If you follow Magnum Excursions on Facebook you may know that one of our principles, Buddy Eleazer, loves Africa. If you haven’t followed us on Facebook, navigate around our site and you’ll see numerous images that confirm our love and experience within Africa. What you probably don’t know is when and where this Africa bug got into Buddy’s blood. The answer is Chobe 2006.
By P. B. Eleazer
In recent years, Magnum Excursions has been focusing on safari travel in South Africa. There are plenty of reasons to go on safari in South Africa and we plan several trips there again next year. Specifically, we’ll be returning to Timbavati in the Greater Kruger region which is a fantastic region for watching and photographing leopards and lions. That said, there are also a lot of great reasons to visit northern Botswana. This is especially true if you love wildlife in landscape settings.
In May, 2013, on my way to yet another photo excursion Timbavati, I took a detour to Kasane, Botswana to revisit options for future safari trips to Chobe National Park.
I’ve always loved Chobe for beautiful sunrise and sunset photographs containing animals. The sandy waterfront of the Chobe River always has large herds of elephants and can also be counted on for seeing many other species coming down to the river. Matter of fact, one of the coolest things about Chobe is that it’s extremely rare to be at the river’s edge and not be able to see some type of large mammal. Frequent sightings are elephant, cape buffalo, impala, kudu, sable, giraffe, warthogs, hippos, zebra and baboons. The region also has large predators like hyena, lions and leopard, but these are more often seen on trails a little deeper into the bush.
Many people visit Chobe just for the bird life. There’s a large yellow bill stork rookery in the area that’s easily accessed. It seems that the beautiful fish eagle is almost always present in nearby trees. The banks are busy with kingfisher species (giant, malachite, pileated), several types of bee eaters, cormorants, anhinga and Egyptian Geese. The nearby bush boasts lilac breasted rollers, red hornbill and the endangered ground hornbill. You’ll get close to skimmers, spoonbills, egrets and herons … and I’m just naming a few. Northern Botswana is unsurpassed for bird viewing.
With all of these viewing lures, you may ask why we needed to re-scout the region. There are two main reasons. One is to optimize viewing options and the other is two identify the best lodging options available while constraining costs.
Chobe Viewing Options
While Chobe NP is premier wildlife destination, most who visit Chobe are limited to travel along the numerous dirt roads that intersect the park. Specifically, being a national park, vehicles are not allowed to track off of the roads. For general viewing this is okay; however, as photographers we want to control the angle of the light and we want to control the distance between camera and subject. One goal of my trip was to confirm that we have excellent ways to overcome these limitations.
On our 2014 Chobe Excursions we will have the ability to photograph from the trails in a specially customized Mercedes-Benz Unimog photo vehicle. We will also have the extremely flexible ability to photograph from the water in specially designed wide beam, shallow draft photo boats. Finally, and equally important, we’ll be able to exclusively use a special hide known as the elephant bunker located in Kasane Forest, which is a non-border tract of land adjacent to Chobe National Park. This three option approach will allow us the most options of anyone visiting northern Botswana.
Lodging on our Chobe Excursion
The promise of Magnum Excursions is “clean and safe, but value”. We avoid paying premiums for luxury that can’t or will not be used in our trips. This is particularly important for photo workshops as we will be out photographing much of the day. We are out early each morning and we’ll be out photographing until sunset each evening so it makes little sense to pay a premium. At the same time, we need a lodge that will accommodate our needs for a space to share image and we need meals to be adjusted for our timing. Additionally, we will have several mid-day hours at the lodge and we want options for spending that time.
Considering our needs and the fact that there are a few new lodges and some existing lodges that have just been refurbished, we needed to explore what other options exist today in Kasane. We extensively checked out 4 lodges. We looked at rooms, en suite baths, restaurants and unique lodge features.
For 2014, we will host our Chobe photo excursions at Chobe Marina Lodge. We are hosting one trip in May and two photo excursions in August. Chobe Marina Lodge is located on the banks of the Chobe River in ‘downtown’ Kasane. Kasane is a village of about 1,500 locals that borders Chobe National Park. Whether we are going out via boat or on land, we’ll be inside the heart of the park within 10 minutes of this lodge. This location also means shops for souvenirs, groceries or other purchases are a short walk away … and, yes, Kasane is a very safe town to walk around.
During 2013, the Marina Lodge has been through a large make-over, with some of it on-going, but all will be completed before we arrive. The management of the Lodge has agreed to put us in adjacent chalets along the water and slightly away from the main lodge building. This will allow us the feeling of a smaller lodge, a feeling of being a group, yet allowing for easy use of all of the amenities. Part of why we chose Chobe Marina Lodge is that a lot of photographers bring non-photographer friends and/or spouses. The Chobe Marina Lodge has a really nice infinity pool with a ‘swim up’ bar, wireless internet access, spa services, etc. So regardless of who you bring, there will be great things to do. Of course there’s plenty of mid-day free time for the photographers to also take advantage of some of these amenities if they choose! The attached photos will give you some feel for these nice lodge grounds; however, if you have more questions, email me at buddy@MagnumExcursions.com for more info. For more info use this link.