5 of South Africa’s best photographic safaris
In the past few years, photography has swiftly and resoundingly shifted from a niche pursuit – practiced by a handful of professionals and dedicated aficionados only – to our current context where almost anyone with a cell phone and a social media presence considers themselves a photographer.
A handful of savvy South African game reserves and tour operators have been quick to capitalize on this global trend, and are now offering specialised photographic safaris for snap happy amateurs and pros alike, guiding them in their increasingly fervent pursuit of iconic images from the bush.
Madikwe Game Reserve
Madikwe is one of South Africa’s biggest and best ‘Big 5’ game reserves, teeming with wildlife and set against striking Kalahari bushveld backdrops. It has become particularly feted for its population of critically-endangered African wild dogs and spectacular leopard sightings.
Pangolin Photo Safaris have recently started offering photographic safaris in Madikwe in conjunction with Jaci’s Lodges.
All of Jaci’s Lodges’ safari vehicles have been fitted with custom-made camera mounts, while the guides have been trained to consider the specific needs of photographers, such as how to position the car to get the best light.
Pangolin also recently unveiled their aptly-named Terrapin Hide, which is accessed via an underwater tunnel and pops its head up just above water level in the middle of a deep waterhole. The hide affords a 360-degree perspective of the various animals that come to drink at the water’s edge. This particular waterhole is a favorite for elephants to swim in, a special sight either with or without a camera.
Welgevonden Game Reserve
The exclusive and under-explored Welgevonden is found in the heart of Limpopo’s beautiful Waterberg Region. This malaria-free ‘Big 5’ reserve is characterized by rugged antediluvian rock formations, plunging valleys, lush green vegetation and more than 2 000 plant species, all of which provide a stunning backdrop for wildlife photography.
The park’s newest and most luxurious lodge, Mhondoro Game Lodge, is a particular hotspot for photographers, with a state of the art hide that can be safely accessed via an underground tunnel from the main lodge area.
Like the Terrapin Hide at Madikwe, the hide sits in the middle of a waterhole and affords great low angle shots of the wildlife that comes to drink here.
Mhondoro is also gaining a reputation for its “resident” elephants, who not only frequent the waterhole on a regular basis, but are known to drink from the lodge’s swimming pool – always a sought-after shot. There are also spectacular landscape shots to be had from the lodge’s raised decks, which offer expansive views across the reserve.
Pumba Private Game Reserve
Pumba is one of the youngest members of a growing league of excellent malaria-free ‘Big 5’ reserves in the Eastern Cape. With just three accommodation options in the reserve, it’s also one of the most exclusive.
Gameston Lodge is the newest accommodation option, recently opened as a specialized lodge for guests taking part in Pumba’s new and very affordable wildlife photography workshops, which are run in conjunction with Pangolin Photo Safaris, and are aimed at those looking to get to grips with a DSLR camera. There’s fantastic Canon equipment available to use at the lodge.
Guests will be accompanied on game drives by renowned professional wildlife photographers and experienced photographic guides, who will share tips and tricks along the way, as well as give PowerPoint presentations back at the lodge.
The reserve itself has abundant game to photograph, including a pride of exceptionally rare white lions.
Zimanga Game Reserve
Zimanga is the first game reserve in South Africa to be designed specifically with the interests of wildlife photographers in mind. This pristine and exclusive photographic reserve has five state of the art and luxuriously-furnished photographic hides that were conceptualized by the award-winning wildlife photographer and hide expert Bence Mate.
Each of Zimanga’s hides offers a unique photographic perspective and is designed with specific wildlife subjects in mind. In May 2016, Zimanga unveiled a new overnight hide equipped with a coffee station, toilet facilities and beds.
Zimanga is a favorite hotspot for birders to ‘nerd out’ with their bazooka lenses – there are over 400 bird species recorded here. But the reserve also has healthy populations of wild dog, leopard, cheetah, elephant, crocs and many other iconic beasts.
Kruger National Park
As one of Africa’s most feted and iconic parks, Kruger should need no introduction. But for both new visitors and old, a Kruger Photo Safari with Wild Eye will give an entirely different perspective of this popular giant.
Far from the crowds that flock to the public areas of the park, the base for this photographic safari is a rustic private lodge called Camp Shemu, which is nestled in a private concession in the foothills of the Lebombo Mountains and hugged by a very productive dam.
The camp’s waterhole, the dam, and the nearby river draw a plethora of big game to the area, including a 30-strong resident pride of lions, elephants and buffalo are daily visitors to the waterhole. You’ll pay a pretty penny for this safari, but if you’re feeling flush, it’s worth it.
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