Leopard Hills is not just an amazing place; it is a way of life

Posted on January 30, 2011

My name is Daniel Vonk and I’m a student and I have an interest in being a Game Reserve Guide. I spent a brilliant month at Leopard Hills learning about lodge operations and wild life. It was an amazing experience, ranging from five star hospitality to incredible wild life.

This was my first time there and my introduction to Leopard Hills was incredible. I was treated as a guest for the first two days. During one of the first game drives, we were told towards the end of morning game drive, that there were leopards in camp. So we went back to the lodge a bit earlier than usual. When we arrived, we were called up to the lower main deck where the leopard had last been seen. We were looking around until suddenly we looked through the gaps between the slats of the deck, and looking up at us, were a pair of bright green eyes, belonging to a leopard cub staring at us. It was amazing being less than a few centimeters away from a wild leopard. It was one of the two cubs belonging to the female leopard named Hlaba Nkunze, who loves being around the lodge. She leaves the cubs in safety at the lodge, while she goes out to hunt. Trust me we wouldn’t have been looking around if we knew mother was around! Hlaba learnt this tactic from her mother Makwela, who started a legacy by staying in and around the lodge, leaving Hlaba as a cub at the lodge while she went out to hunt. Makwela became part of life at Leopard Hills. Hlaba is now carrying that legacy forward.

At the back of the lodge is where the engine lies. This is where the staff of the lodge stays. They have a unique relationship, and work very well together which allows them to perform their best every day. Constantly refueling the engine with the best petrol, making Leopard hills such a remarkable lodge. This is only made possible by the best drivers, Louise and Duncan Rodgers, who have led and are keeping Leopard Hills a Legacy.

I learned the above while working in and around the lodge, learning and experiencing a variety of different things within lodge operations and game drives.

After a great two days of being treated as a guest, the awesome great ride started. I was introduced to the Leopard Hills team during the daily morning meeting, where they discussed the plans for the day. Over time I realized that there was not one day without there being a laugh between the staff. This is what I mean by the staff having a unique relationship and being able to work well together. After morning meeting, I was given my Leopard Hills uniform and was ready to start my grand journey.

I basically worked in every major section, within lodge operations. The first couple days I worked in reception where I helped welcome guests, prepared their welcome drinks and fresh towels. I gave guests the information regarding game drive times and activities happening during their stay at the lodge, and I took guests down to their rooms. I met many interesting guests from all over the world which gave me great insight. I also checked stock of the drinks and prepared drinks by packing the cooler boxes for morning and evening game drives which formed part of my experience in the bar manager category. I also learnt a great deal about the financial side on how the lodge charges the guest, how they decide the rates, and the system on how they maintain and check the financial flow of the lodge.

I also worked a few days in the kitchen where I learnt a great deal about food, and where I helped cook some delicious meals. I learned how the head chef operates in the kitchen, and as part of that I also helped cook some delicious dinners in the boma under the African sky. I also worked in maintenance and housekeeping where we checked that everything was in good order regarding the rooms, making sure that guest have a complete sense of relaxation and luxury.

While working, I also got to experience the wild life side where my main interest lies. I worked with the rangers where I went with the rangers to the airstrip to pick up guests and take them to the lodge. I also went on great walks where we encountered elephants, hippos, wildebeest, impala, and waterbuck. While on the walks, I learnt a great deal about tracking, what to look and listen for, and the role of small things that are very important to our ecosystem that we don‘t usually see on game drives. I also went on some great game drives where I saw and experienced amazing wild life.

Also during my stay I had a great drive one day with Duncan up to another camp about an hour away from Leopard Hills called Djuma camp which Duncan also manages. I had elephants coming up to my window and helped Duncan chase the elephants away from the lodge with the famous paint ball gun. I also attended the snake lecture and had a picture taken with Duncan, with a python around my neck which was not so easy. All in all I had an absolutely awesome time.

I learned and gained so much experience and had an amazing time. I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone at the lodge for making my stay such a great one. Leopard Hills, an outstanding lodge!

Below are some pictures of my awesome experience

0 thoughts on “Leopard Hills is not just an amazing place; it is a way of life

  1. Hey Daniel – love your article. So glad that you have had one of the best experiences that you will ever have in your life in one of the most beautiful places in the world! Annies.

  2. Dan we have a wonderful time with you here.Maybe one day in the future you will be working at this beautiful lodge. Please come a visit us again soon!

  3. Dan it is a pleasure having had you at Leopard Hills for the month, and I hope you will take away not only fond memories, but the knowledge that life is too short not to follow your dream.

