Getting up close and personal with leopards.
Getting up close and personal with leopards.
A great view over a watering hole at Umlani Lodge and, right, one of the rooms.
A great view over a watering hole at Umlani Lodge and, right, one of the rooms.
The promotional launch of a locally produced gin took us to a lodge on the western edge of the Kruger National Park.

It seems the proprietor, Simone Musgrave, had retraced the footsteps of her grandfather, who came to Africa as a missionary, in the late 1940s.

Since she had aligned the brand with his struggle and subsequent triumph, it made sense that we would leave the city lights for an environment reminiscent of what Grandpa Musgrave must have encountered on arrival in Africa.

In Musgrave’s mind, having the gin as sundowners in the bundu was one of the best ways to enjoy it - and she was right.

READ:2017: Kruger Lowveld’s Year of Tourism

This decision meant that we’d experience Musgrave Gin in a place called Umlani Lodge in the Kruger National Park.

The place is part of the Timabavati Nature Reserve, where wild animals roam... so free that the drive there from the airport must have been at 40km/* so we didn’t run down anything crossing the road.

It’s a good place for an escape because there is no cellphone reception and internet access is limited.

Upon arrival, we were received by a cheerful bunch who helped with the bags and showed us to the reception. While signing indemnity forms, I noted one of the rules was that we were not to roam alone. Even going to the thatched rooms, in the distance, we needed an armed ranger.

The rooms are basic huts with walls left halfway to the thatched roofs. The open half is fenced and once you are inside you realise this gives you an all-round view of the surroundings.

We ate at a restaurant with a bar over the bush. On cue, a herd of buffalo came into view and we soon realised there was a watering hole not far from us. The beasts wallowed in the mud to cool off from the blazing Mpumalanga sun.

Our ranger and driver walked us to the safari rides, which he assured us were safe, but I felt exposed. We drove out, saw a trotting kudu here and a submerged hippo there, but it was when we spotted two male lions that things got real.

The instruction was to sit still. I know a few statues that would have admired my freeze.

Then came a call on the driver’s walkie-talkie that there was a leopard not far from where we were.

We spotted the leopard within five minutes. The beautiful cat was annoyed because he was after the nearby impala and we were imposing.

READ:Road trip reveals God’s blessings

We were so close the animals even brushed the vehicle, which was not funny!

On the drive back, we saw giraffes, zebras and more buffaloes.

We had a quick stop at a dam for sundowners and headed home.

It’s an experience everyone should have.

Visit for more information.