Sunday June 22, 2014

blog5-23 leopard


I don’t know who spotted him first, but word quickly spread via the drivers’ radios … and our 4WDs sped-up along the dusty track, converging minutes later near a large, spreading, leafy tree. The object of our attention was big and strong and perched on a high-up branch. He was feeding on a ‘kill’ he’d made the previous night – probably a red-buck or impala. Using his powerful jaws and legs, he had obviously dragged the victim up the tree and jammed it into a convenient fork, away from hungry hyenas and other predators who would happily steal from him.

He was a leopard, handsome and beautifully-coloured and oh-so-close for our cameras. And he was giving us Kiwis a rare African treat …

I should explain that we were now in Ngorongoro Crater, one of the world’s largest intact volcanic calderas. We had overnighted in the fabulous Serena Lodge, clad in river-boulders, cloaked in creepers, and set high on the crater-rim. It was cold up there, 2200 metres above sea level, but that didn’t stop us getting out of bed early yesterday morning, downing weetbix or bacon’n’eggs, and then descending in our safari vehicles some 600 metres onto the crater floor.

This vast, largely-flat, sunken crater (a good 20kms across, and covering 260 square kms) is one of the planet’s largest natural ‘zoos’ – and our game-drive took us to several distinct habitats: forests, swamps, lakes, springs, grasslands and even some sand dunes. En route we saw many of the usuals: a huge Cape buffalo, almost reach-out-and-touchable from our vehicle … wildebeest single-filing to who-knows-where … warthogs digging for tasty roots … an ostrich with three wives … some picture-perfect Grants gazelles … a big bull elephant with massive tusks … a trio of sunbathing hippos … and a thirsty lioness drinking from a pool. Plus we also saw a few unusuals: a lone hartebeest, facing a long walk home … a silvery-backed jackal … a squadron of pink flamingos … and a pair of nesting vultures.

But it was that magnificent leopard-up-a-tree that we’re all still talking about – because I doubt if any of us will ever see anything like it again! He sat upstairs eating for quite a while … then leapt down for a clean-up and a sun-bathe on a dead log … before waving us goodbye with his tail and disappearing into the undergrowth. It was a very touching, very special half-hour, one none of us Kiwis will forget in a hurry.

A video would’ve been better, but sending video-files on slow internet is just not possible from here. However, check out the photos and you might get a feel of what we felt …

From the Ngorongoro Conservation Area we continued our trek westward, arriving late morning at the gates to Serengeti National Park. I’ll tell you more about this amazing place in my next blog, but before I leave the subject of cats there’s one more highlight I have to share.

After bouncing forever across the Serengeti’s vast, dusty plains, we turned down a side-track and followed a river-bed to where lions had been seen the day before. It didn’t take us long to spot them – first, two big females with their heads above the horizon … then more could be seen as we got closer, resting in the sun after a hard night’s hunt … but then they got up and moved off to join an even bigger group, reclining on a nearby grassy knoll. Collectively, they took a bit of counting, but we finally agreed: 23 lions in all, a force to be reckoned with, for sure!

Little wonder the untold antelopes inhabiting the same general area looked decidedly nervous …


These priceless mementos continue to change hands, and another quacky-duck found a new home yesterday:

  • Dave F received our ‘Underweight Luggage’ Award … for a little misunderstanding prior to leaving NZ. Concerned that their bags might be too heavy, Dave bought himself one of those luggage-scales you can get. And upon weighing their bags, Dave’s fears were confirmed: he and his wife had packed way too much. They took some stuff out, re-weighed, took some more out, re-weighed again, and finally got their bags under the limit. However, it wasn’t until they got to Africa that Dave discovered he’d been reading pounds instead of kilos! He admits now that it hasn’t been easy: they’ve never travelled with so little …


The Serengeti is one of the last places on earth where such vast numbers of large animals can still be seen at-home in their natural habitat. And they’re out there, just waiting for us!