    As I tell so many people, working in the bush is not a job, it is a passion and a privileged, and you have to make every day count, we have a very important roll to play being entrusted with survival and well being of so many dependent species on us.

    It is all about attitude and you have your heart in the right place, it is people like you we have to hand this over to one day and it is a relief that there are capable hands out there for us to pass it on to.

    Follow your dream Dan.

  4. Well done Dan i love your article! It was such fun having you here with us an we will do it more often for sure.Megz.

  5. Well done Dan the Man well done.Awesome article my brother. you are a really awesome with a true passion for nature and People. all the best for you and your studies.

  6. Dan, what a pleasure being able to share our world and Leopard Hills family with you.

    I hope you have learnt that lodge life is fun, but also it’s a job, no day is the same and although we live in paradise our main interest is being able to show our guests God’s world, nature is incredible and at times hard to see as you also experienced while being here.

    We are truely blessed to have a job that we so love, and if the nature side of life is your passion then follow your dream Dan, I had a dream 24 years ago, I dreamt of Africa and have been in the African bush ever since.

    Take your memories with you tomorrow as you start a new chapter of your life, work hard because you know where you are heading.

    You are very special and we have all at Leopard Hills enjoyed your calm, gentle nature.

    To the Leopard Hills Team, thank you for sharing your knowledge with Dan, you have made a difference in someone’s life.

    Dan, see you soon. Lou

  7. Just read your article and we are very impressed. What a pity your life has to change coming back to Johannesburg, but this has been a fantastic experience, which you will never forget. The memory of the tranquility and silence of the bush you will always remember. The life of a ranger is a dream of many youngsters and you have experienced this, how lucky you are.Your photos are stunning. Love from Opa and Oma

  8. Your Mother wrote:
    My Danny, as I sit here, with a tear or two dropping over my cheek with pride, I feel very Blessed that you are my son. It is such a joy to read your article and to read how much you have enjoyed Leopard Hills and your new family in Duncan,Louise, Megan & Kiara. I know how much your eyes light up when you speak of the bush, we had noticed on many holidays in the bush how passionate you are about being in the bush and how involved you get with nature. How lucky you have been to have been given this opportunity. I hope you will build on these experiences and study hard, so that perhaps one day you can return and follow your passion. I know you speak so fondly of Dunx,Lou and the girls and I would like to take this opportunity too of thanking them all from the bottom of my heart for everything they have done for you. Taking you into there home and having you part of the family. I know Duncan has and is a huge inspiration to you and I hope that you will make him proud and return one day to take them all on an awesome game drive as a ranger.
    I know you have experienced the silence of the bush and it wont be long before you hear your mothers voice and realize, reality beckons, but, I am so proud of you and even the way you wrote your article has flawed me a bit, not often your mother is lost for words my boy, that must say something..
    Duncan & Lou thanks again for everything you did for "our boy".

  9. Superb Dan! I know you loved it! And thank you to everyone at LH, especially Duncan, Lou, Megz & Cooks (I love you guys!), and importantly all of the staff who had to put up with Dan! I am so grateful! Dad

  10. Daniel, I applaud you!!

    I can also assure you that the people and experiences you had the priviledge of enjoying at Leopard Hills are to be truly treasured.

    I would like to share something with you, and you can do with it what you wish…

    At school I had a wonderful English teacher by the name of Mrs Gordon. She always told me life is like an old barn water pump. The more effort you put in, the more you get out. She told me this as she was fully aware that the subjects on offer and the direction I was forced to go in were of no interest to me.

    There is, in some schools, a fundamental flaw in the curriculum. We were taught that the only way to get by was to listen intently, apply ourselves and study hard. We would then go to university or some other tertiary institution, again, listen and learn, work hard and do well. After that we would get a decent job at a good company and if the machine of "success" continued, we would become high profile business people. While this sounds fantastic on paper, it will leave you all but free.

    Most people will die with either a full heart or a full bank account. Very few will depart with having achieved both. Anything and everything in life can be taken from you at some stage, except for your memories and experiences. The path you choose will depend on which of these options mean more to you. Just like the contrast of full heart and empty wallet vs the opposite, so is the bush life. It is hard and harsh at times, but a place that offers wonders beyond any monetary value.

    Follow your dreams, and all the very best in your future endeavours to become a "Bushy". Just remember the old barn pump theory, but apply it to your own dreams and ambitions, as opposed to that which has been entrenched in a system designed for the masses and never meant to guide those who have a true passion that runs slightly against the grain.


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