Its late September, nearing the end of a 4 month winter dry season, as summer approaches temperatures are the entering the 40’s. Rain remains weeks away.
The ever flowing Zambezi River is the river of life that sustains the wildlife that roams through the valley from the 500 metre high Zambezi escarpment 80 klm inland.
Within the river flood plain the 4 pools from where the name of the National Park derives support the river as the local watercourses have long since become rivers of sand.
30klm inland the only water source is the spring water that oozes out of an otherwise dry riverbed at Chitake Springs. All animals and insects are drawn to these water sources , the predators and the prey , the mightiest and the smallest. The dangers are great but water means survival so the risks must be taken.
This garden of eden is the place that has attracted our small team of wildlife photographers to sit for hour after hour in the hope to capture this timeless saga
Of all the African predators , the scarcest, the hardest to locate and the most difficult to film is the African Wild Dog,
African wild dogs are among the most effective predators in the world. They use extraordinary cooperation and teamwork to pursue, overhaul and bring down their prey. Some 80% of their hunts end successfully
Hunting in packs of from two to 27 adults and yearling pups.
Highly social they have complex hierarchies in which only the alpha male and female breed. The pack regurgitates food for the young, and will look after their own wounded.
Hunting is normally carried out twice a day at dawn and dusk and the main target species is antelope but they can bring down wildebeest and warthogs.
From reports prior to our trip we learn two packs have been seen hunting on the flood plains of the Mana Pools Park. We are very excited with this news but as a pack territory can range over 200 square miles we know that there are no guarantees.
Even more exciting is that the guides advise us that this seasons cubs are now old enough to travel with the adults on the hunt.
Trip September 2018
Our trip to Kruger was designed as a short stopover of 4 days to get ourselves back into safari mode and reorient ourselves to wildlife photography. A very different discipline to the predominantly landscape photography we do in our homeland of New Zealand.
I had spent a couple of days in Kruger in 2015 so was comfortable that we could drive from Jo'burg and self drive the Park. For my wife Helen it was her first visit and so she was trusting me to do all the planning and organisation. Unfortunately she had also left her drivers licence in NZ (another story) and so I was down for all the driving.
We flew into Jo'burg and landed late afternoon this gave us overnight to refresh and sleep in a airport hotel and set off the next morning for the 5 hour drive to Kruger.
Everything went to plan and we got up early the next morning refreshed and raring to go. The hotel shuttle dropped us off at the rental car depot at the airport and 30 minutes later we had our hyundai 4wd and were off on the 1st leg of our 3 week African adventure.
Being early morning we had no Joburg traffic horrors and quickly made it to the motorway for the trip north. The road was excellent and we made good progress arriving in Malalane at the southern end of Kruger in just over 6 hours.
As we needed to shop I had organised a B&B only 1 km from the Gate so we could enter the park first thing in the morning. The B&B host was excellent and quickly told us best places to get the supplies we needed. A quick shop, dinner and early to bed very excited about the next few days.
5.30 am it was still dark as we packed up and headed down to the gate, we weren't quite first but there were only a couple of cars ahead of us. I had preregistered our booking at Berg En Dahl Rest Camp on the KNP website which meant we were quickly into the Park through security and first into the Park proper. I love it when a good plan executes smoothly, this is not the norm in Africa.
The Malalane Gate is on the Crocodile River and takes you into a prolific game area at the bottom of the Park. Malane is not as busy as the nearby Crocodile Bridge Gate and in general you do not come across as much traffic. We had scheduled the trip to be outside of school holidays and we were hopeful we would miss the infamous Kruger traffic jams that happen on big sightings on the tar roads in school holidays.
A beautiful sunrise greeted our entry to the Park and we set off on our first self drive in the Park, we didn't have to check into our accommodation at Berg en Dahl until 2.00 pm
Only 7 km from Malalane Gate in a quiet part of the park Berg en Dahl Rest Camp was perfect for our stay. We had booked a self catering bungalow and it suited us well. We spend all our time out in the park so somewhere quiet and comfortable suits us fine, we are not looking for 4 or 5 start accommodation.
I have a lot more sympathy for the skills of our guides now, what with driving, spotting game, getting the vehicle into position so Helen could get good photos meant that my own photography took a back seat. But I must say the thrill of finding our own animals and the luck of the hunt, meant I thoroughly enjoyed the driving and acting as head guide. I even tried my hand at recognizing animal tracks on our early morning drives before they were over ridden by vehicle tracks. Helen and I both really enjoyed the freedom of going where we wanted stopping when we wanted to and staying on a siting as long as we wanted. (with due respect to any other vehicles that came in).
We did have many beautiful sightings and very few where there were more than a couple of vehicles. Of particular note was that we saw more Rhino than in any of our previous trips to Africa , with many family groupings and even babies. The Bush veld was very dry and apart from early morning and late evening the lighting was harsh. None the less we both came away with photos we were happy with and a definite plan to return and do a more extensive 10 days south to north self drive of the Park
4 days was a perfect time to get back into the flow of the african bush, we got our camera skills back on track ready to take on the main course of our trip, a 10 day trip to Mana Pools in Zimbabwe. But first a few days in Mozambique catching up with a very good friend.
In 2015 I had the opportunity to travel with well known photographic guide Kevin Linforth into the Zambezi valley. I was travelling from Kenya to Zambia and a friend suggested if I wanted to checkout Mana Pools I should make contact with Kevin.
Kevin wasnt running a safari but invited me on a private expedition to check out a a new drift boat he was adding and also to travel with him through the Zambezi Valley exploring for a permanent campsite that he was wanting to establish.