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your ‘COMMENTS’! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief. And if you want to receive future blogs hot-off-the-press in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription!

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About John Cooney

John Cooney and his wife Robyn have enjoyed more than their fair share of travel. They hesitate to call themselves ‘experts’ – but they’ve grabbed every chance that’s come their way to explore new countries, cultures and customs. They’ve had the privilege (both on their own and as the leaders of numerous successful group-tours) to sample many stunning destinations: Europe, the UK, Singapore, Vanuatu, the USA, Israel, Egypt, Africa, Dubai, China, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. And their recent (and most pleasant) memories are of the places ancient-and-modern that border the Mediterranean. John and Robyn are at-home in airports, hotels, cruise ships, and the like … and they know how to make the most of a unique travel opportunity. Travel, they reckon, is an all-five-senses experience – a chance to see, feel, smell, hear and taste the world. And they’ve done it often enough to know for sure: sightseeing with a group of laid-back Kiwis is DOUBLE the fun – lots of laughs, great company, and memories that last forever!

11 thoughts on “WHEN THE CAT’S AWAY …

  1. Hi Maggie and co, John your blog is really good, keep up the good work, I am Kevin, maggies other half, cheers

  2. Hi to Southland crew! from “down on the farm” 🙂 enjoyin pics and blog, just wondering how you all coping with heat? All good here. Louise

  3. I will never forget our drivers—“Bumpy Bumpy–Hold on tight” on the highways of Kenya & Tanzania. Amazing countries.

  4. For Dave & Jacquie
    Hilarious re your luggage weight but Jacquie are you sure it wasn’t just Dave’s way of getting you to take less clothes! Think this calls for you to do some serious shopping while you’re away. Wonderful shops in Dubai!!
    Super following your travels – amazing experience you’re having.
    Norbert & Frances

  5. Hi Jacquie & Dave
    David, David, David, you never cease to amaze me, the lengths you go to!!! Jacquie, Frances is quite right, serious shopping coming up……..enjoy

  6. Barb and Fin
    Just loving following your adventures. I check the blog daily!!!!!
    What amazing things you are seeing.
    All good here
    LTT and JST

  7. To Carole and Norman
    Checking every day where you are, and really enjoying John’s blog and photos. What a wonderful adventure!!! Also Happy Birthday Norman for 27th at Lake Naivasha
    See you soon, Enjoy!!
    Hilly and Alec xxxxx

  8. Hi Norman & Carole…looks like you are having a great time! We are SO envious. We particularly want to wish you a HAPPY BIRTHDAY Norman, for tomorrow, 27th…we will be raising our glasses to you – Have a good one! Sounds like you are in a good place to celebrate. Really looking forward to seeing you in the UK – Love you loads, Sis and Dave xxxx

  9. Hi Dad,
    Happy Birthday dad for today!!!! What a place to be spending your 21st!!! Hope you have a fantastic day and birthday. We are all thinking of you and feeling very jealous as we read John’s blog and view all the pictures.
    We are all well. Girls have their school disco tonight. Sam got through to the next round of rep soccer trials (tomorrow). Sam’s netball team has been unbeaten all season – they are in the FINAL next week. Have an awesome day dad. Lots of love always, Sue, Neal, Sam and Alex (Max and Ted). XXXXXXXX

  10. Dave and Jacquie (aka mum and dad, aka nana and granddad)

    Still laughing about the luggage mix up dad……..! It’ll be a LONG time until you live that one down. Glad you’re having fun – it looks amazing! We all very jealous, keep on laughing,

    Lots of love
    S, G, M & T xx

  11. Hi Coons …
    I am still cracking up laughing at the ‘scales’ story … what a hoot. Love it!! Poor couple though, having to survive on so little luggage tee hee.
    Ngorongoro Crater, brings fond memories .. I have never forgotten our guide drilling into us the fact that it MUST be called a ‘caldera’. Was it a freezing cold day this time?? Big hugz xx

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