Wine Dine and Play: Leopard Hills Lodge

Leopard Hills Lodge





















A Safari And Gastric Adventure
Sabi Sand Game Reserve, Kruger, South Africa
Cuisine Style: African, Cape Malay, Bush Cuisine
Average Price: $$$$$
Overall Rating: 5/5
Dined in: December 2013
By Sean Overpeck (CFE)
**A full article and index glossary of restaurants, wines, recipes and travel for 
Wine Dine and Play are in the pages section above, or by following these links:



Executive Chefs:
Emma Molife and Jacque Erasmus
















Proprietor / Manager:
Duncan and Louise Rodgers


When you travel to Africa, the highlight of your trip and what most people visit for are the safaris and to see the animals in the wild instead of watching it on the Discovery Channel. For me, I mainly came for the cuisine and the safari, and I got a fantastic mixture of both. I did my research to see what I would like to do, and how I would like to do it. The most famous game park in South Africa was Kruger National Park which receives millions of tourists every year. When I read more about it, I saw the restrictions on what you could, or could not do while in the park. Then I read about Sabi Sand, the neighbor to Kruger, except that it was a private reserve, with no restrictions like the public Kruger Park had. The private reserve was a chance to be one on one with nature, and to also do it in luxury. My only decision now was to choose one of sixteen lodges on the private reserve, which also included one that was owned by Richard Branson. After careful review, I chose Leopard Hills Lodge.

Leopard eyeballs us from the tree

Founded in 1998 Leopard Hills is located in the western sector of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, situated atop a rocky outcrop, offering magnificent views over the bush and an active waterhole on the plains below. The reserve comprises over 10,000 hectares (38.61 square miles) of a diverse ecosystem where the ‘Big Five’ (Elephant, Lion, Rhino, Buffalo, and Leopard) are guaranteed to be seen. The lodge features eight glass-fronted, air-conditioned suites, each with private plunge pool and spectacular views over the African bush.

AWARDS
  • Voted: One of the ‘50 Best Luxury Adventure Holidays in the World’ 2012 (Adventure Temples™).
  • Leopard Hills named Best Game Lodge in Africa 2016 - Haute Grandeur Global Hotel Awards.
  • Runner Up “Most Romantic Safari Property 2016” - theSafariawards
  • Runner Up “Best Safari Guiding Team 2016” 
  • 3rd Place “Best Location 2016” 
  • Voted: “One of the 10 Best Safaris for 2015” by CNN
  • Runner-up ‘Boutique Bush Home’ The Style Junkies Awards 2014
  • • Leopard Hills has been awarded the prestigious membership to International Food and Wine Society Chaine des Rotisseur**An international society devoted to choice dining and the camaraderie of the table. Chaîne des Rôtisseur creates bonds of friendship across cultures and boundaries. It promotes the art of fine cuisine amongst both amateur and professional gastronomes and supports the development of young culinary professionals.
  • • 101 Top Hotels in the World – 2011 Tatler Travel Guide
  • • Top 10 Choices for Africa – Condé Nast Traveler Magazine – 2010
  • • Tourism Grading Council of South Africa 5 star – for exceptional quality and luxurious accommodation (matching best international standards). Highest standard of furnishings, flawless service, and meticulous guest care. For the last two years running, Leopard Hills has achieved a 99% pass rate from the Tourism Grading Council, personifying the extremely high standards at the lodge.
  • • Voted: One of the Top 100 Restaurants in South Africa (Food and Wine Magazine)
  • • Voted: One of Getaway’s Top 15 lodges in Africa.
  • • AA Gold Achievers Award 2001-2006
  • • Best views from a pool in the world – Hello Magazine
  • • Sappi Silver Award for Best Brochure 2009
  • • Sappi Silver Award for Best Brochure 2005
  • • Nominated for Art of Travel Service Award 2005 – 2006


It was going to be a long days drive ahead of me as  I had just finished up two days in KwaZulu Natal at the Fugitives Drift Lodge, immersing myself in colonial African history. Now after spending 10 days in South Africa, it was time to experience my very first safari. The drive according to the GPS would be about eight hours from Zululand to the border of Kruger. Leopard Hills is located in the western sector of the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve, bordering the Kruger National Park. I was going above the speed limit most of the way there, got stopped by the police, who wanted me to bribe them to keep going, which I did since I didn’t feel like turning back around, stopping for several hours to pay a traffic fine. Karma would catch up with me later after the safari driving to Johannesburg when someone hit my rental car, and the police did nothing to help.