I jumped at the chance and flew in to meet Kevin at Kariba and the four day adventure went from there.
jump forward two years and I am now returning to the Mana with my wife as guests of Kevin at his new camp Dhumkawa on the banks of the Zambezi in Mana Pools.
I cant wait to show my wife a special part of the world as Kevin shows as around his beloved Mana Pools and Chitake Springs over a 10 day period in September - Sunpath Safaris
Some photos of the 2015 expedition
The shrinking wilderness of Africa has a timelessness that is very rare to find in todays developed world.
As a photographer capturing this often involves going back to classic techniques and what is more classic than Black & White.
Botswana is that rare jewel which of a country where this unspoilt beauty is abundant and incredibly varied.
Elephants crossing the Chobe River to feed on the Islands between Botswana and Namibia.
Photographed from the river a lone elephant stands guard while the herd returns to the mainland
Under the Baobab, the smoke haze from local fires creates a surreal world for a sundowner
I had arrived at my B&B in Harare with an overnight stopover before carrying onto Kariba and my 5 day photoshoot on the banks of the Zambezi River and Mana Pools National Park .
I had nothing planned as it was a quick stopover due to plane timetables.
When my hosts suggested a afternoon hike to photograph stone age rock paintings I jumped at the chance.
40 ks out of Harare is the Ngomakurira Monument area named after the local words for "beating drums".
It is a popular 4 wd area for the Harare locals but the area we were heading had to be walked. My guides were two young university students home for the holidays who loved trekking and rock climbing and this was their local wilderness area.
Coming from NZ the idea of seeing something from the stone age was truly exciting and I really had no idea what to expect..
We had about a 40minute hike in from where we parked the 4wd through a very pretty area covered by large rocky outcrops.
Rounding a bend my guides pointed to a large overhanging cliff face as the home for the rock paintings.
I was surprised to find the area was not roped off and that locals still camped at the base of this overhang as it was completely sheltered from the prevailing weather
My guides took off to do some rock climbing nearby and i spent a couple of hours photographing and just taking in the area. Sitting at the base of this cliff beside the rock paintings all on my own was a truely humbling experience, and a surprising and unexpected highlight of my African adventure
Normally I photograph alone but recently people have asked me how I get my particular style of landscapes, apart from living in a tremendously scenic country New Zealand. In the last year I have had the opportunity to shoot with many very talented photographers and have now distilled a process that I use consistently and works for me.
When shooting landscape I will scout the location first , the middle of the day is a good time for for this as you need strong light to check for dangers also I want to be able to cover a lot of ground quickly to try different angles and locations.
Normally I will just take photos with my smart phone as i can move fast and it gives me an idea of possible compositions. I use this time to look at where the sun will be rising and setting and also if it looks as though it could be a clear night I check one of my Astro phone apps to see moonrise and moonset times.
Note if taking shots very close to the water with waves involved I will also check tides, and if it is a rough location will also visit at high and low tide so I know the currents and just how far the water moves in and out. Shooting close to the ocean on an incoming tide when there are strong waves can be extremely dangerous and having a good understanding of the location is critical for your own and your gear's safety.
Using this information and also the latest weather forecast I then decide whether the shoot will be sunrise, sunset or nighttime or maybe at incredible locations like the Little Church Lake Tekapo NZ all three. ( not much sleep)
Once I decide when I am going to shoot I make sure I arrive on location one hour before the likely decisive moment eg sunrise, select my location, this may change from the planned location as light or weather influence this, setup my camera to Aperture Priority, lock it onto and tripod and wait.
Whilst waiting I take test shots checking ISO, Focus and Shutter Speed understanding that it will be constantly changing as the sky lightens or darkens. This ensures my camera settings get closer and closer to the settings needed at time of the decisive moment.
With my second camera I move around take handheld shots testing different compositions. This ensures I don't get stuck as is easy to do once your camera is on a tripod
I select my composition by breaking the scene into 3 layers
and the one main subject (in this case the lighthouse)
and then look for compositional elements like circles, triangles , repeating patterns etc
When I am structuring my shot in camera this is my normal sequence.
1) compose the background layer first
2) Choose what is above and below the horizon line.
3) micro compose to ensure separation of foreground, middle-ground and background.
4) only focus on one element for the decisive moment of taking the photo (in this case the sun rising
In this particular photo I arrived before dawn, the sea was surprisingly calm and so I decided to use a 5 stop ND filter to help accentuate that smoothness.
I knew from my sunrise app where the sun would be rising so set my composition, set my focus and aperture and waited.
Waited for the decisive moment (the sun touching the horizon line), with landscapes this is normally when the light is right. e.g creating strong tonal contrast in the scene.
Shot Location: Nugget Point Lighthouse, Catlins South Island New Zealand
The shot is a single exposure taken on a Sony 6000, 10-14m wideangle set to F11 , Exposure 4 seconds processed in Adobe Lightroom.
River crossing Mara Triangle Masai Mara Kenya.
The Masai Mara Reserve on the border of kenya and Tanzania is recognized as one of the top locations for wildlife photographers in Africa.
This river crossing photo is a good example of why it is so popular. There is a backdrop of beautiful landscape, a selection of Hippos , Wildebeest, Zebras , Topi , Elephants and Crocodiles all in one photo.
To the left out of frame we had just been photographing Leopard and 5 minutes drive away we were later in the afternoon filming a pride of Lions.
After visiting 5 African countries and many other great wildlife reserves the Masai Mara remains my favourite.
Best time of year to visit: Late August , September, early October when the 2 million plus wildebeeste are visiting on the annual migration.
Best photographic travel company to book with: The team at www.wild-eye.co.za