In the second instalment of NICK HAMMOND’S ultimate family safari, he visits a private reserve – with the emphasis on private…
I’VE never dined underneath a hippo before.
Then again, I’ve never ridden a quad bike amongst zebra. Or petted a cheetah. Or had a tug of war with a crocodile.
I have now.
In a surreal, sensual, sci-fi palace atop a towering escarpment in the Waterberg Mountains, we sit, gaze and we wonder.
Before us in the warm, afternoon air, thousands of acres of undisturbed bush roll out into the distance. The decking, loungers, firepit and infinity pool offer repose; cotton mosquito netting in our glass-walled bedroom suites gently billow with the breeze; our private chef is busy making lunch.
Leobo is like nowhere you’ve ever been – and nowhere you’ll ever go again.
Built to the exacting tastes of an adventurous English multi-millionaire, the sprawling ranch is occasionally rented out to large parties and discerning travellers wanting the ultimate in private retreats.
Just the four of us are here now – my wife and I and our two girls – plus guides, managers and chef. This Kingdom is at our disposal.
There are horses if you want them. Helicopters can be booked. There are mountain bikes and fishing rods, climbing gear and rifle ranges, bows and arrows, a research-grade observatory, jacuzzi on the roof and a cinema room. Whatever you want, whenever you want it – in the heart of pristine South African savannah.
We go quad biking, helmeted up and riding a family assortment of beasts from a cute little version to a stonking great speed machine between us.
And despite the occasional mishap (a terrified squawk here and a singed leg there) we emerge a couple of hours later, sweaty but satisfied.
There are miles and miles of tracks to follow here, leading you among the plains game, which includes the usual suspects but thankfully free of lions and elephants.
The quads are fast and noisy and utterly exhilarating but no sooner than we’re done than Chris, our aforementioned chef, has concocted another delight for us to sample while sipping finest South African wine or a cold Windhoek lager. Then it’s off to the dam for a spot of fishing.
Carefully negotiating a blustering pod of sunbathing hippo, we find a secluded spot and I begin selecting tackle to tempt some local bass within range. But first something somewhat bizarre occurs.
Our rangers – on hand to guide and host 24 hours a day, should you wish it – have secured a chicken carcass to a rope and with an expert twirl, toss it 15 yards out into the murky green water.
After a few minutes watching in the blistering sun, a bow wave appears. And within seconds, a six-foot croc precedes it and is trying to make off with the bird.
It’s a game he knows well, apparently. For several minutes we have a little tug of war; even the girls have a go, safely watched over by the rangers. After he’s made a fair show and even come up onto the beach, eyeing us balefully and hissing his spite, the croc escapes with his lunch. Extraordinary.
We wander up to a nearby platform for a snack, only to discover a laid table, more ice-cold beers and a full-sized wood-fired pizza oven crackling merrily away.
Chris is here again, taking orders for bespoke pizza, which we lazily munch looking over the water. It’s time to get my fish on.
With a ‘spotter’ staying above to make sure Mr Croc doesn’t make a surprise guest appearance underneath my rod, I ping out a variety of weird and wonderful lures.
After 20 minutes, I land a nice little spiky bass, although not before my forearms get sunburnt a delicate shade of crimson. Englishman abroad and all that.
You can game drive here whenever you like, following up tracks or learning bushlore. Ostrich flounce across waving grasslands; wildebeest cough and stare through the afternoon heat haze.
We even get up close and personal with some tame cheetah being housed on part of the reserve. They purr like very large moggies.
Sundowners that night are taken on the deck as light seeps from the sky. And we dine under the hippo.
It’s the entire skeleton of a real hippopotamus, suspended by wire from the ceiling above the huge leadwood dining table. There’s an energy here that fills you. We eat, drink, laugh, share memories with our hosts, sink into our surroundings inch by inch.
And we end this day of days utterly alone in the jacuzzi high on the roof. A stiff wind blows up the escarpment and an eerie blue glow from the uplit jacuzzi bathes four tired faces. Foy Vance soars from a speaker; his cracked Irish lilt washing over rock and scree, bush and scrub.
We sit in the steam and stare across the abyss. Leobo is like an outpost on Mars; a fantasy castle where reality and alchemy collide. A beguiling and bewitching battlement of luxury in a forgotten corner of the world.
I still sometimes wonder if it ever really happened.
Nick Hammond’s trip was expertly curated by Abambo, the luxury Africa Tour Specialist led by Rosanne Cobb (founder and editor of The Good Safari Guide). With 10+ years experience in creating tailor-made tours – at no cost to the traveller – Abambo offers an unrivalled depth of knowledge and access to some of the finest lodges and game experiences on the continent. This is the tour operator for the experienced safari enthusiast.
For more information about Leobo, including details of their observatory, video gallery and ‘interesting stuff’, visit www.leoboprivatereserve.com.
Read the first part of Nick’s family safari adventure here…