I am so f-ing lucky. I am so f-ing lucky. I am so f-ing lucky.

This mantra drifted through my head (with a few letters added), over and over, during the two days I spent at Leobo Private Reserve.

I occasionally get offered free trips because of my blog. When I was asked to visit Leobo, which is in the Waterberg district of Limpopo Province, I nearly said no. It was last-minute and I had some things planned for the weekend. Thank god I came to my senses.

I’ve been to some pretty amazing places during my time in South Africa. But never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined staying in a place like this.

Observatory

The Observatory, one of the lodging options at Leobo. It would have been a shame to miss this, don’t you think? (PS: This photo was shot from a helicopter. More on that in a future post.)

I left Joburg on a freezing-cold, rainy Friday morning and arrived at Leobo with a bunch of other journalists, late in the afternoon. The lodge sits at the top of a huge plateau in the middle of the bush. When I walked through the main lodge and saw the view, my jaw nearly came unhinged.

lodge deck

This photo doesn’t really capture what I saw but it’s the closest I could get.

I relaxed with a glass of champagne and then Heidi, one of the lodge managers, showed me to my “room”. The sun was setting. I sat down in one of the lounge chairs on my private deck. The view wasn’t too bad.

deck view

I cried a little while I watched this.

The room wasn’t too bad either.

inside room

The interior of my chalet.

There were seven other women on the trip. After nightfall we met up at the lodge and sat around the fire, wrapped in blankets, attended to by a team of talented staff. Then we went inside and ate a delicious dinner prepared by Serge, a Paris-trained chef who works at a fancy restaurant in Joburg. Serge traveled to the Waterberg for the weekend just  to cook for us.

The food wasn’t too bad.

duck

One of the entrees Serge prepared for us: duck with orange sauce.

We had an impressive list of outdoor activities planned for Saturday. But I awoke to booming thunder and pouring rain. I burrowed deeper into the duvet and slept until 9:00.

umbrella

It poured.

After breakfast we decided to spend the morning lounging around the Observatory, where half of our group was staying. The Observatory is just up the footpath from Leobo’s main lodge.

I struggle to find words to describe the Observatory. Rory Sweet, the British entrepreneur who owns Leobo, uses the Observatory as his holiday home. When Rory and his family aren’t there, the Observatory can be rented out. For R35,000 ($3800) a night.

If Richard Branson went on vacation in the Waterberg, I imagine he would stay at the Observatory.

In addition to being spectacular, the Observatory is quirky. It’s an architectural wonder. And there are costumes to wear. Apparently Rory and his clan like to wear spacesuits while they watch the stars from the rooftop observatory (where the house got its name). Observatory guests are invited to wear the suits.

spacesuits

Lin (left), me, and Theresa (right), decked out in spacesuits. Why the hell not? (I’ve forgotten who took this photo, and all the other photos that have me in them. My apologies for the lack of credits.)

I spent the morning curled up by the fire with my iPad. The rest of the group sat outside and watched the rain, drinking margaritas.

Moosa

This is Moosa, Leobo’s resident dog. I love her.

After a massive lunch back at the lodge, the weather cleared. We decided to go for a late-afternoon quad-bike ride.

I’ve never been much interested in quad-biking. I didn’t think I’d enjoy it. But I was wrong.

Heather on 4wheeler

Me and my bike.

Quad-biking through the Waterberg is pretty glorious. We motored past giraffes, kudu, and wildebeest. (Leobo is stocked with wildlife but it’s not a Big Five reserve so there’s no danger for guests.) The air was cool and crisp. The sky was pristine.

I am so f-ing lucky, I thought. I am so f-ing lucky.

crazy clouds

Post-rain Waterberg clouds, as seen from my bike.

sunset tree

Waterberg sunset.

Gaye quad bike

I kept pulling over to take pics.

The weather was sunny and clear on Sunday. I woke up early and took a walk in the bush. Then after breakfast, we went to pet the cheetahs.

UPDATE (2017): Tourists should never pet, walk with, or interact with big cats in any way. These interactions are cruel, dangerous, and unethical and I regret taking part in one. Learn more here.

Eppy and cheetah

Eppy pets a cheetah. His name is Duma and his brother’s name is Didi. 

Kirsty and cheetah

Kirsty pets a cheetah.

I had some reservations about the cheetah-petting thing. I’m really not a fan of the lion-cub-petting deal that goes on in so many reserves around South Africa. I don’t like exploiting wild animals. But I must say, these cheetahs seem to have a pretty good thing going.

Duma and Didi live with Quintus and Ronell Enslin, who run the farm at Leobo. Didi and Duma were purchased from a captive breeding program and spent their first year sleeping in Quintus and Ronell’s bed. Now the cheetahs live in a large outdoor enclosure, where I assume they will spend the rest of their days. They purred throughout our visit. (Cheetahs purr just like house cats. Only louder.)

Heather and cheetah

Initially I thought I might not pet the cheetahs myself. Ha! As if.

After petting the cheetahs, we went and shot a gun.

Heather and gun

This is obviously a re-enactment. The gun wasn’t loaded when this photo was taken. If I remember correctly, it’s a .300 Winchester rifle. The bullets are as long as my finger.

I’d never shot a gun before. But I’d also never pet a cheetah, ridden a quad bike, or worn a space suit before. So I figured what the hell.

Four women went to shoot the gun. We each got to shoot three times, at a target 150 meters (nearly 500 feet) away. Of our 12 shots, all but two or three hit the target. Apparently women tend to be better shots than men when they first learn.

I could write a whole post about what it felt like to fire that massive gun. But I’ll just say it was a cathartic experience and leave it at that. I don’t feel the need to do it again but I’m happy to have done it once.

And thus, our stay at Leobo came to an end. Time to fly home.

copter

To be continued.

I am so f-ing lucky.

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