Sheriden Rhodes feels the love on an escape at the Kapama Karula Lodge in South Africa.
You know in the Lion King when Simba and Nala roll around amorously to the heart-tugging strains of Elton John’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”. Well, the love scene we’re fortunate enough to witness between the most solitary and elusive of the big cats is nothing like that.
I didn’t naively expect a Disney movie. But this mating ritual between a male and two female leopards is frankly brutal. There’s biting, snarling and baring of teeth. Afterwards, the leopard flop to the ground, exhausted.
They’re so close I can see their long whiskers and the pink insides of their mouth as they yawn repeatedly. “They will do this every 15 minutes for the next couple of days,” our ranger Matt Derry explains matter of factly.
At Kapama Karula Lodge, tracking off-road is reserved only for high-profile wildlife sightings, of which this is one of them. The lengths our two rangers have placed us ringside to the action is extraordinary.
Tracker William Mlambo first alerted us to the guttural sounds emanating from a thorny patch of bush. While we could hear the loved-up leopards clearly, it took some severe manoeuvring, dodging branches which scraped the vehicle like fingernails down a blackboard, before we could actually see them.
We’d flown in the day before from Johannesburg on Kapama’s private plane to the lodge’s airstrip, sipping Champagne and spotting impala en route to the contemporary African five-star lodge. I’d just stepped inside my dreamy pool villa overlooking the Klaserie River when a couple of giraffes sauntered past.
Out of Africa
Located in South Africa’s northernmost province of Limpopo, Kapama’s flagship lodge resides in the heart of the Kapama Private Game Reserve. Home to more than 40 mammals, including the big five — elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo and rhino. As well as a staggering 350 bird species.
Astoundingly, we tick off the big five within 24 hours, including a real-life Simba (lion) cub drinking at a waterhole after a successful morning’s kill with pride.
The intimate lodge has whitewashed timbers, neutral hues and abundant natural light with contemporary furnishings softened by tactile African bush textures. Expansive glass doors lead onto private decks with pools and sun loungers in 12 luxurious villas. Inside are lavish bathrooms, king-size beds, fireplaces, well-stocked minibars and Nespresso machines. Monkeys play in the trees, and heading back to my room late one night, I stumble across an African civet. It’s unclear who was the most surprised.
Twice daily game drives, a luxurious minimalistic spa, photography workshops, guided bushwalks and chef-prepared a la carte meals are on offer. This all-inclusive lodge is set on 13,000 hectares of the African bushveld, between South Africa’s northern Drakensberg mountains and the Greater Kruger National Park.
On an afternoon game drive with Kapama’s highly skilled rangers and trackers, we stumble across the leopard love fest. Afterwards, we head to a clearing where the sun is setting over the distant peaks silhouetting an acacia tree against a fiery sky. We enjoy G&T sundowners, unable to wipe the smiles off our faces. We’ve definitely felt the love tonight in ways I could never have imagined.
Private PC12 aircraft transfers are available from Johannesburg or Cape Town. From the Fireblade Aviation lounge flying directly to Kapama’s private airstrip. Alternatively, Kapama Karula is around five hours drive from Johannesburg.
Sheriden Rhodes was a guest of South African Airways and Kapama Karula Lodge.