Manyeleti Photo Safari Highlights from April 2023
Photo Safari Highlights with Armand Grobler and Rhulani Safaris
Manyeleti Photo Safari. Standing on the top platform looking across the Buffelshoek Camp plains of Manyeleti Game Reserve, soaking in the fresh air and warm light, in such contrast from last months “Storm Safari,” was true bliss. The bush has started drying out and turning into various shades of yellow. For the first time I noticed a thick layer of frost covering the short, cut grass around camp in the early mornings, giving the camp an icy feel!
There are few places that can compare to the early morning Buffelshoek atmosphere. We enjoyed a crisp cup of coffee while watching the sun peek over the horizon, lighting up the sky in bright hues of orange, red and yellow. The chirp of birds, distant roar of lion and howling hyena created a n African symphony so typical of this incredible camp. Those who have experienced Buffelshoek will know exactly what I’m talking about!
The sightings on our Manyeleti Photo Safari in April were fantastic, and guests were treated with rare opportunities to see serval, a hunting African wild cat and a tiny lion cub of no more than 3 months old, giving us a spectacular display its bombastic and curious behavior. It was the only cub in the pride and in such need of attention, frequently attacking its older siblings, then running back to mum when they started playing rough.
One morning we were contacted via radio that lions had killed a buffalo overnight and were feeding on it right in the Ndzhaka Camp vicinity. After discussing with our guests, we decided to rather search for our own sightings before responding to what would be quite a chaotic sighting. This proved to be a tremendously good decision, as we found the lion pride with the tiny cub perched on top of a termite mound, admiring the rising sun and playing with valor. We spend a total of just more than 2 hours alone at this sighting, enjoying the tranquility also known to Manyeleti.
Other highlights during our Manyeleti Photo Safari included hippo’s fighting, a tiny hippo calf also only 2 or 3 months old, a rather large elephant tusker and a pair of white rhino foraging in the setting sun.
‘South Africa Weather Warning: Tropical Cyclone Freddy …’ dominated news headlines as the super storm approaches from the distant coast of Australia, breaking records at it charges toward the African continent. Reading the warnings, I knew it would be a wet safari, but nothing could prepare us for the onslaught that would eventually come.
Sunday 26th February was the start of a 4-night safari in the Manyeleti Game Reserve, and after collecting our private guest at Eastgate Airport we set off for the reserve which is situated adjacent to Kruger National Park between the Sabi Sands and Timbavati Reserves. The road to Manyeleti took over an hour longer than normal due to flooding and severe road damage so after picking up at 11:30, we only arrived at North Gate at 13:30.
Five minutes after entering North Gate, my wheels came to a standstill as I watched a sea of water flow across the road, reaching several meters above ground level. A quick U-turn pursued before once again I was blocked off by another powerful river, halting us with incredibly efficiency. Buffelshoek Camp was blocked off from the world, and the only way in was through the flowing waters …
After navigating through deep waters and seemingly impassable roads, we finally entered the South Gate and stopped at Ndzhaka Tented Camp, only to find the shocking reality of a camp completely sunken under water! The usual picturesque little camp on the banks of a dry riverbed was submerged under the mass of murky flood waters, and as we stared in horror, a large snake swam past slowly to further increase the dreadful eeriness of the scene.
Throughout the following 5 days we received no less than 250mm of rain, carving up roads and damaging infrastructure with sinister effect. Manyeleti became a desolate wasteland in front of our eyes, with main roads resembling war-like battle fields, as thick mud swallowed its motorized victims like a bullfrog swallows a canary with gruesome mercilessness.
However, with every heavy cloud there is a silver lining, and we enjoyed great adventure as the elements provided the most challenging conditions I had ever worked in. The rain never dampened our spirits, and we enjoyed several incredible sightings including lions crossing a river, a leopard sighting to ourselves and plenty of hyena and vultures!
The overcast skies and active behavior of the wildlife also presented us with incredible panning opportunities as we slowed the shutter speed down to 1/5 second.
Dramatic skies presented spectacular photographic opportunities as the remains of Cyclone Freddy passed in the background.
In between the sightings, we spent some time rescuing other vehicles including a late-night rescue which was an adventure in itself as we left camp after 8pm!
