own, the choice is yours. But, the afternoon noise from the generator ruined the peace and tranquillity for us.
Julius and Master P’s unexpected 5-star attention contrasts so sharply with the indifferent attitude of the game ranger staff we decide most probably not. But, when the time comes to leave our answer becomes a hard no.
The grumpy head ranger crams twelve guests, their luggage and his dog onto the game viewing vehicle for the return transfer. And then, he allows three staff to hang off the sides of the vehicle as we traverse the narrow dirt track down the mountain. It is a dangerous and unnecessary risk, he could quite easily have done two trips!
So, no, sadly we won’t be returning to this beautiful slice of Africa – home of Black Leopard Mountain Lodge.
Pinterested? Pin it for later…
DISCLOSURE: All photographs are my own. And the experiences and opinions expressed in this blog post are my own. I have no commercial relationship with the lodge or any of its affiliates.