Hubby and I decided to take a short break, or a ‘mini-moon’ directly after the wedding, just so we had some time to ourselves to relax and enjoy each other’s company for a couple of days. We both work full time in our family-run transport company, so getting a big chunk of leave is extremely difficult.
The hubby planned the whole holiday himself, although he did ask my opinion on a couple of things before he finalised them, and he did such a great job choosing where we stayed. We’ve done the South coast together and we’ve done the KZN midlands and the Drakensburg, so we wanted something a little different – and Hluhluwe it was.
Leopard Walk Lodge offers a few packages, and we settled on the 3-night package – not only was it just long enough to give us a few nights away from everyone and everything, it came with some amazing activities, and our breakfasts and dinners too!
We decided against leaving the day after the wedding – it was 5 and a half hours drive from our wedding venue Calderwood Hall (the absolute best by the way – our food was phenomenal, the staff went above and beyond with everything, and everything was just perfect) to our honeymoon destination, rather then just under 4 hours from home, so we’d be rushed to leave soon after breakfast, and then lose an entire day in Hluhluwe. So we decided to spend the Sunday after the big day eating breakfast with our family and friends, packing up and making sure we had everything to take back for the decor company, and chatting to all the wonderful people who joined us the night before. We took a slow drive home, spent the late afternoon and evening napping, eating and watching tv, and then we woke up at 3:45am to leave home and get to Hluhluwe and spend an entire day there. Granted, I wasn’t the best travel partner, as I’m not a morning person at the best of times, and I slept most of the trip there. But it was so worth it to have the extra time there! Sadly, the only con to this was that we’d gotten up so early that I forgot the proper camera, and we ended up having to take photos on our phones the whole time. Thank goodness for a booster portable charger that we charged up at night after our phones were full!
We arrived at around 8:45 in the morning at Leopard Walk Lodge. The property the lodge sits on is absolutely beautiful – you truly feel like you’re in the middle of the bush, with various species of animals that live there. We saw nyala, zebra, wildebeest, red duiker, impala, water buck, kudu and while we didn’t know that there are predators there, there are in fact leopard, cerval and caracal there too – we saw small and large cat prints in the earth around our chalet, and heard the buck freaking out on our first night at dinner. You walk through the forest to your chalet from the dining area, and the wonderful owner Rob told us that as long as you stick to the lit up path at night, you’re safe!
The zebra are actually quite friendly, and while they aren’t tame, they’re used to coming up to the dining area and having guests feed them. This is not encouraged though – there’s a sign in reception saying to please not feed or pet the zebra, as while the come across as tame, they’re still wild animals!
Now, the package we we paid for included various activities in the area. You could squeeze them all into one day, or do a separate activity each day, and use the rest of your day to relax at the lodge, or go out and explore a bit on your own.
Our packages (the 3 Night Package) included the following: –
- Buffet style breakfast and dinner
- Complimentary bottle of champagne
- Trip to the cats at Emdoneni
- EITHER a 3 hour game viewing drive in an open game vehicle at the Hluhluwe Game Reserve OR an elephant interaction
- EITHER a 1 and a half hour canoe safari at Muzi Pan with close proximity to hippo and bird life OR a 2 hour boat cruise on a double decker boat to see the hippos and crocodiles on St Lucia Estuary OR a crocodile and reptile tour at Zulu Croc.
Quite the fabulous package, no?! The package gives you a room in the Secrets of the Forest A suites, which are phenomenal – super romantic, huge bed, big bath and shower in the bathroom, as well as a private outdoor jacuzzi and a small deck with chairs and table. All completely private and a decent bit away from the other rooms.
We decided to do the Emdoneni Cats on our first day, the 3 hour game drive on our second day (our reasoning for this choice being that we’d hopefully see a lot of different animals as opposed to just the elephants with the interaction) and the 2 hour boat cruise on our last full day (I’m clumsy to begin with – the thought of putting me in a canoe close to hippos resulted in a firm no from my new hubby!).
In between our prepaid activities, we drove around and explored the area. We visited so many different curios and farm stalls, as well as Zamimpilo, the local market where we could buy fruits (especially the locally farmed Queen pineapples) , veggies and touristy items that are made by members of the community). We tried pineapple mampoer (a local moonshine – stronger than tequila), dried queen pineapples (so delicious!), local jams and hot sauces, and we tried a few places for light lunches, although that didn’t last long, as Leopard Walk feeds you so well, that you don’t want to eat during the day just so you have the space at night for the amazing dinner buffet.
The Emdoneni Cat rehab works to aid cats who have been owned privately by families that reared them but could not handle them, or that have defects that would stop them from surviving naturally in the wild. These cats stay with the project for their lives, but there are other cats that get brought in and then released back into the wild if the chances of them hunting and surviving naturally are high enough.