The last two drives provided open skies and we enjoyed the gentle, warm touch of the sun on our damp cheeks as it finally cut through the dense cloud. It had been an adventure beyond our expectations, and in the end, we enjoyed the insatiable laughter that the storm brought along, all the way from Australia!
Every safari that our guests enjoy, become a part of their legacy; a story book of adventure produced over a lifetime of unforgettable moments. Some safaris are remembered by sightings, others by unusual events and some by adventure. This one will surely go down as the most adventurous safari I had ever been on.
For more about our Manyeleti Photographic and Private Safaris follow the link provided: Big Cats of Kruger Safari and Workshops.
BADGER BEAN BAG
During the month of February, I spent a total of 3 weeks in the greater Kalahari region of Botswana, hoping to capture the typical ‘dramatic skies’ and summer rainfall so typical to the African summer. Unfortunately, the Kalahari was exceptionally dry and not once was there an opportunity to capture the image I was hoping for, however it was on the one morning that we had a little bit of rain that I had a once in a lifetime sighting!
With daily temperatures reaching well above 40 degrees Celsius, the early morning rain was welcomed by all the Kalahari’s inhabitants, especially the lions. I came across the pride, playing jubilantly in a dried-out riverbed, chasing each other and showing off their acrobatic skills in a fashionable manner.
My eye suddenly caught a female carrying a strange black thing in her mouth, and at first thought I recognized it as a ‘Badger’ photographic beanbag but on closer inspection I realized she was carrying something else, something small, striped and precious!
Honey badgers are known for their fearsome reputation, often chasing off lions and leopards with a powerful bite and razor like claws that match their formidable and ferocious attitude. Over time predators such as lions and leopards have learnt to respect these cunning creatures, avoiding confrontation as much as possible. However, in the case of a young honey badger, this respect was not awarded.
The lioness scooped up the young badger, carrying it back to the pride in a similar manner she would carry her own young, and presented it to the others as a prized gift, showing off her [false] bravery. The lioness carried the defenseless youngster around for several minutes before laying down to open her present.
It was a gruesome scene that seemingly lasted hours – despite in reality only minutes – as she toyed with the struggling badger, until finally the lifeless body was thrown into the air and snatched by another lion. A game of ‘tag’ followed, as almost every lion took an opportunity to play with the lifeless body in a sinister act that showed retribution of some sort, possibly taking revenge from a previous humiliation?
The sighting continued for just over an hour until every lion had its share and the carcass eventually discarded, still intact. I sat there speechless. Torn between the fact I had seen a tragic end to one of my favorite creatures and the privilege of having witnessed a truly rare event, I left the area with a pang of emptiness.
As a wildlife photographer it is important to understand that nature is always perfect, and its laws must be both understood and appreciated. The intricate system of predator-prey is a balance of power and craft, where the winner today may be the loser tomorrow, and our emotions must never interfere or cloud our perception of these wonderful creatures, who know only one rule: survival.
I have limited the images of this post due to the fact that I am saving the actual photos for my second book publication, however have decided to give you a ‘sneak peak’ into what’s to come!
See a short video here: BADGER BEAN BAG | YOUTUBE
Discover Botswana: Mobile Safaris
Throughout 2022, I spent nearly 3 moths travelling across Botswana’s vast Kalahari and Okavango Delta regions in an attempt to discover the best locations for both wildlife and raw, exciting African adventure! The quest took me across some of southern Africa’s most inspiring sceneries, deepest waters and driest landscapes in search of the continent’s iconic wildlife, and in essence; its soul.
Botswana is a smorgasbord of photographic potential, and one of the most sought-after safari destinations on the planet. A land of unfathomed beauty and abundance that can never be truly understood by someone who has not experienced it. There seems to be endless photographic opportunities around every corner, and it is easy to get lost in the natural artistry of décor and wildlife, filling up memory cards – or even worse – external hard drives with alarming rate.
However, it wasn’t only the photographic opportunities I was intrigued in, but also their ‘quality over quantity,’ system, providing the traveler with an exclusive experience like no other place in Africa. Botswana has a keen focus on providing a high quality, exclusive and wild experience for guests. Campsites are unfenced and we frequently had elephant, hyena, lion and leopard wonder through camp. On one occasion while making coffee, 2 male lions wondered into our camp, watching me with a confused interest.