Even with the police encounter, I made it in less than six hours, or so I thought. I ended up going directly to the Kruger National Park Gate, where my name was not listed for reservations. This is when I realized that Sabi was a completely separate park. I had passed the sign for Sabi ten minutes before arriving at Kruger, so at least I knew that I was close. I called the lodge and they gave me directions, which would take me into the reserve, then following dirt roads for about one hour until I reached the lodge. The clue if you’re going their, keep the electrified fence on your left at all times when you drive, then just follow the signs for Leopard Hills. Also, keep your windows rolled up because you are in the park with the animals.

I finally arrived and was greeted by the staff. To my surprise, they told me that I was the only person booked at the lodge for my stay. I guess I had picked one of those strange weeks, probably mixed with the fact that Mandela had just died a few days before, so maybe no one wanted to travel. The lodge itself is situated on top of a rocky hilled outcropping, where there are fantastic views around the entire property. Like all the lodges it was a five-star resort, with eight separate cottages or lodges with ceiling to floor glass windows, living room, bedroom, bathroom, and outside a private balcony with pool and shower. From my lodge balcony, I had a full view of the watering hole in the distance. 

My lodging

Inside the room, there was a bar, with cognac awaiting my arrival, a beautiful king size bed, with mosquito netting, and a private bathroom with cast-iron tub and shower. The lodge had a thatched roof, and the design was pure African.  Privacy was the key. From your balcony or lodge, no one could see you or disturb you. The property also had a large community pool, balcony with tables to relax, a full spa, gym, and library. The Library was the only location that you could pick up an internet signal, which was the only thing I did not like about my entire trip; however, the staff mentioned that in 2014, the internet would be available in all rooms. The library itself was a fantastic room with a large selection, but what struck me was the stuffed Water Buffalo head attached to the wall above the entrance.

Cognac awaits

As I arrived, I was tired, but that quickly went away when the safari game ranger and driver Jehanne asked if I was ready to go out. Well, you don’t have to ask me twice. I quickly visited the room, the staff had already delivered my luggage, and then as I changed shoes, and was heading back down, there was a guard by my door to escort me back to the main promenade. Normally he escorts at night, but the main reason was that there was a leopard close by. The front door to my room is situated next to a large rock and a tree. This rock has a cave, and inside the cave is where the female leopard comes to give birth to her cubs, and the tree from time to time has dead game hanging from it, a recent kill that the leopard is responsible for. The main reason that I chose Leopard Hills over the other game lodges is that of the leopard. All of the lodges from what I read are just as luxurious, but at Leopard Hills, they guarantee that a leopard will be spotted. Of the ‘Big Five,’ the Leopard is the hardest to spot, and most people that go to Kruger will see 4 of the 5, but they usually will not see a leopard. My father went to Kenya ten years ago, and he was not able to spot a leopard, so this is the main reason I chose Leopard Hills, that and they do your laundry for free, while the other lodges charge. After ten days of travel in South Africa, I had a lot of dirty clothes. The name ‘Big Five’ comes from the top 5 animals that hunters from around the world would come to Africa for. Today people still come to see the ‘Big Five,’ but instead of shooting them with a gun, we shoot them with our cameras. The ‘Big Five’ are the leopard, lion, elephant, buffalo, and the rhino. Now there are lodges for a massively high price where you can go and hunt + kill the ‘Big Five, ‘like $10,000+ per kill.

