I’m chuffed that we seem to have some very different shots from our time in Kruger National Park this time round – and not just because of my shiny new infrared camera. Alistair has taken some stunning paint-like images of impala (above), capturing their movement and grace in a new light, and I had a great time capturing the creativity of mother nature as she created patterns and shapes in water (below).
I must admit, I don’t find it easy to reinterpret the usual photographic suspects – I am all too tempted to grab the zoom lens to capture the big cats, beautiful birds and graceful elephants in all their glory – but I was also aware that this was our third time in Kruger and our third time to Africa in just 14 months so we already had plenty of ‘stock shots’ and there was no point in duplicating these. The challenge was, therefore, to capture Kruger in a different light and shed another perspective on the incredible African landscape and wildlife that inhabits it.
Two of my favorite images have been showcased in this blog. More photos are available in our Taraji Blue ‘New’ gallery as well as in our Taraji Blue South Africa gallery – and we will also be sharing them regularly on our facebook page http://www.facebook.com/tarajiblue
So focused, were we, on our wildlife photos that we totally omitted to upload some of our favourite landscape shots from when we went to the Western Cape of South Africa last June. Here’s one of my favourites (above), it was taken in Tankwa Karoo National Park, a small but stunning park in which you are free to roam on foot and by car as you please. We had the pleasure of staying in a stunning century old cottage with no electricity. Hot running water was provided only via a donkey boiler – for which you had to build and maintain a fire. The only bath provided was a rusted old bath placed to the side of the cottage in the grand open air, which you filled with boiling water from pans, and then enjoyed the most scenic bath possible (see below). It was, in one word, heaven.
Tankwa is not a hugely popular park, and what little accommodation is available is very private and spread out, so for the three nights we stayed there we saw just 3 others cars and 2 motorbikes. Only one car drove near the cottage that entire time. However, we did have regular visitors in the form of eagles, antelope and small birds, all who appreciated the wee water hole in front of the cottage.
Tankwa was at it’s best just before sunset – the image taken above was captured about an hour before sunset during the ‘golden hour,’ during which time the sun kissed the mountains and fauna, bathing them in a stunning amber light which was amply reflected against a stunning blue sky. It was an absolute privilege to witness it each night. The image conveys the utter stillness and silence of the place. Even insects quieten at this time of the day. If I lived in South Africa this would be my bolthole – my place to escape too and be reminded of the wonder of the natural world.
Further images from Tankwa Karoo are available in the Taraji Blue South Africa photo gallery.
Kieliekrankie Wilderness Camp in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is, by far, one of our most favourite places to stay in the world.Imagine just 4 guest cabins, perched on-top of a sand dune, sensitively positioned so you’re not intruding on each others’ privacy, but close enough to allow searchlights to share sightings between the residents.
Each cabin faces endless rows of gently undulating dunes which glow brightly in the sunset each evening. It’s part of the the Sanparks network and offers incredible value for money and a romance very few places can match.It’s a wilderness camp so there are no fences and safety is taken very seriously. You’re ‘locked down’ into your cabin after dusk and cannot emerge until dawn – but the tailor made decking allows guests to braai outside under the endless starts of the milky way, searching for wild animals by spotlight whilst being visited by resident barn owls.
The skies here are huge and they stretch beyond your vision, rendering you speechless as the blackness is replaced by twinkling stars, satellites, the magellanic clouds and shooting stars.Without going OTT, this is a place to rediscover yourself, get a bit of perspective and realign your worries, stress and perspective on the world. Life doesn’t need to be as complicated as we make it – for two weeks of the year we should slow down in a place like this and recall what it is like to experience life without wi-fi, tv, facebook and other unnecessary distractions. It’s pure and unadulterated bliss.Further photos from our stay at Kieliekrankie Wilderness Camp are available in the Taraji Blue Kalahari Photo Gallery.
Spurred on by the incredible sightings of recent days and the desire for more big cat sightings we headed out at first light back toward the Auob riverbed and promptly saw a wildcat dash into the long grasses. We hoped this was a sign of things to come, however sightings were minimal and the herds of previous days had moved on. We had to travel a considerable distance to find any springbok or wildebeest. What’s more – the carcass and some organs from the cheetah kill of the previous day was still there and largely untouched from how we’d seen it the night before. It seemed that even the scavengers had moved on.
