There isn’t much that I love more than a good African safari experience. I love the mystery of the bush, the untamed nature and the powerful wildlife that call the continent of Africa home. So, when I decided to return to Africa, going on a safari was a top priority.
We opted to visit Cheetah Plains Private Game Reserve in the North-West of South Africa. This private game reserve is very small, but is also attached to the much larger park of Sabi Sands, which sits next to Kruger NP. Unlike Kruger, Sabi Sands is a smaller and more exclusive reserve; instead of being designed for self driving, it houses a number of luxury safari lodges suited for the more discerning of travellers.
Of these lodges, Cheetah Plains is the most eco-friendly, the most luxurious and easily the most innovative.
So, without further ado, let me show you around the utter gorgeousness that is, Cheetah Plains.
There are several ways to get to this private game reserve. The most popular way for guests to arrive is by air – there are regular flights from Johannesburg and Nelspruit to Arathusa airstrip, which is a mere 20 minute drive from the lodge.
However, Chels and I knew that we would be doing a lot of flying on this particular trip, so we opted to drive from Joburg. It was a fairly straightforward drive, however it should be noted that google maps will take you to the wrong gate of the park, so make sure to enter ‘Gowrie Gate’ into google maps, as if you just search ‘Cheetah Plains’ it will direct you to go through the Shaws Gate, which is a no go for Cheetah Plains guests.
After we arrived and settled in, we were quickly served our first meal of the stay. An assortment of fresh salads and proteins were served alongside the best hummus I have ever eaten and perfectly light pita bread.
Cheetah Plains is comprised of four main houses, each with four corresponding villas. This means that the pool, wine cellar, boma and dining rooms are situated in the main house and each private villa is detached from this area, but just a short walk away.
We were based in the Mapogo House. Each of the four houses is similarly set up, with variations in artwork and the views from the pool. However, I was extremely glad to luck out with Mapogo, as this villa boasts a stunning waterhole directly in front of the pool, which is the home for a large family of hippos.
Oh, and can we all please just take a second to appreciate the gorgeousness that is the pool?
As we arrived a little late, it meant that we ended up having almost back to back meals. We finished our lunch and we soon served with a few light afternoon desserts. I was absolutely not hungry, but I am also quite powerless before a citrus tart…
Once we had devoured as many of the delicious morsels as we could, it was time to head out on our first game drive with Cheetah Plains, and luckily for us, we started with a bang.
Because of the lodges location within the reserve, sometimes the wildlife can be found just in front of the property – one such example was this little warthog who we found less than a minute into our drive!
Initially, we spotted a few smaller birds, but it wasn’t long before we spotted some much larger game. We came across some ellies making their way to the waterhole
At the waterhole, the sun started to set, setting a stunning terracotta backdrop with which to observe this majestic elephant family.
I really didn’t want to leave the elephants, but as the light of day grew dimmer, the possibility of spotting big cats proved too great a temptation.
Lucky for us, it didn’t take long for those hopes to be fulfilled, in the most phenomenal of ways.
Now, you may think that with a name like ‘Cheetah Plains’, cheetah sightings would be a given, but in fact, cheetahs are now only spotted in the area infrequently.
But leopards on the other hand, well, they certainly aren’t in short supply! That doesn’t mean that they are always easy to find however, so when we came across this undeniably striking female leopard, I could not have been more excited.
We found her as she had just finished chowing down on a big meal, so she was far too deep in the midst of a food coma to be bothered that we were getting pretty damn close.
In fact, she seemed almost as interested in us as we were in her, making for some pretty stunning photographs, even through the dense scrub land.
Not long after saying goodbye to our arrestingly beautiful leopard, we stumbled across what looked like a lone male white rhino, but as we got closer, it became clear that he wasn’t actually alone – he was hanging with a pal!
We stayed and observed this rhino for a short while, but with only minutes to go until the sun would completely disappear, we decided to move on. We stopped in a clearing to have a drink and watch the sunset. Back home in Australia, we would call this sunset drinks, but in East and Southern Africa, this tradition is referred to as sundowners.
Back home in Australia, sunset drinks is usually a very casual afternoon beer, but in the luxury safari camps of South Africa, it is a far more upscale affair. Roasted nuts, fresh baked goods and the South African staple that is biltong were accompanied by pretty much any drink that we could have dreamed of.
We ate more delicious food (even though we were definitely not hungry yet), sipped on chilled Laborie bubbles and watched the sun go to sleep.
Though the night shrouds much of the bush in darkness, that definitely does not mean that the wildlife become less active. In fact, as the sun goes down, the wildlife finally gains a reprieve from the blistering South African heat.
Wildlife may be harder to find, but it is certainly not impossible.
In fact, we found a pride of lions just metres away from a leopard in a tree, and we ended up having to choose what we wanted to see more!
We opted for a quick look at the lions, but ultimately, it was the leopard that we were most interested in, and boy, that decision certainly paid off.
Isn’t she just magnificent?!
Eventually it was time to make our way back to the lodge, and of course, because the day hadn’t already been ridiculous enough, there was a visitor waiting for us, right in front of our villa!
After freshening up, it was somehow already time to eat again. That night, we dined in front of the fire and devoured the most decadent cauliflower soup you could imagine as well as a main course that looked almost too pretty to eat.
Warmed by multiple glasses of Pinotage, we retired to bed with bellies that were full beyond belief and with endless leopard filled dreams. We had only been at Cheetah Plains for a mere eight hours and it had already been so indescribably wonderful – I could not wait to see what the next few days would bring.
Getting to Cheetah Plains: From Johannesburg you have multiple travel options. Direct flights to the Arathusa airstrip can be booked through Federal Airlines, flights to Nelspruit or Hoedspruit can be booked with Airlink (followed by a land transfer) or you can create a kickass Spotify playlist and spend the morning on a pretty epic road trip!
Cheetah Plains: For more information about visiting Cheetah Plains, click here
Camera: Images captured with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 in conjunction with M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8, M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 and M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 lenses
Remember: Don’t try and stick to a diet during your stay at Cheetah Plains, you will definitely leave looking six months pregnant, and it will be so undoubtedly worth it!