A Safari? Mine's a Double; LOLL OF THE WILD: Lions on the Savanna Game Reserve Doze on despite the Attentions of a Safari partyA Safari? HEAVENLY SPOT: The Pool at the Royal Malewane Lodge, in Leopard Country HORN OF AFRICA: A Kruger Impala

Article excerpt

Byline: Derek Laud

'D BEEN visiting Africa for 15 years yet, somehow, never managed to goon safari. Now, though, the opportunity was there and I intended to seize itwith both hands.

At the occasional smart dinner party or drinks party, I kept hearing about thisplace called the Royal Malewane Game Lodge and Spa. It was 'out of this world'and 'heavenly', according to friends who had visited it.

The Royal Malewane, on the western fringe of South Africa's magnificent KrugerNational Park, has quietly become a haunt for some of the world's biggestcelebrities.

Every year Sir Elton John takes over the entire lodge for himself and a selectband of friends. And Leonardo DiCaprio, one of the biggest box office stars inHollywood, stays there too.

So what is it about this place that makes it such an attraction for thesecelebrities? To help me find out, I sought the advice of Andrew Shapland.Andrew, who works for Tourism Corporation Africa, is a man to know and a man inthe know.

His advice to me was emphatic: 'Don't come all this way to see one game lodge,see two - you will take away something different from each one.' He suggestedthat I should also visit the Savanna Private Game Reserve, which is a 25-minuteplane ride from Royal Malewane and located in the 185,000-acre Sabi Sandreserve.

With Wordsworth tucked under my right arm, I fell into my first-class seat on aBritish Airways flight to Johannesburg. I could hardly contain my child-likeexcitement.

The nearest I had been to the wild animal kingdom was watching wildlifedocumentaries on TV - now I would be in touching distance of danger.

After landing at Johannesburg, I caught a connecting flight to Mpumalangaairport, a little over two hours away. The airport building, by the way, is thequaintest I have ever seen, made entirely of timber and with a thatched roof.

A pilot awaited my arrival for the 25-minute hop in a four-seater plane to theRoyal Malewane. The views over the Kruger National Park were breathtaking andwith not a cloud in the sky, all was well in the world.

As we touched down at Malewane, the pilot skilfully avoided some rather largepotholes on the landing strip. It was dusk by now and as I got into thepassenger seat of an open-top Land Rover to take me to the lodge, a group ofimpalas appeared, as if forming a welcoming party.

But if I thought that was impressive, what happened next was truly special.Just minutes into our journey, I heard a piercing, crying noise.

My driver braked quickly and turned off the engine. Coming towards us, its backkept low to the ground, was a leopard. I felt a sense of danger and my heartrate increased noticeably.

By now, this graceful creature was very close, so close in fact that her tailbrushed the side of the vehicle just inches from where I was sitting. This wasincredible - exactly what I had come to Africa to experience. …