Thursday, May 13, 2010

Leopards Galore

There is a little known private game reserve called Mashatu. It lies just inside Botswana, across the Limpopo River which forms the border with South Africa in that part of the world. It is the place to see leopards, particularly in September and October when statistically you have a 94% chance of seeing these usually elusive big cats. The reserve is owned and run by Rattray Reserves who also run the more famous Mala Mala Lodge in the Sabi Sands area adjacent to the Kruger National Park, and here’s the good news. It’s a mere fraction of what you would pay for a night at Mala Mala, Sabi Sabi, Singita or Londolozi – better known “leopard viewing” lodges.

The reserve is a massive twenty five thousand hectares, and the best thing of all is that there are only 2 lodges – the main camp and the tented camp, that’s a maximum of forty eight guests total in the two camps, even if they’re full. That’s two guests per thousand hectares, no wonder you hardly ever see another vehicle on the game drives. You don’t even have to share your leopard sighting.

One gets to Mashatu either by driving 6 hours from Johannesburg or by flying to Polokwane and then taking a road transfer from there to the Pont Drift border crossing. Or you could hire a car and drive yourself, often a cheaper option, even if you don’t use the car for the few days you spend at Mashatu. From Polokwane it’s a two hour drive on an excellent road to Pont Drift. There the south African/Botswana border formalities are efficient and friendly, especially by African standards. You leave your vehicle (if you’ve hired one) in a secure compound on the South African side and you’re then met on the Botswana side by a driver from Mashatu.

In the dry season you simply drive across the dry Limpopo River bed, but in the wet, when the river is flowing deep and fast you and your luggage are loaded into a small cable car and are winched across the river. A couple of years ago they had to tighten the cables because they sagged so much that the passengers in the cable car were getting their feet wet. It’s all good fun, and part of the adventure. Anyway, there’s also an airstrip at Mashatu so you could always fly in, but where’s the fun in that?

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