Undeterred we pressed on and a short while later spotted the silhouette of a cat high on the riverbank. We lost her as quickly as we spotted her but we were determined to ‘hang in there’ and we scoured the horizon for any tell tale signs. We spotted two eland on the riverbank due north of us, their gazes transfixed on one location on the horizon. They did not move a muscle, simply stared, and stared and stared. We knew they’d spotted something that they were not comfortable with.
Until now my gaze had been fixed on the horizon, but the unmistakable rasp of a springbok as an alarm call caused me to avert my gaze to the dry riverbed and onto a group of bushes which the bok had started to focus on. There, deep in the undergrowth was what I identified as a cheetah, crouched and ready to pounce. She made an attempt (somewhat half hearted) to pounce the bok but gave up as quickly as she started. Her cover broken she brazenly started to stalk across the riverbed – it was then I realised it was a leopard!
To my joy she started to run after a small bok on the ridge but her heart was not in it. All the while she was ‘flanked’ at a distance by a herd of about 20-30 spring bok who were determined not to flee to safety. We followed her progress for about an hour as she sent herds into a combination of mesmerized stares or utter panic, but no matter how close she got they did not run. Seemingly resigned to a breakfastless morning she eventually climbed into a tree and promptly fell asleep in perfect view by the Montrose waterhole. By this time she’d entered into the path of a wildebeest herd, and both them and the bok started to gather at the foot of the tree staring at her. They stood their ground as a conjoined herd, seemingly un-nerved and not flinching from her presence. One gemsbok even moved to stand right under the branch she was on, either clueless or seemingly for a closer look …it soon thought better of it. We half expected (hoped!) for the leopard to leap from the tree at any moment, but she barely gave them a second glance as she relaxed on a low slung branch in the shade of the tree, legs and tail swinging happily. Once she’d fallen asleep for a while we realised she’d be there for a while and pressed on, vowing to return later to see if she’d emerge and feel hungry!
Later that day we headed over the dune road toward Kij Kij. It was the first time we travelled this road and we revelled in the stunning scenery. A couple of kms before the Tierkop waterhole I spotted a group of 4 lions – two male, two female sleeping on top of the red sand dune. I was thrilled – I was dying to see lions on the dunes and it was a great photo opportunity as the male lion opened his sleepy eyes and started to yawn and roll over. What’s more – we had the sighting totally to ourselves – no one stopped or came by the entire time we were there. Incredible!
However, the lions seemed very susceptible to our car engine – it disturbed them more so than any other animal, so we turned the ignition off and used the handbrake to roll and manoeuvre as required. They quickly became inactive once more in the heat of the day so we pressed on towards Twee.
On our return journey we had a dilemma …do we return to the leopard or lion – or try both? We opted for the leopard, but upon arrival at the tree she had slept in we saw nothing. With the leopard long gone, we decided to try our luck and see if we could make it back to the lions at the Tierkop waterhole. Luck was on our side and we arrived to find the lions waking from their slumber. We were treated to a display of yawns, ‘spooning,’ preening, romantic moments and prowling – all in the glorious golden light before sunset.
That evening we ‘battled’ with a stunning lizard who’d infiltrated our cabin in an attempt to return him to the outside world. After much coaxing he’d exited, only to return in our kitchen an hour later via a secret entrance. Cheeky!
It was another incredible day in KTP.
More photos from our trip are available in the Taraji Blue Kalahari photo gallery.
…Long days in a sweat-box (car), adrenaline fuelled and anti- malarial induced mid-day dreams and the ability to hold your bladder for hours on end….if you think you’re up to it, read on! :)
A self drive is what you make of it. It can be as slow paced and relaxing or as hard-core as you like. That’s the beauty of it. Some people opt for it because they don’t like the idea of being awoken at 4am every morning when paying £250pp a night in a luxury lodge, others do it for the control it provides them with or for the money it saves them. Whatever your reason, you are in for a treat. One thing is for sure – you get out what you put in, so we opted for the hard-core experience and reaped the rewards.
In summary, when braving the african bush alone you have three main options:
a) Follow your nose and see where the road takes you…stopping to ask passing vehicles what they have seen and where
b) Plan ahead and ask the locals what roads offer the best sightings, but remain flexible to see where the mood takes you
c) Conveniently time your departure with the morning and afternoon lodge / camp game drives and follow their vehicles around.
