Very Early Morning - Darkest Africa

Your sleep is suddenly and violently shattered by the deafening sound of your alarm and for a millisecond you wonder where you are. 

In complete darkness the unusual sounds begin to permeate your foggy brain and you remember that this is Africa at it’s best.

Just that thought is enough to motivate you to get out of bed, get dressed and head to the main lodge where the coffee will already be brewing and the rest of the team congregating.

A welcome coffee and rusks, provided by Johan and his team, and excited talk about what might be in store for us today and then it’s  time to “saddle-up” and head out on the well equipped vehicles.

The tour guides will provide information about individual or groups of animals they will be targeting on the morning safari. For example if there had been a kill the previous day the carcass would be a good place to start the day. 

If nothing specific they will adopt an approach of “drive and see” based on areas that they know Big Cats frequent.

Sunrises like this await you

Pre Dawn to Sunrise

Before setting off your tour guide will advise camera settings.

Typically for the early morning pre-dawn challenge it could be:

  • aperture mode (or alternately manual mode if you’re comfortable with shooting in manual)
  • f4.5
  • ISO 1600
  • Exposure compensation reset to ‘0’

With a “Any questions?  Okay then – let’s go see what we can find” we head off into the pre-dawn light.

The two vehicles generally head off in different directions to provide  greater chance of encountering something interesting. Radio contact is maintained throughout to alert the other vehicle of a sighting.

At this point the tracker, perched on the little jump seat suspended over the front bumper, is traversing a powerful spotlight left and right into the bush as we travel along the dirt road.

His task is to spot animals in the bush as well as scan the road ahead for tracks of animal that have recently crossed the road. The tracker will amaze you with his unbelievable ability to spot animals which we battle to see even when pointed out to us. 

He is able to do this while rapidly moving a spotlight from left to right and travelling at up to 20 kms per hour and sometimes even faster, all the while scanning the road ahead for spoor!

Their skills truly are amazing.

While the tracker is busy doing his thing your guide will be providing you with interesting facts about the bush and animals plus answering all the questions we throw at him.

As the light increases he will alert you to change your settings – probably to a lower ISO or to decrease exposure compensation. 
“Take a photo of anything and check your histogram” is a regular recommendation. From the results of these random photos individual adjustments are made.

During the course of the dawn drive a large cross section of animals will be seen as they too rise and get set for their day of survival. Don’t be disappointed if we don’t stop for all of them as the main focus is on getting to the BIG cats – lions, leopards and the smaller cheetah.

Buffalo, elephants, rhino and giraffe do usually result in a stop for some photo opportunities – you will no doubt get plenty of each.

Morning Coffee Stop

After about an hour or so of safari the two vehicles will meet at a predetermined spot – usually a waterhole – where we will alight and swap stories of the morning’s adventures.

The trackers, the guides and the drivers will miraculously produce  a hot cup of coffee, tea or chocolate drink for you to enjoy.  Also on offer will be traditional South African rusks.

Don’t eat too many you have a big breakfast waiting for you back at camp.

South African Safari Coffee Stop

A Small Sample of the Game

Its impossible to say what you will see on any one drive – all I can say is that we saw much more than we imagined in our wildest dreams.

I clearly remember our first drive when we were asked what we would most like to see during the entire safari.  My answer was African Wild Dog which are rare and elusive.

Well bugger me if the first animals we saw within 5 minutes of leaving camp weren’t wild dogs – a pack of 9.

I could fill this page with photos of these beautiful and very sociable animals. Watching them as a family one gets an incredible sense of community.

To have the highlight of your trip accomplished in the first 5 minutes may seem like nothing to look forward to but believe me nothing could be further from the truth.

The next day we saw this same pack some distance away shortly after they had made or come across a kill as some of them were still playing football with what looked like a Duiker’s head.

We didn’t see them again after that though.

Aren’t they beautiful?

South African Safari Wild Dog
African Wild Dog
South African Safari Leopard on an Anthill
Looking for prey from the top of an anthill with penetrating eyes
South African Safari Leopard at Dusk
As the sun set we put a spotlight on this leopard (no it does not harm their eyes) and he or she was quite relaxed about the goings on
South African Safari Lion King of The Jungle
Taking a break from the hectic life
South African Safari African Elephant
A lone bull headed towards water - the African Dogs were a few meters to the right of this photo
South African Safari Cape Buffalo
A Cape Buffalo - one of a herd of about 30 bulls known as Dagga (mud) Boys
South African Safari Rhino
And rounding out the big 5 is this Rhino- excited to see tourists maybe?

Returning to Camp

At about 9.30 to 10.00 am you return to camp for a hearty breakfast and excited chatter about everything you have experienced.

Breakfasts (and all meals) are amazing and all dietary requirements are catered for – for example I am a Whole Food Plant Based No Oil (slightly stricter than a Vegan from a food perspective) advocate and all my meals were delicious and filling.  we had a couple of Gluten intolerant members who were also very happy with their food.

The rest of the morning is spent at your leisure in camp – most people took the opportunity to process the day’s photos, catch up on social media or to just chill out.

Some went for the guided walks with the rangers, while others took advantage of the access to the tour guides for LightRoom lessons or one-on-one photography tutorials – all of which is included in the cost. 

A late lunch is served at about 2.00 – 2.30 and at 3.30 its back on the vehicle for more of “something completely different”.

South African Safari Breakfast in bush
Our final breakfast was in the bush and as usual it was of a very high standard

Afternoon Game Drive

While there are a lot of similarities between the morning and afternoon drives they are quite different.  hard to put my finger on it but the atmosphere as the days starts cooling down – and believe me it gets hot, is totally different and there is a lot more small game about.
Lots of Impala, Zebra, Warthog, Kudu, Nyala, Giraffe (love them to bits), birds – oh so many species of birds which are so different to what we find in New Zealand and the list goes on and on.

The afternoon drive is halted for sundowners before a final push to find something exciting perhaps to put a spotlight on – we were never disappointed.

We’d been following this mating pair of lions all afternoon and she finally stood for him as it was getting dark.

Returning to camp we were met by big braziers of fire (temperatures plummeted as the sun went down) and a happy contingent of staff waiting to serve us dinner at about 8.00 pm, giving us plenty of time to shower and change beforehand.

By the end of dinner at about 9.30 your bed starts calling – even above the sound of the African bush’s night life.  Hitting the sack at about 10.00 10.30 in anticipation of an early morning start.  Believe me when I tell you that I was so tired from full days that I fell asleep before the light had registered I had switched it off. 

After the first day’s excitement you are looking forward to that alarm waking you up at 5.30 am the next morning and starting all over again.