Jehanne had the vehicle pulled up and ready to go. It was a large safari vehicle with three rows for people to sit, and it was open aired, but could attach a canopy in case of rain. Jehanne introduced me to our tracker, Ronald Gumede and then we were off into the bush. We drove for less than five minutes, and the tracker gave signals to move the vehicle into the thicket off of the dirt road. We traveled slowly for about thirty-seconds then Jehanne turned the vehicle off. I was sitting two to three feet away from my first animal, and one of the ‘Big Five.’ He told me not to stand up, and to keep all movement to a minimum. He then began to talk about the pride of lions right next to me with three adult females and six cubs, resting in the bush. It was a stunning sight to see them in the wild, and not in a cage.  You can link to my video below:

Lion Pride Video

    The lion pride video on Youtube


Lioness yawns after waking from her nap

We sat with the lions for several minutes, and then continued on where we ran into a group of spooked animals and the second of the ‘Big Five.’ These elephants were spooked because they could smell the lions nearby, and the matriarch was trying to get the pride moving away as fast as she could to protect the babies.

Matriarch gathers the herd

We continued our drive and could hear a lot of activity on the radio. The Game Rangers from the different lodges would communicate with one another to let them know if they spotted an animal of interest so that everyone could come and see it. Jehanne followed the chatter on the radio, and we drove for about twenty minutes until I saw a few other vehicles from the other lodges nearby. The rule was that only two or three vehicles were allowed in close to the animals and the others had to wait until a vehicle left. This was another reason I chose a private game reserve over Kruger. In Kruger, you have to stay on the main roads, and you cannot follow the animals. On the private reserves like Leopard Hills, you can go off-road, sit right next to the animals, and follow them wherever they go, if you can. It was our time to move in, where we saw a spotted cat with a black lined strip running from under the eyes to the mouth, and it was the fastest land animal on the earth. This animal was not one of the ‘Big Five,’ but it was still an animal that was very hard to spot, and wasn’t even guaranteed by the private reserves to see. In front of us was a female cheetah. An extremely beautiful animal, and you can follow the YouTube link to the video I took below:

Cheetah finishing her run

  Female cheetah video on youtube

Cheetah relaxes after her run

The sun was going down, and this was my first sight of the African sunset on a safari, which made it even more special to me. We drove back to the lodge, and by the time we arrived, it was pitch black. The guard once again escorted me to my room. The leopard I was told was gone so I would not have the chance to see it on that night. I did learn however that the room I was in since it was so close to the leopard cave that it was on the outside patio drinking water from the pool, and hanging around. He gave the staff a little excitement before moving on.

Sundown at Sabi

I took a quick shower, then dressed for dinner, making my way to the main dining room. It was a huge area with a full bar, dining room and a living room for relaxation. A small table was set up for two since I was the only guest in the lodge for that evening. I started with a cocktail, and then Jehanne arrived to join me for dinner. As a requirement, the ranger always joined the guests for the dinner meal, which I thought was a nice touch, and also he could answer any further questions from the game drive if we had any. During my stay, I really picked the man’s brain.

Dining Room at Leopard Hills

At this time the Chef had introduced himself, and throughout my stay, I had just as many questions for him as I did the ranger, since I was in the same industry. We spoke about the menu amongst other things, then he went back to the kitchen. I reviewed the wine list, and believe me they had an extensive cellar of very fine African wines. The one thing I noticed just like in every restaurant I went to in Cape Town, with the exception of one, all of the wine lists were of South African wines only with a few Champagne from France. No one had selections from the United States, South America, Canada, Australia, or the remainder of Europe. I won’t say that this is a bad thing, because I was in South Africa, and thus wished to enjoy South African wines. But by day ten, I may have wanted an alternate selection from somewhere else in the world, but would not be able to get it. I had decided that during my stay I was in the mood for a Pinotage, and I chose the Beyerskloof Winery from Stellenbosch. Pure primary fruit aromas with hints of plum and red cherries against mocha and cedar notes on the nose. Strong plum flavors with velvety tannin, well structured, yet elegant and soft, medium-bodied with a fresh and superbly balanced finish. Impressive for consistency, given the volume produced of this specific vintage. I was seated and our first course came out from the kitchen which was served in a warm ramekin and contained a cheese starter that blew me away with flavor.
Cheese starter

The second course for the night, the salad, was a smoked salmon dish with avocado, fresh mixed greens, and herbed parsley, once again full of exotic flavor.

