For our first Christmas in South Africa, my husband and I decided to celebrate it on a safari. We booked Leopard Mountain Safari Lodge and I was excited to spend Christmas in a very different way - by Gemma Oates.
On Christmas Eve, I woke up ready to swap my Christmas jumper for khaki and the cold I was used to at Christmas, for what was going to be a very hot one. We set off on the 3-hour drive to Zululand and on to Leopard Mountain Safari Lodge.
After arriving at the gate, we drove ourselves to the lodge, which turned into quite a safari experience in itself! Within metres of being inside the Manyoni Wildlife Reserve, in which Leopard Mountain sits, we saw Zebra, Giraffe, Warthogs, Impala and Kudu. But the highlight was driving past two Lions, a male and female, who were relaxing under a tree in the shade. It was exhilarating to see the lions from our own vehicle!
When we pulled up at the entrance of the lodge, we had a friendly greeting from the staff and a very welcoming cold drink and towel (it was 44 degrees outside!). After an introduction to the lodge, we were shown to our magnificent suite, complete with a plunge pool, outdoor shower and hammock. We were offered lunch, which was brought to our suite in a picnic basket. I loved the fact that we were able to eat lunch in our suite and we chose this option every day during our stay.
Later that afternoon, we set off for our first game drive. As it was such a hot day, I wondered if we would see much wildlife but we were lucky to see Cheetah up close, Giraffe, Zebra, Impala, Kudu, Warthog and Hippo enjoying a soak in a dam.
After all the wildlife spotting came the all-important safari sundowners. There was something extra special about these knowing it was Christmas Eve and we enjoyed toasting the start of Christmas on safari with a beautiful sunset in the background. When we returned to the lodge, we had a welcome drink and were seated in a beautiful candlelit boma for dinner. There we enjoyed a delicious three-course dinner under the stars and with sand between our toes.
As we are seasoned safari-goers and aiming to have a relaxing Christmas, we decided to forgo the morning game drive for a Christmas Day lie-in. We were advised, however, to be ready for breakfast at 8.30 am, where we were whisked off for a special breakfast in the bush. We were taken to a dried-up river bed where a delicious breakfast spread had been set up, which we enjoyed with a glass of fizz. The staff also put on some Zulu singing and dancing for us, which I loved.
The rest of Christmas Day was spent relaxing in our suite and enjoying a blissful massage in the spa, before an afternoon game drive. After some fantastic wildlife spotting, we pulled up to a bar that had been set up high, on one of the hills for some special Christmas Day sundowners. There I got to enjoy another glass of fizz while taking in spectacular views of the Manyoni Game Reserve. We returned to the lodge after this for another lovely dinner in the Boma.
Leopard Mountain had a wine cellar so we picked out a lovely bottle of Pinotage to enjoy with our meal. I had hoped for a traditional Christmas dinner, but it was not on the menu. However, the food was still delicious and the boma had been decorated with Christmas lights to help us feel festive.
If you are looking to have a special Christmas with a difference, then a safari is highly recommended. The staff went to much effort to make our stay extra special and helped get us in the Christmas spirit. That, combined with the experience of spending the festive period with wildlife, made a Christmas full of memories. We also came away feeling very relaxed, which was much needed.