While sitting outside reading one afternoon, a herd of elephant passed by, with one individual coming as close as 5m from my camping chair to investigate what I was up to. It truly is a wild Africa experience!
With every pro, there is always a con. Unfortunately for the budget traveler, Botswana is quite an expensive vacation and even a tented camp can bite deeply into one’s budget. It was because of this reason, that I went out to determine the best ‘value for money,’ experience that will truly provide the guest with a memorable, life-changing experience without digging too deeply into the savings account.
There are three main ways of travelling Botswana: lodging, mobile safaris and camping. Lodges and Tented Camps offer a magnificent luxury experience of the highest quality, with fine-dining, quality game viewing in an open 4×4 safari vehicle and luxury accommodation. This however comes at a price, with most lodges averaging approximately USD$ 750.00 – 1 000.00 per person per night.
Camping on the other hand is quite the opposite. Campsites in Botswana provide a unique raw experience, with unfenced campgrounds where travelers share a communal [and very modest] ablution block, usually a short walk or drive from camp. Most campgrounds require travelers to be self-sufficient, and it is essential to carry with your own fuel, water, and food as well as charging facilities (for phones, laptops etc.). The odd ‘tuck shop,’ provides basic supplies such as a can of coke or a packet of chips, however it is recommended to stock up before departure.
Self-driving always provides a degree of challenge in Botswana, and it is important to have the correct navigational tool (such as Tracks4Africa) installed, as well as a satellite phone in case of emergency. Ensure your 4×4 vehicle is also properly kitted out, fit with a snorkel, high lift jack and mud tracks in case of having to drive across deep water or muddy terrain. Beside these challenges, one can drive around for days without seeing much if you don’t know the wildlife movements in the area, and from personal experience it may take about a week to establish the rhythm of the place. For the traveler/ photographer who doesn’t have a great deal of time, this option may not be the best suited.
Then there are mobile safaris. Mobile safaris combine some of the comfort and luxuries of lodging with the wild experiences of camping to give the traveler a truly unique and exhilarating experience. With the tranquility of a private, wilderness campsite and exclusive usage for only your group there are few places in Africa that rival authenticity.
Accommodation is in the form of large meru-styled tents with en-suit bathrooms and bucket showers (warmed to your liking). Comfortable bedding and quality dining is offered to make the experience just that much more enjoyable.
An expert guide and private 4×4 safari vehicle is provided for your group and game drives are conducted based on your specific requirements. With radio assistance, it also increases your chances of quality game viewing, with your guide already well informed on the animal movements in the area.
Another factor that makes mobile safaris particularly enjoyable is the opportunity to explore diverse areas on the same safari. Combing iconic regions such as Khwai and Savuti or an Okavango and Kalahari combo of Khwai and Nxai Pans is a great way for photographers to get the very best out of their safari experience.
Friendly staff ensure that camp is set up on your arrival, with a warm shower, campfire and glass of wine or whiskey as the sun sets across the African horizon. It is this flexibility of travel, coupled with a unique rustic experience and a touch of luxury that made me choose mobile safaris as the best way to experience Botswana.
I was asked to describe Botswana to someone wanting to experience it for the first time, and after much thought I simply couldn’t. However, my simple response was, ‘I have great pity for the person who has lived a life without experiencing this modern day Eden.’
Article by Armand Grobler, Co-Owner and Operator of Rhulani African Tours and Safaris (Rhulani Safaris). For more about our upcoming photo safaris to Botswana’s Okavango and Kalahari regions please visit us at Rhulani Safaris.
TRIP REPORT: MANYELETI PHOTO SAFARI JULY 10 – 14
Manyeleti means ‘Place of the Stars,’ in the local Shangaan language – a great depiction of the places’ unique tranquility and natural splendor. However, after our July safari at Buffelshoek Tented Camp, I have nicknamed Manyeleti, ‘The Place of Miracles’ after what we had experienced being nothing short of utterly miraculous! It was a photo safari experience of the ages and couldn’t have been better orchestrated by an expert planner.
Leaving camp on July 10th with two wonderful guests from the UK joining me on a private photo safari, we set out to find and photograph Africa’s iconic wildlife, paying particular attention to the spotted hyena. After 8 trips to Africa, our one guest had not seen a single wild hyena, and this was at the top of his list to see – and photograph! A quiet first drive was forgiven when we found a pride of lions the following morning slowly following a herd of buffalo. Seeing the interaction between the two specials, although being at a distance was quite amusing.