Smoked salmon with greens

The entrée course was medallion sliced beef, medium rare with oven roasted potato, a vegetable assortment of carrot, green beans, cabbage, and sweet potato with a brown gravy and vegetable garnie.

Beef medallion

For my dessert course, I had chosen cheese, and I received a wonderful artisan brie with toast point and olives which helped me finish off the wine, and the end to absolutely wonderful and exhausting day. As I enjoyed this platted four-course meal, all around me the animals would enjoy their dinner, except it would be prepared raw with no vegetables, starch, or dessert and their red wine selection would be blood.
Brie

After such a great meal, whether it is what I ate or the animals around the lodge, nature would take its natural course…LOL!!

Leopard does his business

When I went back to my room, my bed had been turned down, with the mosquito nets dropped. On the pillow was a little poem about the wild, and some artisan chocolates. All notes had my name on them, which added an extra special touch. Jehanne had told me to sleep early without indulging too much in my rooms mini-bar because it would be an early morning as the safari would start at 6 AM. I got up at five, got ready, and headed back over to the dining room, where there was a massive spread of fruits, pieces of bread, cheeses, salmon, and many other assorted breakfast items. I was shocked since I was the only person here, but at the same time, enjoyed the selection. I was getting what I paid for.

Breakfast buffet assortment

Once breakfast ended, we hit the road, where we ran into large selections of animals from Warthogs, Impala’s, Monkey’s, Wildebeest, and the funniest, the Dung Beetle. Thank god we didn’t run over them as I spotted it, because then they would have had a really shitty day.

Dung Beetle Video:

  The Dung Beetle video on Youtube

Dung Beetle having a shitty day

We stopped for coffee and some snacks next to a small river, where there were some hippos in the water, but no sign of the famous African crocodiles yet. Jehanne was a fan of frogs and was photographing the different varieties. On our safari trips, we ran into several species of frogs. But now as we drove, we were trying to find some Hyena’s, and even though we visited their den, where I saw lots of bones from their last meal, I did not see a single one, unfortunately. As the drive continued, we ran into another member of the ‘Big Five,’ and it was the main prize, a female Leopard. When we arrived she was moving from place to place marking her territory before she decided to jump up into a tree.

Langissa jumps onto a tree:

   Female Leopard video on Youtube

Langissa in the tree

As we continued our drive, we ran into the fourth member of the ‘Big Five,’ the Rhinoceros, two of them grazing around.
Rhinoceros

We headed back to the lodge upon conclusion of the safari, and I went out to the main patio of the dining room where lunch was served. The selection was a beef kebob skewered in a metal rod attached to the plate with a ladle holder above the meat where the gravy would drip down. It was a nice presentation, but the gravy was a little thick, so it didn’t run down correctly. 
Lunch kebab

After lunch, I enjoyed a massage at the spa, some swimming in my private pool on the balcony, and some rest since it had been an early start to the day. It was now the mid-afternoon, and time for another safari, which always pumped me up and had me ready to go. On this tour we saw a huge male elephant that was in musk, looking for a female, and he was someone we did not want to mess with, so we backed out of his way to let him pass us. This bad boy could have easily flipped us over without thinking twice about it.

A male elephant in heat

We also ran into an entire herd of elephants over sixty of them after we drove past the male in heat. Then finally came the last member of the ‘Big Five,’ the African buffalo.

African buffalo

As we continued to drive, the sun was going down again giving me another wonderful picture of an African sunset, when we spotted a turtle. We stopped and investigated because Jehanne had told me, that now I had spotted the ‘Big Five,’ it was time to introduce me to the ‘Small Five’ or ‘Little Five’. The animal we ran into was a Leopard Tortoise.

