Last month I had the pleasure of guiding a great group of guests on our South African Wildlife of Zimanga photography holiday. This tour is the perfect blend of traditional safari game drives coupled with some extraordinary hide sessions. There was something for everyone – majestic mammals, beautiful raptors & little birds.
Zimanga, the South African wildlife reserve is a 3-hour drive from Durban airport. Upon arrival at the reserve entrance, we transferred to the lodge by a land cruiser. We were greeted by giraffe, buffalo, impala, warthog, kudu & nyala as we drove the short distance to our accommodation – what a great start to the trip!
After a quick freshen up & light lunch, we were ready to embark on our South African adventure!
To maximise photographic opportunities, I split the group into two groups of 3 guests. This way, while one group were on a game drive, the other group would be in a hide – plenty of room for everyone whatever activity they were doing.
I joined group one for an afternoon & evening session in the Lagoon hide. Access to this hide is via a screened walkway before entering a 30m long pipe with a 1.5m diameter. All the hides are equipped with tripods & gimbal heads fitted with arca swiss plates so no need to bring your tripod unless you want to which makes packing so much easier!
We spent a lovely afternoon in the company of heron, egret, kingfishers & plovers.
On our first game drive, we encountered a lioness & then a little later in the morning, we came across a small herd of white rhinos. It's easy to see why they are also known as the square-lipped rhinoceros. They had been dehorned to protect them from poachers, but this did not detract from their beauty.
We eventually ended up at the dam where we kept company with hippos frolicking in the water & sinister crocodiles watching us with their baleful eyes.
Breakfast each morning was a feast for kings. Full English breakfast made to order complemented by fresh fruit & freshly baked muffins. Lunch & evening meals were just sublime thanks to an incredibly talented chef.
I should mention that for this particular trip, we stayed in the brand new Main Lodge. Just as beautiful as Doornhoek but the sleeping quarters are buildings not attached to the main building. As you can see from the photos below, the short walk to the chalets is most definitely worth it!
After a delicious lunch, it was time to head out to Umgodi, the overnight hide. This hide is the reason why everyone wants to visit Zimanga. It is built into a waterhole with a large window opening up a few centimetres above water level. LED floodlights have been installed at water level to illuminate subjects that approach the water's edge & the hide's main lights are mounted on either side of the hide. The high CRI rating of the lights ensures true-to-life colour & illumination of whatever subject comes to the waterhole.
The edge of the waterhole is just a few feet away from the hide allowing for fantastic wide-angle shots or some tight headshots if using a 70-200mm or 100-400mm.
We whiled away the afternoon photographing birds such as oxpeckers, queleas, starlings & a wide variety of doves as they drank & bathed.
By 7 pm, the group were starting to feel a bit hungry, so we decided it was time for dinner. Chef had prepared a feast for us. The most fantastic chicken pie with cubed potatoes & carrots, followed by fresh fruit salad & yoghurt. We decided to save the muffins for later. Three minutes in the microwave & then we were tucking into dinner while perusing some of the books on the bookshelf. Microwave? Did you say microwave? Yes, I did!
The overnight hide consists of three rooms. Upon entering the hide, you find yourself in a kitchenette equipped with microwave, fridge & sink. To the right is the bathroom with flushing toilet & to the left is the bedroom/photography area. A black curtain separates the sleeping area from the photography area. Wifi is also available in the hide for guests to check their email or social media while waiting for some action. Sounds very civilised, doesn't it?
We had barely finished our dinner when our first visitors arrived – a herd of cape buffalo. One by one, they slowly approached the waterhole. By the time the sixth buffalo had moved to the water's edge, my wide angle lens was maxed out at 16mm. I prayed that no more buffalo would come to the side of the water as I wouldn't be able to fit them into the frame.
Cape buffalo are large mammals, but when you have sat just a few feet away, staring up at them, you can't help but feel overwhelmed. They stayed with us for at least 30 minutes which gave us time to play with settings & multiple exposures.
Over the course of the week, everyone got two evenings in the overnight hide. During one of the sessions, rhinos visited the hide & our group witnessed a rhino standoff for over an hour! That particular evening turned out to be a busy one where Andrew, one of our guests later told me that it had taken him over an hour to eat his dinner because there was so much activity!
Our next hide session was at Scavenger's Hill for eagles, vultures & jackals. It didn't quite work out with the jackals but the unexpected hyena visit more than made up for this.
It was non-stop action once the hyena left. The tawny eagles, pied magpies, vultures & the occasional hawk kept our cameras busy. The 500mm lens was great for close up portrait shots, but to capture action shots, 300mm was best. At times, I even had to resort to my 100-400mm as the wildlife came so close that I was over lensed using my 300mm.
The big five can all be photographed at Zimanga whether it is on a game drive or from a hide. These opportunities are what makes Zimanga so unique. Since it is a private game reserve, it also has the added advantage of not having much traffic by way of cars. This means no time limit on how long we could stay with a species, no jostling to find a good position or having to watch for a land cruiser in the background of your photo. We spent a fantastic afternoon with a pride of lions which consisted of two males, two females & three yearling cubs , unlike their African counterparts, these lions choose to sleep in the trees – handy if you wanted to get eye-level images.
We were also lucky enough to encounter a mother white rhino with her one-week-old baby. How cute is this little one!
One morning, we spent several hours with a herd of elephants. There is something to be said about staying in the company of these gentle giants as they go about their day. There was an air of tranquillity about their presence, & being close to them made everyone smile.
On our last afternoon game drive, we went looking for a giraffe to try & get some silhouette shots at sunset. We found a lone giraffe not long after we had left the baby rhino, so we stayed with him for a while, capturing images of him & of the oxpecker sat on his back.
As the sun started to set, we found the herd. Perfect timing!
On one of the rare evenings, the whole group were together; we went out at night for a spot of astrophotography. Everyone enjoyed themselves so much that this activity has now become part of next year's itinerary.
I mentioned at the beginning of this post that our South African Wildlife of Zimanga trip is suitable for mammal lovers & bird lovers alike. I want to make special mention of the birdbath hides.
My personal preference is to photograph mammals, but I have to say that spending time in the bird bath hides very nearly converted me into a bird photographer! Such colourful & stunning birds like you've never seen from red beaked queleas, firefinch, lilac breasted rollers, various species of dove, barbets, kingfishers, hornbill & the iridescent cape glossy starling.
For our last evening meal, Chef arranged a braai to celebrate our time at Zimanga. The perfect end to an epic tour. “Awesome”, “Superb”, “Epic” & “Exceeded my expectations” were just some of the comments made by the group. Everyone was quite sad to be leaving. We had been there for eight days, but they had flown by. Thanks to everyone who came along. I loved your company & we look forward to seeing everyone's photos!
Our May 2019 trip back to Zimanga is full, but we have managed to secure dates for a second trip in September. For this second tour, we will be staying in Main Lodge.
Why not join me for some fantastic photography & delicious food in the fabulous surroundings of Zimanga.
PHOTOGRAPH THE SOUTH AFRICAN WILDLIFE OF ZIMANGA FOR YOURSELF
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Activities include five safari game drives, sessions in the lagoon, vulture & bird bath hides, two sessions in the overnight hide & an evening of astrophotography.