The lodge came into view, a game drive vehicle could be seen in the distance awaiting our arrival, and as our Airlink flight touched down in the middle of the Sabi Sand, a warthog took his chances, inches in front of the plane’s wheels. A scan to the left revealed the cause of the warthog’s risk-taking ways – a leopard sat at attention, well camouflaged and just metres away from the runway.
Touch down at the Arathusa airstrip and as we exited the plane, and rushed to grab our bags and load them into that awaiting game drive vehicle, we could see that spotted cat crossing the already-still warm runway behind us, no doubt in pursuit of that dare devil warthog. And not two minutes later, we were sitting side by side that lovely leopard – a welcome first of what would be a cat-filled visit to the Sabi Sand.
We had just taken Airlink’s ingenious solution to safari travel – a lodge link flight that took all of seven minutes from Skukuza airport to touch down with a leopard on the runway at Arathusa – landing me smack bam in the middle of my safari adventure, with no time wasted.
The next few days at Arathusa also wasted no time with the Big Five being the order of the day. A leopard with a kill posed for iconic photos, two lionesses with eight little ones proceeded to melt our hearts, a leopard and hyena stared each other down from either side of our vehicle and three big male lions, one with a limp, showed us the power and vulnerability of the king of the jungle, with a few moments of brotherly love.
All this while our guide Sean Gilbert amused us with tales of the bush and a friendly banter between him and tracker, Rifos Mnisi, kept the Americans and Mexicans in our vehicle guessing as to the meaning of some Afrikaans slang. Sean’s love and fascination for butterflies, and the blessings of droughts, became evident on a short bush walk and the elephants walking past the lodge on our final evening topped off what was a spectacular stay.
It was all too soon that Rifos was dropping us back at the runway for our seven minutes back to Skukuza with our flight onwards home to Cape Town awaiting us there. And as we took off, the Sabi Sand dropping gently beneath us, two jackals stood at attention as if seeing off our safe goodbye. And we knew we had been ruined, as nothing would, or could, ever compare to that leopard on the runway.