Leopard Tortoise

The other four of the ‘Little Five’ which I did not spot on the safaris was an elephant shrew, rhinoceros beetle, buffalo weaver, and the antlion. The ‘Little Five’ is based on the "Small 5005" concept developed by South African wildlife author and scientist Rael Loon. We headed back to the lodge, pitch black once again, only this time, we were struck by thousands of termites flying around, and yes, one got in my mouth as the rest pelted me, yuck! Jehanne was being funny when he said that they had a lot of protein and tasted good. It was now time for another dinner back at the lodge, where the chef and his crew had outdone themselves yet again. It would be another four-course meal, starting with a marinated beef carpaccio with sliced red onions, strawberries, rocket lettuce, and a balsamic reduction topped with parmesan shavings.

Beef carpaccio

The second course was a classic prawn and avocado cocktail with thousand island dressing, paprika, and chili vinaigrette with a parsley garnish.

Prawn and avocado cocktail
The intermezzo course:




The entrée course was an olive, garlic, and rosemary marinated lamb cutlet chop, with a potato croquet fondant, slow roasted baby corn, sautéed sugar snap peas, with a red wine and tomato jus. Heaven could not begin to describe just how good this course truly was.

Lamb cutlet chop

For dessert, a vanilla and strawberry layered pannacotta with mint and a crystallized brown sugar string garnish, presentation wise, the best dish of the entire trip. Thank god the termite was not on the menu.

Panna-cotta

The following morning would be a sad day because I knew that it would be my final one at the lodge and final safari before it was time to move on with the rest of my South African tour. We started early once again. The tracking path took us back to the lions, only unlike the first day since we spotted a female pride, we ran into two males.

Male lions

Later on, as our travels continued, we would notice a male leopard traveling down the dirt road just minding his own business and marking his territory.

We drove along a river bed and spotted a female lion on her own, and she decided that she wanted to cross the river. The video is below:

Why did the lion cross the river?

  Lion crosses the river video on Youtube


When we returned to the lodge I said my goodbyes to end an absolutely fantastic trip. My bags were packed, and I prepared for another long travel day heading to Johannesburg, stopping at the Blyde River Canyon on my way to see a fogged in God’s Window, thanks to the rain. 
Former chef Stuart Hunter
  The Kitchen Staff
     Eva Sibuyi
    Mavis Gumede
    Sarah Gumede
     Adelaide Nkuna

Leopard Hills was just outstanding, the entire experience is well worth the money, and I highly recommend it to anyone traveling to South Africa and planning to do a safari. Avoid the tourist trap known as Kruger National Park and all of its crazy rules. See a real safari and enjoy five-star services all the way. Leopard Hills, you will see me again.

Ranger Jehanne and tracker Ronald Gumede


Wine regulatory’s for the tastings in this article:

South Africa:
SAWIS: S. African Wine Industry Information and Systems NPC


Please see these guidelines for Tipping in Restaurants and on following proper etiquette, customs, cultures, and avoiding assumptions when you dine out.


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See the whole list by visiting “The Wine Dine and Play Article Glossary by country





Final notes, review basics, observations and more pictures:

Most reviews are subjective, depending on the writer; but they should also be responsible, and respectfully written, upholding the truth, and accurately conveying the experience to the best of the writer's knowledge, even if it includes metaphors the restaurant may not like to read about. My ratings are by the stars I award (from 0 to 5). The rating is calculated on a point accumulation of six separate factors based on individual experience. They include wine and other beverage selections, plate presentation, customer service, restaurant or café ambiance, food quality, and wow factor. To see more details of this rating list, read this article:

Overall from this experience and the score factors outlined in the ‘about page’ section, based on my individual experience and rating, I give Leopard Hills Lodge a 5 out of 5 stars, meaning that they not only exceeded my expectations and were far above the average dining experience of most restaurants, but they surpassed outstanding and were extraordinary.
Scores are detailed in the factor chart below:

Formula Factor Conclusions and Overall Ratings
Max Points Possible:
Total Points Awarded:
Total Points deducted:
Ambiance
10
9
1
Food quality
10
10
0
Plate presentation
9
9
0
Customer service
8
8
0
Alcohol and other beverages
10
8
2
Total regular points awarded
47
44
3
Total percentage Before Bonus

