Eventually, the day came for the Botswana Photo Safari to kick off. I met all five guests for dinner after their arrival in Johannesburg and it was a festive first-time face to face for everyone. We were six travelers in total – five guests and myself, two vehicles and loads of enthusiasm from all. We eased into the tour by travelling from Johannesburg though Zambia and into Zimbabwe, first by air and then by land/vehicle all in one long morning. The experience was relatively pleasant – going through immigration anywhere in Africa can be a challenge but my guides are old hands at this, making it easy and stress free.
The accommodation in Zimbabwe was top class, overlooking a watering hole about 80 yards away, and we saw a good variety of antelope and elephant from the comfort of a contoured chair with a Gin & Tonic in hand. The helicopter flip we took that afternoon over the falls gave everyone a good perspective of the enormous width of the Zambezi and the depth of the gorge. The next morning an exploratory walk along the length of the falls, though the ‘rainforest’ from the Zimbabwe side, provided a great view and the misty spray offered welcome relief from the dry African heat.
We crossed the border into Botswana by road and headed for Chobe where at one stage we were surrounded by a herd of elephants. One of the cows was in labor – I was disappointed that we could not follow her into the trees as we were in a national Park and going off-road is not allowed. It would have been incredible to not only witness the birth but also a rare photographic opportunity.
In Chobe we saw elephants of all sizes, from both the land-vehicles and the flat-bottomed pontoon. Many different perspectives to photograph…. in the water; out of the water; at sunset; at sunrise… We also had many birds providing good photographic opportunities for the birders. One evening we had a hot wind blowing which brought out the scorpions and allowed us to see them foraging at close quarters. We had a pride of lions walk through the camp one evening (everyone was asleep at the time and I only spilled the beans after we left) and on the following night a few elephants came sauntering through. Again, I remained tight-lipped until we left the camp to avoid startling the guests and any medical emergencies.
Okavango Delta, Botswana
The four days in Nxabega were unreal – on the water from a sedate mokoro paddle in the lake to the motor boat ride in the channel (and fishing catfish) and on land we saw leopards, elephants (both in water and out), hippos, crocodiles, zebras and lions with cubs. We had challenges between guests to see who could get the best Lilac Breasted Roller images! Not to mention the greatest Africa Fish Eagle shots.
The grand finale was at Sandibe. The renovated lodge had everything we could ask for – a private plunge pool for each room, an open-air shower and a well-stocked pub overlooking a huge dam. The view wasn’t spectacular as the reeds had overgrown closest to the lodge. Until, on one occasion, an elephant came walking by happily munching the soft roots, a mere 2 to 3 yards away. Pity at the time there wasn’t a camera close by as there was ’nothing to shoot’ from that location. A lesson learned – always have your camera ready!
The safari ended too soon – everyone was elated to have spent 10 days in the bush and could have spent another week without batting an eyelid. I was very surprised when I asked what each visitor’s highlight had been. As they spoke about their experience, everyone’s favorite moment was different – and they were hard-pressed to pick just one favorite as they rambled from one sighting to the next and had difficulty pinning an answer – they whole trip had been a superb experience.
For me the telling aspect of these tours is when guests ask “Where are we going next year?” At the time, the destination, the cost and the dates were not yet firmed up but three guests immediately committed themselves to the next safari. Subsequently, I’ve decided that the ‘menu’ for 2017 will be a Predators Safari in South Africa, Elephants and the Okavango Delta in Botswana and Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro and the Serengeti in Tanzania.
To sum it up, I think it was a great trip with guests having seen a wide variety of animals and coming home with many stories of their experience in Africa.