We opted for option a) but quickly switched to b) on our first night after speaking to the incredibly friendly locals, but I cannot deny that we were not tempted by option c) on slower days when the game was seemingly spotting us at a distance and retreating. My advice is take the opportunity to join a communal braai at your camp and learn from those who have been safari-ing for years. They are more knowledgeable and sensible than you, as a newbie, will ever be. They will prevent you wasting time on roads with thick vegetation and no vantage points, and they can point you in the direction of how to beat the crowds and where to spot the more elusive animals. Of course nothing is guaranteed, but this advice is free and well worth heeding.
When setting off on your safari, drive pack more food and drink than you think you’ll need. It only takes one or two unexpected wildlife encounters and you can be out for three times longer than anticipated in the blistering sun and humidity. We found it useful to ensure that we always had a cool bag stacked with cooled water, fizzy juice, sandwiches, fruit and crisps / sweets. This ensured we had the kind of food and drink that you could ‘dip in and out’ of without the commitment of having to stop and cook or ‘formally’ picnic. We often had breakfast and lunch in our car by the side of a herd of ellies or a pride of lions….unadultered luxury. We also bought a Thermos cup to allow us to drink green tea / coffee on the move in the early mornings. This approach required us to plan ahead, often cooking the bacon for our morning sarnies the night before and ensuring that we were back at camp in plenty time to shop for the next day before the shops closed for the night. We’d also need to wake earlier to boil the kettle, make the bacon sarnies and compile the cool bag. The fairest apporach was for us both to wake at the same time, and whilst one person was in the shower the other would prepare for the day ahead (we’d take it in turns).
When out and about there are several picnic sites across Kruger. If you are with children, or have a weak bladder, you might want to plan your route accordingly. Some sites are (much) nicer than others so it pays to ask ahead. Some of the sites are in incredibly beautiful locations, with look-out points. All offer BBQ facilities and toilets (ranging from long-drops to sparkling, flushing facilities). They also sell cold drinks. Many of the SANParks camps also have day-visitor facilities ranging from dedicated picnic points, facilities, canteens and shops. Some camps are more flexible then others. The rule of thumb which I would suggest is that, unless you can be completely independent (i.e no children or health issues), fail to plan and plan to fail.
If hiring a car, consider a hatchback – that way you never have to leave the car to enter your boot (you are only allowed to leave your car at precious few designated points in Kruger). Having a back-seat also allows you to have the freedom to dash from side to side of the car depending on the wildlife. It also ensures you have plenty space in your car to store food and drink without it impinging on your freedom to move around in the car. Footwells, under the seat storage and seat-back pockets are incredibly useful for storing sweets, lens caps, memory cards, spare shoes, refreshing wipes etc.
Be prepared to get COVERED in dust. You’ll spend the entire holiday in a car with the windows down and you’ll get blasted with sand. Ladies, it is a a great exfoliator, but it is not at all glamorous. Therefore, don’t wear your D&G, instead wear sensible clothes which you don’t value and can wipe your brow on several times a minute, and be preprepared to get filthy! To this extent, be prepared for how much the climate can change as you travel from North to South or vice versa. It’s much hotter up north!
Have a decent wildlife guide and a pair of binoculars permanently in the car – preferably one each. You’ll spend your entire time trying to identify what, where and why – this is all part of the experience, and you’ll enjoy it more by identifying and understanding the wildlife you spot.
Finally – don’t be too seduced by the need to see the big five. It’s easy for me to say, having seen them several times over – but the experiences we find most enriching are with the birds and mammals we never expected to see, e.g painted wild dogs, jackals, spotted hyenas, night-jars, owls, honey badgers, ground hornbills, giraffes, zebra, hares, kingfishers, birds of prey and monitor lizards. These are the kinds of animals which people will drive past in search of the big five, leaving you free to spend a lot of time alone with these amazing creatures, providing interactions you never thought possible.
If you fancy it – give it a go! A self drive safari is one of the most rewarding experiences we’ve done. Above all – enjoy every moment and take nothing for granted.
Images from our South African self drive safari are available in our online Taraji Blue South African gallery.