The whirring of the helicopter’s blades soon became a loud chak-a-chak-a-chak-a, as the beast of a machine lifted itself off the ground. My heart was racing. I was strapped into the front seat, legs dangling above the skids, kitted out in my camo overall, paintball gun in hand. I felt like something straight out of M.A.S.H as the chopper climbed into the sky. Gazing down, we got a birds-eye view of the bush below. I scanned the veld for the dust that was churned up as the quad bikes raced away from our wrath. We spotted them. The chase began. The chopper ducked and dived, chasing the bright helmets as I mercilessly shot bullets of fluorescent paint at my prey. This was my first experience of helicopter paintball – one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.
British tech mogul, polar explorer and astronomy enthusiast, Rory Sweet, was not a huge fan of bush expeditions as a young man. He found them to be tedious and felt that each safari he went on tended to revolve around the same thing: morning and evening game drives in open-air vehicles to collect Kodak moments with the Big 5 and their counterparts. He wanted to create a different experience, with the emphasis not only be on the pristine natural world and its inhabitants, but also on the possibility of having fun in the bush. A lot of fun. And so, Leobo Private Reserve was born – the ultimate playground in a setting that will quite simply blow your mind.
Situated on 8,000 pristine hectares of the Waterberg region in Limpopo, Leobo Private Reserve is a safari lodge with a difference. Here, traditional game drive vehicles are rarely used and instead, one can traverse the bush at leisure on horseback, quad bikes or helicopter. And when I say at leisure, I mean it. There are no scheduled itineraries at Leobo, no time constraints and no rules – apart from safety of course. Guests (usually comprising of adrenaline loving friends, business colleagues or families who can afford an exclusive stay) create their own schedules and the whole point of the reserve being a place where one can adventure to ones hearts content is taken very seriously.
Apart from its most legendary activity – paintballing from helicopters – Leobo offers an array of heart-stopping, adrenaline fun in an environment that constantly stimulates the senses. It is true non-stop adventure. Think Polaris buggy driving or quad biking over rugged terrain and through rivers, tactical military simulations with assault rifles, 50 Calibre BMG target shooting, and skydiving from a helicopter. Other activities that one might consider slightly more sedate include horse riding, kayaking, fishing, rock climbing, hiking and camping… with hippos.
Astronomy is also a big draw card at Leobo and Sweet’s love for the stars led him to build a state-of-the-art automated observatory, perfect for stargazing through an automated 20-inch telescope. Crystal clear views of the moon, planets and other celestial objects around the sun can be enjoyed from this world-class dome observatory and guests can also be treated to a full tour of the night skies led by a local astronomer who can give a more detailed starlit safari. This is not to be missed – an awe-inspiring experience of the vast universe that is truly magical.
Sweet pulled out all the stops when building his family home at Leobo which is undoubtedly the most dazzling private home to rent in the country. Twice winner of the “Best Safari House in Africa”, the Observatory Bush Villa (which is available for families and smaller groups) is truly like no other. Designed by award winning architects, Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens, this architectural masterpiece consists of a cellular conglomerate like huts around a kraal, staying true to African structural design. The staggering dome which houses the astronomical observatory stands as the centrepiece of the space and tucked underneath it is an eccentric double-storey library that reflects Sweet’s love for adventure. Books on exploration, Africa and modern-day escapades, as well as some of Sweet’s personal anecdotes that have been collected over the years, really give one a taste of his vibrant personality and passion for adventure.
The house sleeps six adults and three children in three spacious double rooms and a children’s triple bunk room. Absolutely breath-taking views of the bush can be enjoyed from almost anywhere in the house and the design of both the indoor and outdoor spaces is a beautiful blend of local furnishings and nature. A butler, maid and personal chef are there to assist guests and the service is second to none. The house also has a heated infinity pool surrounded by lush vegetation and rockery, a rooftop Jacuzzi, spacious outdoor deck, a comfortable raised TV room, kitchen and dining room – complete with an immense hippo-skeleton chandelier which hangs over the sandstone dining table. It is the kind of space that will quite simply take your breath away.
The lodge, situated a short walk from the Observatory Bush Villa, is another accommodation option comprising of eight private chalets which sleep a total of 18 people comfortably. A sunken fire pit on the expansive deck is a great place to gather and share stories (especially after the epic experiences of the day) and there are multiple lounge areas, a bar, snooker table, and heated swimming pool built into the side of the mountain. The lodge is rented exclusively so is ideal for families or bigger groups. It can also be rented along with the Observatory for additional guests or staff. This exclusivity is truly fantastic and means that everyone who stays at Leobo at any given time is there together with complete exclusive access to the entire reserve and all of its facilities.
Adventure certainly works up an appetite and the staff and world-class chefs are very much aware of this at Leobo. Meals are delicious, hearty and packed with flavour. Start the day with a substantial breakfast of your choosing, including cold and hot options which can be enjoyed either at the lodge, the Observatory Villa, or out in the bush following a short helicopter ride to a hidden, picturesque destination. For lunch, a total highlight was dining out at Hippo Dam where hot, crispy pizzas churn out of the built-in clay pizza oven on the wooden deck overlooking the water. Mouth-watering dinners, prepared using only the freshest, local and seasonal ingredients are a treat and can be enjoyed at the lodge, in the bush, or under the staggering hippo skeleton chandelier in the Observatory. Meals are most welcome after all the fun at Leobo and are a true reflection of the masterful attention to detail and first-class service the staff are renowned for.
And then there is the reserve, which is just incredible. Encompassed by rugged rocky outcrops, vast mountainous areas, flowing rivers, gorges and bushveld savannah, the diverse Waterberg region, which overlooks the Palala Valley, is one of the most beautiful regions in the country. The best way to truly soak it all in is from the air and there is plenty of opportunity for that at Leobo. Hop in the heli and get flown to any number of incredible sites on the reserve that cannot be accessed any other way to enjoy sundowners, mimosas at breakfast or just to explore. The team of passionate and extremely competent helicopter pilots know how to get your blood pumping and fly through gorges, up steep mountainous cliffs and weave the river ways, giving guests a once in a lifetime experience. The bush is teeming with plains game as well as hippo and buffalo and Sweet is passionate about conservation and ensuring that absolutely none of the activities disrupt the natural environment. Everything is considered at Leobo and absolutely no stone left unturned when it comes to the flora, fauna and, of course, fun.
I highly recommend this feature at the very top of your bucket list of places to experience. There is nothing like it in the world – an idyllic escape where guests can disconnect from the outside world, connect with one another, be one with nature and have an adventure like no other. And if that isn’t enough, at least just do it for one thing: the thrill of enjoying a game of helicopter paintball. I mean, who would say no to that?
For more information, visit www.leoboprivatereserve.com.
TEXT © Julie Graham