The following afternoon highlight was a large, striking male lion roaring deep into the night right beside our vehicle; the sound vibrating like shockwaves through our bodies. Nothing prepares you for such a powerful experience, and no matter how many times you witness this spectacular event, it never ceases to amaze – the pure brutality and authority of the roar! Retreating to our tents that evening, the bush fell quiet without as much as a breeze stirring until 02:30 when I was abruptly woken by a lion roaring from inside the camp!
Buffelshoek is an unfenced camp with a local water hole only meters from the rustic rooms, a natural magnet for animals such as lion, leopard, elephant, and buffalo along with other general game like zebra and giraffe. On this particular early morning our guests – who were also woken by the chaos – walked outside and sat on their porch watching a pride of lions surround the camp. However, it wasn’t only the lions that caught our guests’ attention, as another large and menacing predator roamed nearby.
Finally, after 8 visits to Africa our ecstatic guest had finally found his hyena, who was closely following the pride in search of any potential scavenging opportunities. Hyena howls and lion roars then filled the night with a typical African symphony, enjoyed by our guests with a ‘private show’ right from their porch.
Over the course of the next few days, we enjoyed multiple big cat sightings including 4 different leopards (2 cubs and 2 adults), a huge pride of lions resting picturesquely on a dam wall, 2 cheetahs on a fresh impala kill and even a final hyena 30 minutes before the end of our safari, slowly walking down the road. Other interesting sightings such as ground hornbills feeding on a scrub hare and a side striped jackals also completed our wonderful photo safari experience – a successful trip that left us all in awe.
For more information on our Private Photo Safaris and Workshops at Buffelshoek Tented Camp in the Greater Kruger Park click here.
Article written by Armand Grobler, Owner and Operator of Rhulani Safaris.
What defines a photo safari? This question has become increasingly frequent among travelers planning a trip to Africa. Especially those wanting to get the utmost from their experience.
The answer may appear simple, however, when correctly addressed, the nature of a photo safari isn’t quite so obvious.
At Rhulani Safaris we specialize in photography safari experiences. We have the pleasure of taking guests around South Africa and Botswana. But why choose a photo safari over a traditional trip?
Traditional Safari vs. Photo Safari
I recently released a post on our Rhulani Safaris social media platform where I stated there is merely one major difference between what is considered a ‘traditional’ safari as opposed to a ‘photo safari.’ However, after careful consideration, I removed the post and considered discussing it in more detail on this Safari Blog.
What is a Traditional Safari?
To understand the uniqueness of a photo safari, I will first dive into the characteristics of a traditional safari. A traditional or African safari is both an educational experience and a holiday. During the trip you’ll learn about the functions of a particular ecosystem and its inhabitants.
Your professional guide will share his or her knowledge through innovative application. This will allow you to feel, smell and truly indulge into Africa. It is by no means a teacher-student involvement, but rather a guide welcoming and connecting you to their home.
As well as being educational, a traditional safari is also a revitalizing and spiritual experience. It is one of the few vacations where you can completely relax and enjoy while taking a thorough ‘life pause.’
Whether it’s the soft melody of a singing bird, a whistling breeze through rustling leaves, the distant roar of a lion or even as simple as limited access to Wi-Fi there is something unique about an African safari. This experience connects you with inner peace and tranquility like few other places on earth can.
What to Expect on a Traditional African Safari
An African safari typically starts off with an early morning wakeup call. This is usually before sunrise and comes with an energizing hot coffee, tea, and tasty home-made rusks.
As the sun peaks over the horizon, you set off in an open safari vehicle in search of Africa’s iconic wildlife and natural splendors. Your guide will customarily be putting emphasis on showing you Africa’s famous ‘Big Five’ (lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo and elephant). They will stop temporarily at the animals and giving a brief explanation of their social habits, particular characteristics and other interesting behavior.
A ‘bush coffee’ is enjoyed as your guide chooses a safe place for you to get out. Here you can stretch your legs and enjoy freshly brewed coffee and cookies, before returning to the lodge.
A scrumptious breakfast is enjoyed followed by an afternoon siesta, lunch and evening game drive. Afterward, dinner is relished with buzzing chatter, reliving the days exciting events. A blazing fire under the vast African night sky has the ability to captivate and inspire even the most creative mind!
