For Clarity, we want to explain what the Greater Kruger National Park is. Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserve in Africa. It was formed in 1898 and covers an area of 7,580 square miles, which is the size of the state of New Jersey. About 50 years ago, adjacent, privately owned property joined with the national park to create a Joint Venture with broaden the wildlife territory, thereby creating the Greater Kruger National Park System. As part of the agreement, there is no fencing between these privately held areas and the Kruger National Park, this allowing animals to roam freely in all of the Greater Kruger. The largest difference is not in the terrain nor the animal mix, but in how the land is used. Within the Kruger park is a paved road system available to the public. Visitors are not allowed to leave the roadway. The private reserve portions of the Greater Kruger is not open to the public, but only to guest staying at exclusive lodges within the private reserves. Timbavati is one of several private reserves. Our schedule had us staying in Simbavati River Lodge within Timbavati.
After our six days at Chobe National Park, we flew to Jo’berg for an overnight stop, staying near the airport. The next morning, we took a 45 minute flight across the Drakensberg Escarpment into Hoedspruit, a town located on the border of Timbavati. Jimmy, one of our two guides collected us at Hoedspruit and whisked us to Simbavati River Lodge in time to make a late lunch and afternoon game drive. Along the drive we spotted giraffe and zebra, which got us excited before we even got to the lodge. Simbavati River Lodge is a fairly new lodge and has a central lodge with rooms separated by a pathway.
I’m sure you are reading this blog to learn more of the game sightings and photo opportunities. These were great, but it’s also important to know the quality of the lodge. Simbavati delivered the best overall staff experience we have ever encountered. The meals were beyond description and the lodge management was very accommodating. Thank you, Elmarie, for making sure our trip was perfect. Our guides, Jimmy and Christof were excellent working with our photographers and are expert at tracking and positioning of vehicles. Both showed a lot of patience with our needs and were very informative about the flora and fauna of the bush. Truly a top notch lodge and staff.
Timbavati is different from Kruger National Park in that the only folks allowed in this private reserve are guests of the few scattered lodges and, of great importance, the guides are allowed to take the vehicles off road as they track game through the bush. Each lodge within the private reserve is significantly isolated from the other lodges, giving guest this total feeling of being remote in a timeless portion of Africa. For our stay within Timbavati, we had arranged two vehicles for the 8 of us. Since the vehicles have 4 rows (including the seat next to the driver/guide), we were able to let folks sit on empty rows or share a row with a friend. We had plenty of room for camera gear.
Our first game drive set the tone for our entire stay. Within the first half hour, we found giraffe, kudu and impala. The drive had a little of everything and that would have been a great arrival day start however, near dusk we located a leopard and our guest got their first true understand of what I had promised when we told them they would get chance to shoot predators from very close distance.
Day two of Timbavati started with a ban also. Leaving camp, we learned that two male lions were nearby and headed straight to them. Everyone got amazing images of lions in warm morning sunlight. The camera’s firing sounded like machine guns and we could see smiles on everyone.
After everyone had all of the shots they wanted from that fantastic scene, we eased away and within 5 minutes we were beside the largest male white rhinoceros I’ve ever seen. He was in brush, but not too deep and everyone was able to get good angles for photographs. Looking around the vehicle, I saw a lot of ‘thumbs up’ signs and huge smiles being shared with me. After a while, we moved onward and continued to have excellent sightings all the way up to our mid-day break. We also had a leopard sighting that first morning, but it was a very skittish cat and our guide advised us we’d have better views later … and, of course he was right!
The afternoon continued our great luck with a fantastic sighting of a male leopard in a tree with his meal (impala). Below the tree was a hyena catching any of the spoils that fell.
We will spare the works and add photos to share how great our week continued, but we must note that before the week was up we would have more than a dozen leopard sightings including two sightings of two leopards in a tree together! In addition we had lion sightings every single day.
A few favorite sightings of the week:
Nyala (both male and female) – these beautiful creatures hung out around the lodge all week, giving our guests lots of chances to photograph them during our mid-day breaks.
Lilac Breasted Rollers – This bird is always a favorite of guests due to it’s beautiful colors. We were able to get quite close to these birds on several occasions.
Wild Dogs – The African Painted Dog or Wild Dog (choose your preferred name) is quite threatened in nature. We were lucky enough to come across a huge pack of dogs harassing a herd of Cape Buffalo. This created an excellent late afternoon photo opportunity.
Rhino and more rhino – Our luck at finding white rhinoceros continued throughout the week yielding some amazing photo chances with these big beasts.
Saddle Billed Storks – We think these birds are some of the prettiest in the bush. We were luck enough to find a pair wading. We got to see them take off and land within the same areas.
Elephants and Baby Elephants – We found elephant daily. On several occasions we came across breeding hers with small elephants and perfect light. On another occasion, we came upon one of the largest bull elephants I’ve ever seen. On many occasions, we were within a few meters of the largest land animal on the planet, allowing for some intimate detail shots.
More Night Photography – Because the night photography in Chobe was such a success the group wanted to have a second go at this unique photo style. Armed with the knowledge of camera settings taught by Guts of Pangolin and coached by our Buddy Eleazer, we took the group out a second night to photograph in Timbavati. Our guide found an excellent jackelberry tree with few obstructions and a nice southward sky view. We spent about an hour shooting the Southern Cross and the tree foregrounds both light painting the tree and leaving it in silhouette. The images proved that our group had mastered the technique.
As you may have guessed, we feel the “Ultimate Safari” delivered on it’s name. We saw everything from tiny steenbok and chameleons to rare wild dogs and fantastic leopards.
The combination of Chobe National Park and Timbavati/Greater Kruger proved to be an excellent training ground for our emerging wildlife photographers. Our group of 8 was composed of 5 fairly serious amateurs and 3 travelers that wanted to snap a few photos but also just wanted to see the wildlife. Each member of the group noted that the trip had been thrilling and had exceeded all of their dreams of a perfect vacation. We will admit that at least two of our particiapants referred to the trip as “photography boot camp”, but then they followed by noting that they learned more in this trip than in years of prior photography work. We’ll take that as a compliment.
The trips success has us planning a similar itinerary for May and/or June of 2015. These will be finalized in the coming months so make sure you regularly check our Excursions list for new safari itinerary and cost details.
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