As South African’s we often boast about the beauty of our backyard. Goosebumps are guaranteed for all when we hear the words of former president Thabo Mbeki’s iconic "I Am an African" poem. As a proud daughter of the Eastern Cape, our seashores remains my home and happy place. Yes Capetonian’s the coast belongs to all of us, not only the gorgeous western end.

So when I relocated inland a few years ago, I was excited to start exploring a different side of our country. Especially our most unique selling point: the bush. Earlier this year, our expat family started their trip home in the concrete jungle with a game drive as our first pit stop. Literally. Fresh off the plane we made our way to Pilansberg Nature Reserve for an overnight camping trip with sunset and sunrise game drives on the itinerary.

If you haven’t been on a game drive before it’s basically the opposite of a zoo. Human’s get into a moving cage and drive around for hours hoping to spot Wildlife in their natural habitat. And when I mean hoping, I really mean everyone earnestly staring into the distance for anything mildly resembling the big cats. That’s what everyone goes for according to the Game Rangers - and we weren’t any different.

Our sunset game drive started off with early sightings of elephant, wildebeest and a wide variety of buck. A few kilometre’s in we saw a crowd (3+ vehicles) gathered around… staring into what looked like… nothing. They were hoping to catch a glimpse of a low lying lion having a nap, we enthusiastically joined in. After ten minutes of hoping for a strut we reluctantly moved on.

We continued on to see glorious Giraffe, Zebra and even hyena after dark. All with the glittering African sunset against the grasslands, valleys and rock formations.

The next morning we were up at five am with Game Ranger Buffalo Soldier at his post welcoming us aboard his office (aka the moving cage). Lion and Leopard are the pride of the reserve and Buffalo Soldier, having followed his grandfather and father from the age of five, assured us that dawn is the best time to catch the cats. Unlike the night before, it started off with a bang with the most precious rhino taking a casual stroll across our path.

We headed much deeper into reserve and much higher into the mountains than the night before. The roads grew narrower and the corners tighter; and just like that, around a windy bend there it was… a majestic leopard, less than five meters away. Each of our eyes locked with the leopards as we fell into a silent spellbinding moment of admiration. I was genuinely taken by its size, beauty and most of all its elegance. After what felt like 5 minutes but what probably was 10 seconds, the leopard gracefully made a u-turn and proceeded back on its path. With not one of us catching it on camera.

What an unforgettable moment in time that was. Even Buffalo Soldier couldn’t stop repeating what a rare-rare sighting that was and he himself hadn’t seen a leopard in a few years! I guess therein lies the beauty of travel and our backyard doesn’t it? Now I can boast about the beach and the bush with the same conviction and optimism that Buffalo Soldier, the life-long Game Ranger, met us with that morning.