What Makes a Photographic Safari Different?
Between the creative wildlife, inspiring views and informative learning, most travelers are ‘hooked’ on the African safari experience. They often describe it as addictive – a relinquished break from life’s strangulations.
However, a photographic safari is not merely a holiday or vacation. I like to think of it more as an investment. As with the traditional experience, a photo safari is just as much a tranquil break from the hustle of modern-day living [as described above].
Guests are able to enjoy all the luxurious benefits of connecting with nature, but it also comes with the added value of an experienced photographic mentor.
Photo safaris are led by a professional wildlife photographer who is educated on camera systems, picture qualities and guest relations.
The major focus of this kind of safari is the photographic aspect. The goal is to learn new techniques, creative styles and to take home a set of images that you are thoroughly proud of.
The photographic guide works together with the lodge or camps nature guide to provide guests with the best possible opportunity to capture these breath-taking images. Often this small addition alone separates a good safari from a great one.
A comprehensive understanding of multiple camera types is essential, as working with several guests having several different cameras and lenses under pressurized conditions is no easy task.
I have on many occasions entered an action-packed sighting (such as lions hunting or wild dogs attacking hyenas) where cameras have seized or cards malfunctioned. The ability to keep guests calm and cooperative while sorting out the issue is a skill only learned over time.
What to Expect on a Photo Safari
Photo safaris are also commonly focused not only on particular species (such as leopard on our Sabi Sand Big Cat Photo Safari), however also around getting the most out of the available sightings.
For instance, where on a traditional safari guests may spend several minutes observing a sleeping lion, on a photo safari the guides will determine if the sighting is worth investing time in. And if it is, they will wait as long as possible for a photographic opportunity to occur.
Otherwise, if it is determined unlikely to produce something spectacular, the guides will decide to move on to something else more photogenic. Time is crucial on photo safaris and must be spent wisely.
On our safaris, I always state that an ordinary but creative subject is better than an iconic subject in an uncreative setting (such as a lion sleeping in the midday sun). The longest period we have sat quietly at a particular sighting was just over 10 hours. We were waiting for a leopard to ascend into a tree and feed on his kill. Understanding animal behavior, the region and having patience is crucial in these circumstances.
Benefits of Photo Safaris
Besides the focus being centered around time spent with a particular species and subject activity, another benefit is discovered in the daily workshops offered by the photographic guide.
As opposed to a ‘siesta’, photo safaris offer an opportunity for guests to expand their understanding and creative skills set.
Workshops cover the basics of understanding your camera, various artistic styles of photography, components of artificial lighting, post-process editing (lightroom and photoshop) and the subtleties or dynamics of wildlife photography.
It is important that guests expand their skills on every safari. And once again this is not a teacher-student lesson, but rather a discussion where various ideas, opinions and experiences are shared.
I have on numerous occasions come across guests who have had a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity at capturing something unique. But due to lack of understanding the camera, their images have come out blurred, out of focus or completely black or white. Such instances are sad, as photographic equipment is not cheap and you’d like to make it worth its buy. But without proper guidance missing out can be a frequent disaster.
Choosing the Right Photo Safari Experience
So, in overview, the major differences of a traditional experience as opposed to a photographic safari is that of the subject focus. This determines how the drives are conducted and time spent with a particular species.
There is also a clear emphasis of quality over quantity when spending time with the subject. The hours between game drives are then also utilized to further enhance your understanding and skills. These pay particular focus on the dynamics of wildlife photography, camera functions and post-process editing.
Overall, a photo safari allows you to get more out of your African safari experience. You get to take something of value home to put on your wall, in a photo book collection or preventing disaster at missing a unique opportunity. It is an investment that can be enjoyed over and over, with every experience being different from the last.
In 2021, I published a book titled, Photo Safari Kruger which captures the essence of what a photographic safari in the Greater Kruger region (Sabi Sand Game Reserve) entails. Should you like to know more about this publication, you can follow this link for more details: PHOTO SAFARI KRUGER by Armand Grobler.
Should you also have any further questions about a photo safari, the above article or would like to join me on a photo safari, please feel free to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Article by Armand Grobler, Owner and Operator of Rhulani Safaris.