My wife’s family, the Symons, have been associated with the KwaZulu Natal Midlands for around 150 years. Roden Symons was appointed ‘forester-in-charge’ at Giants Castle Game Reserve in 1906. He was a conservationist and plant collector and has an Erica (heather) named after him, Gladiolus Symonsii. He also has a crested guinea fowl, Guttera edouardi symonsii, and a siskin, Serinus symonsii, named after him.

In those early days of conservation foresters were under strict orders to protect game, which really meant buck such as the mighty eland, from predators and vermin. Birds were also under their protection however eagles were not as they were seen as a predatory bird. A black & white photograph of Roden shows him with a large serval cat hanging from his shoulder. This being one of the predators he dealt with along with genets and otters. He also worked alongside neighbouring livestock farmers and spent a lot of time hunting leopards which were seen as vermin in the area at the time. As far as I am aware he only once trapped and shot a leopard and that was back in 1911.

Within sight of Giants Castle and situated in the Lowlands Valley some 50kms from the reserve is Leopards Lair. The cottage accommodation is set within a working farm and has spectacular views looking across rolling hills and onto the mighty Drakensberg Mountain range. Would we find leopards here, probably not, and to be honest it is so quiet and relaxing you will probably not want to do anything. As this is an ideal spot for families we went along with my brother-in-law, Callum, his wife Jen and their children Ella & Jack.

The two storey cottage is a good size and slept all of us comfortably. It is self catering and the kitchen is fully equipped with cutlery and utensils. All bedding is also supplied and towels can be by request. The town of Estcourt is only a short drive away so you can stock up on supplies before arriving. We did use the kitchen for breakfast but at night we sat under the thatched lapa around a roaring fire.

Owners Bernard & Michelle Buys, along with their children Ruan & Stefan, are excellent hosts. Bernard lit and looked after the fire until it was ready to cook on. We all sat and ate together and shared the Leopards Lair home reared mutton chops and game biltong. For colder nights there is also a rondaval with indoor bar area or the cottage has an open fire in the lounge area.

We were content during the day to wander around the farm and enjoy the tranquillity. However it is an ideal location for exploring from. The central Drakensberg resorts are close by and there is ancient rock art at Kamberg. There are the game reserves at Weenen and Spionkop to. The Midlands Meander and Nottingham Road are also within easy reach.

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People say that Africa has an effect on your soul and Mark Henson the ‘author’ of this site is no exception. He first travelled to South Africa and the province of KwaZulu-Natal in 1993 and has been coming and going every year since. Twice now most years!

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