0.936170212765957

“Wow” factor BONUS
5
5
0
Total bonus percentage

0.106382978723404

Total percentage with a bonus for the final star rating

1.04255319148936

Stars Awarded (see chart below)
             0 - 5
5

**A full break down and explanation of the observations and point disbursement is available in the linked article above. To receive a detailed copy of your score, feel free to contact me at any time and I will provide it to you.**


***

Overall Star Rating:
5 of 5 Stars: 
104% Rating with a 5 point “wow” bonus
An Extraordinary Dining Experience
Wine rating:
5 of 10
Old World selections: 
France

New World selections: 
South Africa
Corkage fee’s:
This Restaurant does not list any corkage fee’s however, most American restaurants charge 
$25.00 per bottle
Restaurant style:
Conservative dining
Cuisine style:
African, Bush Cuisine, Cape Malay
Allergen or dietary accommodations: 
Farm to Fork, Grass Fed, Local, Organic, Vegetarian Options
Reservations:
Required
Walk-Ins:
Not accepted
Dress code:
Smart casual attire
Child policy:


The Restaurants reviewed on this site may have a kids menu or cater to them; however, for full enjoyment of food and wine, it is recommended that kids not to be in attendance, unless they have been trained in proper etiquette. 
If not then:
Hire a Babysitter! 
Experiences:
Place for foodies, Contemporary, Great bar, Great outdoor dining, Good for special occasions, Rustic, Scenic views, Classy, Upscale, and a Neighborhood Gem.
Payments:
Cash, Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express
Parking:
Private lot
Wifi
The restaurants reviewed on this site may have Wi-Fi, but do not require you to go online, because the excitement of the food and wine alone will keep you too entertained instead of checking your social media and emails.
Noise level:
Low
Smoking:
Nonsmoking restaurant, and nonsmoking patio
Patio or terrace:
Yes




Food Prices 
(excludes, alcohol, taxes & 20% gratuity’s)

$£€¥ -                Under 50.00 (inexpensive)
$£€¥ x 2 -          51.00- 99.00 (moderate)
$£€¥ x 3 -          Over 100.00 (pricy)
$£€¥ x 4 -          Over 200.00 (expensive)
$£€¥ x 5 -          Over 400.00 (very expensive)


**Currencies reflect the world’s major travelers, restaurant, or wine connoisseur’s**

Currency:
Price
South African Rand (ZAR)
R
United States Dollar (USD)
$$$$$
Great Britain Pound Sterling (GBP)
£££££
Canadian Dollar (CAN)
$$$$$
Chinese Yuan (CNY)  
¥¥¥¥¥
European Union (EUR)
€€€€€

 Alcohol prices:

R$200.00 ZAR



Leopard Hills Lodge:

Sabi Sand Game Reserve, 
Idube Lodge Access Rd, 
Kruger Park, 1242, South Africa






Contact Information: 
Restaurant website:
Maître d or host:
 +27 13 735 5142
Email Contact:
Social Media 
Accolades:
Facebook link                





****
The worlds best restaurants is a subjective list of who is writing it and changes on a regular basis. The Wine Dine and Play best experiences are based on my highest rated stared restaurants, meaning that the visit was an outstanding or extraordinary experience. From cafés, chains, mom + pops, hole in the walls, to fine dining including a few Michelin spots. Visit the Top 100 page to see the entire list.

A few to tease you with…

Impeccably prepared French fine dining
Dublin, Ireland
Countryside French Bistro
Cheverny, France
New American dining on a restored ship
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA




Other Pictures:

My room at the lodge taken during the safari 
Private pool
Community pool 
Gym 
Living room in my lodge
Bathroom 
Cast iron tub

Library
Bar in the dining room 
Warthog 
African bush frogs 
Lioness yawning 
Cheetah
Cheetah starts running
Monkey with baby 
Hippo's 
Leopard tortuous  
Bar 
Kebab's for lunch
Breakfast buffets 
Breakfast buffets 
Safari pictures
Antelope near the watering hole
Pride takes a nap
2012 
Wildebeest 
Male leopard taking a nap 
More hippo's 







“Culinary perfection consists not in doing extraordinary things, 
But in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.”

-Angelique Arnauld (1591-1661)


Who is John Galt?


TTFN




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