They have 4 different species of cat there – the African Wild Cat, the Serval, the Caracal and the Cheetah. We were taken on a tour and were allowed in to the African Wild enclosure, 2 of the Serval enclosures and one of the Cheetah enclosures. Unfortunately the most interaction you’ll have with the Cheetah’s now is standing near them for a photo, as there have been a few incidents with tourists petting the cats.
The following day was our game drive – a 3 hour game drive in an open game vehicle at Hluhluwe Game Reserve, which we discovered is the second-oldest Reserve in the world! We were taking the late afternoon game drive, so we’d finish as the sun was setting.
Before the drive, we grabbed a quick lunch at the Anew Hotel (formerly Protea), and I sadly have to say that while the dishes looked pretty impressive, they didn’t taste that way. My Prawn and Mango salad included 3 very large prawns that were flavourless and not de-veined, as well as leaking the fishy water onto the rest of the salad, tinned mango (although I should have known it would be the case with mangoes being out of season), and the nuts that were supposed to be cashews ended up being mixed nuts. Nick’s Chicken and Cranberry open sandwich was quite dry – while the chicken was beautifully cooked, it was placed on dry toasted bread with only a little cranberry drizzled on top.
It was nowhere near the quality of food we were being served at Leopard Walk Lodge. All of our meals at Leopard Walk were fantastic – simple food, cooked very well! The buffet breakfasts included eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms, grilled tomato and toast, as well as yoghurt, fruit salad, cereals and muffins, with 2 fruit juices and tea and coffee. All absolutely delicious. The dinners included a starter of soup with croutons or bread (and that bread was amazing, slightly sweet with cheese on top), 2 different meats (grilled chicken and bobotie one night, grilled chicken and gammon the next and chicken skewers and beef stew the next), potatoes and/or rice, 3 veggies and 2 salads for mains, and a dessert. All beautifully cooked, all super tasty and the lady who cooked and served it was so proud of her hard work that she’d dish you up the biggest portions. We felt bad leaving food on our plates, as we compared it to offending an auntie if we didn’t finish our food, so we over ate all three nights! Also, the best bobotie I’ve ever eaten. And that bread?? It haunts our dreams, we’re determined to try and recreate it.
*We sadly have no photos of our food, as the lighting was purely just a candle on each table, and on the buffet table there were a few, and we only had our phones with very low battery. It was meant to make us truly feel in the bush, which it did, but I was so sad I couldn’t take any decent photos!*
The dining area at Leopard Walk is also beautiful, completely open and you can watch the buck and zebra grazing while you eat – the image of the zebra further up were taken from the dining area!
Anyway, back to our game drive! During our game drive, we were lucky as we saw so many different species of animal and bird, including Giraffe, Buffalo, Warthogs, Nyala, Impala, Zebra (quite a few of the females were pregnant too), Grey Duiker and Elephant! We were super lucky with the Elephants too – there are only about 750 of them in the whole 100 000 hectare park, and we managed to see not only a single bull Elephant chasing Baboons around, but a breeding herd of female and baby Elephants, and there were around 14 or so of them, if not more!
There had also been a lioness sighting in the park that day, minutes before we arrived. These particular lionesses had gone off the grid for a few months, and had only been spotted again that week, so we would have been really lucky if we’d seen them.
That night, we cracked open one of our most treasured wedding gifts – a 2006 bottle of Dom Perignon, gifted to us by Nick’s sister and her boyfriend. Yep, we’re spoilt brats! This stuff changed our take on regular sparkling wines, and we couldn’t believe the difference between the two! It truly tastes like luxury!
The following day we drove to St Lucia, about 45 minutes to an hour away from Hluhluwe. (Side note – the included activities do not include transport to and from each activity. I’d suggest not taking a super low suspension car as a lot of the roads are dirt or not very well maintained. We took our Ford Ranger and taking the ‘white buffalo’ as my hubby calls it was the best thing we could have done.) We passed a cheese farm and store/restaurant on the way, and wish we’d had time to stop for lunch – during our quick walk through we saw some pizzas going out to a table and WOWZERS did they look great!
We went on the double decker Advantage Cruiser for the Hippo and Croc tour. We managed to see only 2 or 3 crocs, but plenty of hippos! The boat also comes with a tuck shop and a fully licensed bar, so we felt quite fancy sitting on the top deck sipping on G n T’s.
Overall, this was one of the best trips we’ve taken together. Knowing we only had a few days there, we used up all of our spare time exploring, and we were so relaxed at night with no TV and no cellphone reception (unless you were in the dining area, with the Wifi), that we could completely shut off and we slept the best sleep of our lives! We both so recommend Leopard Walk Lodge and the packages they offer, so please, if you’re looking for a fun holiday, give their website a browse!