Now that is a very hard question...
I've been blessed to have had some absolutely incredible experiences, too numerous to count. But if I had to pick a specific moment it would have to be tracking leopard in the north of the Kruger National Park.
Myself and a couple of close friends (one of whom had never visited South Africa before) set off on a 4-day camping and safari adventure. Naturally, we were determined to get the very best sighting of every iconic African animal possible, even if that meant setting off at sunrise and returning to camp after sunset.
We were doing well, watching hippos on foot from the banks of a river, sipping our morning coffee, baby hyenas nibbling our tires, feasting our eyes on a near black, ancient-looking giraffe, herds of elephants complete with old bulls and their young, and more colorful and exotic birds than we could ever imagine. Good stuff!
But we were missing something, probably the one animal everyone wants to see the most... the elusive leopard.
There was plenty of evidence. We had been tracking them for days as we drove, hanging over the edge of the game viewer and scanning the dirt roads for footprints. We even found the remnants of a 12ft rock python (someone’s supper the night before)!
But still nothing...
On the final night as we drove back to camp we resigned ourselves to the fact that as the masters of stealth, spotting a big cat wasn’t to be... "We'll just have to come back!" we joked.
Then a radio call from a nearby guide... "Mother and cub Ingwe (Leopard), on the road towards the canyon".
It was dark now and the road in question was a good 20min drive away. It was a long shot but we took it. We drove as fast as we could through the dense bush, hyper-focused on the road, spotlight scanning ahead at all times to make sure we didn’t run into anything big and hairy and holding onto the bars of the game viewer so as not to fall out when we hit a bump or came round a corner.
The adrenaline was pumping.
We got to the site where the radio spoke of and we could smell blood. The mother leopard had obviously made a kill. We were close. We passed another vehicle but they hadn’t seen anything.
Another 30 minutes of searching, peering into the black brush with torches, but still nothing.
Anyone who has looked for leopard before will know trying to spot one in the day is one thing, searching for one at night is next to impossible. And with young cubs, even less so... We were about to call it. But before we did we thought we would try one last thing...
We pulled the car up next to the road, turned the engine and all the lights off and kept as quiet as we could. Pitch black in the bush with only the stars poking through the tree canopy and silence broken only by the odd cricket.
After 5 minutes of sitting silently and somehow in unison, almost unnaturally, we all instinctively turned our torches on and shone the light to the left of the car.
There she was. A beautiful mother leopard so close we could have reached out and touched her. It was almost a shock, to see nothing but blackness only for the veil of darkness to be lifted and be face-to-face with a big cat less than a metre away!
After staring us down for a bit and deciding we weren’t a threat, she turned to a bush and a young cub came out and joined her. They walked on ahead of the vehicle further down the road; we followed them for about 15 minutes, snapping a few photos as best we could until they finally disappeared again under a bush and into the night.
Sometimes nature does save the best for last but I can tell you it was cheers and beers all around the camp on that final night!