I recently returned from an incredible 5-week private safari that spanned 2 countries, 5 provinces, 9 biomes, 7 reserves, 8 lodges, 3 Land Rovers, 4 Land Cruisers, 8 flights, 5 transfers, 1267889364 photographs, 3 sleep-ins, 140gb of video, 3 monkey raids, 1 flat tire and a whole lot of wildlife viewing!
In fact, our total tally of prolific and rare species was:
- 137 Lions
- 19 Leopard
- 16 Cheetah
- 1 Aardwolf
- 1 Brown hyena
- 1 Red rock rabbit
- 7 Black rhino
- 2 Honey badgers
- 1 Porcupine
- 1 Spring hare
- 1 Civet
- 1 Black springbok
- Countless elephants
- Countless white rhino
- Countless spotted hyena
- Countless bat-eared foxes
Along the way we experienced some of the most highly rated lodges in South Africa and Botswana and some new up-and-comers. I think what I’ll do is break this incredible trip down by lodge with a few photos from each location in toe.
I hope you enjoy this journey through the wilds of SA and Bots!
Kariega Private Game Reserve – Settlers Drift – Eastern Cape, South Africa
What can I say other than, elegance in the highest form! The lodge is comprised of many natural tones and textures and has one of the best (actually the best) fireplace I have come across in a lodge, we absolutely loved having dinner at the massive dining table right next to it.
The lodge overlooks a massive vista of the gorgeous Eastern Cape coastal bush and the rooms really are something to behold. They are huge, they are gorgeous, and they are warm & welcoming in every way. I absolutely loved how the room was laid out and how everything was thought of!
If you are looking for a place where you can get close to elephants and I do mean close, from some next level wide angle photography, then this is the place. However, don’t let that fool you, the entire big 5 is on offer here and while we sadly didn’t see a leopard, we did see everything else multiple times. What makes this even better is the landscape within which you are photographing these animals. The rolling hills and Albany thickets are fairly gobsmacking and it really doesn’t seem to ever matter which direction you are looking, you will always be in awe.
One of the most unique environments I have had the pleasure of experiencing while on safari.
Kwandwe Private Game Reserve – Great Fish River Lodge – Eastern Cape, South Africa
The lodge, as the name would suggest, hugs the Fish River and my goodness does it offer some spectacular views! It is incredibly warm and cozy though and really well laid out with some of the nicest and most comfortable furniture that I have encountered. The rooms were stunning, and each had their own plunge pool, which I of course didn’t use for some reason. There is a lot to be said about light switches that are labelled, especially when modern luxury rooms have about 15 of them these days – well Great Fish River Lodge delivered!
Often proclaimed as one of South Africa’s best kept secrets, this reserve really does have it all. And when I say all, I mean it. The landscape is as dramatic as it comes, the hills, the plains, the rivers, they all come together to create a truly remarkable place. Then there’s the animals. This isn’t your typical Kruger safari and Kwandwe offers up some of the best chances of seeing some fairly rare creatures. I was super excited to finally tick off the red rock rabbit here and we also had an awesome night sighting of an aardwolf! Bat eared foxes are a dime a dozen and cheetah just seem to seep out of the mountain sides.
At the end of the day all I can say or rather proclaim is that Kwandwe will not let you down in any way whatsoever.
Phinda Private Game Reserve – Mountain Lodge – KwaZulu Natal, South Africa
As the name would suggest, Mountain Lodge is set pretty high up on the rocky ridges of the south of Phinda. The lodge is gorgeous with a stunning, zen-like welcoming area comprised of a square garden and large square raised water feature. I have never seen a lodge with such an impressive boma (circular communal dining area). Think something along the lines of Indiana Jones and you are probably not too far off. The room was awesome, for lack of a better word! It had a sunken lounge area, humongous bed, plunge pool, really nice bathroom and some very fancy sliding door closets. And while my room was pretty far from the main lodge area, it did have one of the nicest views out there!
Where to begin! We were treated to a stunning sighting of a leopardess and her two cubs, we had countless cheetah sightings, a buffalo chewing the cud in the mud and lions galore! The south of the reserve is very lush and green with massive grassy open plains that are hugged on either side by some very impressive rocky outcrops and mountains. It was a true joy to explore.
&beyond has done something incredible here, I believe this to be their first ever game reserve of operation and they have not let the people of the area down in anyway.
Phinda Private Game Reserve – Forest Lodge – KwaZulu Natal, South Africa
I had long heard about the mystic of the sand forest and the secretive lodge that hides within its canopy. Just the drive in and through the forest is enough to get one really excited, then out of nowhere there is a pathway and along that pathway lies a lodge, hidden amongst the ancient trees and beach sand. The rooms have an almost 360 degree view of the forest all around them and I remember relaxing in mine numerous times, just staring out into the wilderness often transfixing on the huge remains of a tree that had long since fallen over.
One of the major highlights from the entire 5-week journey came out of this leg and that was seeing a pride of lions on a kill inside the sand forest. I will never forget this. Just like in the south of Phinda, here we were treated to several cheetah sightings, cheetah with cubs, cheetah on kills and even cheetah silhouettes. We saw lion cubs and warthogs both alive and dead.
Are you looking for somewhere truly unique? Are you looking for somewhere with world class wildlife viewing? Phinda Forest Lodge is the place for you
Mashatu Game Reserve – Mashatu lodge – Bostwana
I want you to think about the most humble safari lodge that you can, well Mashatu Lodge is more humble than that! The lodge is found in the Mopane forests of this very popular wildlife viewing region. It opens up onto a large lawn, on the left hand side is the very interesting and well laid out “Discovery” room – amazing for kids and adults alike, straight ahead is the lodge and dining area and in front of that is the famous watering hole that attracts so many animals in the drier season. There are two pools at this lodge, just in case you would like to swim twice in two different pools on the same day.
Known for its leopard viewing, Mashatu truly did not let us down in this regard! We had several awesome sightings of the elusive cats. We saw lion prides and lion cubs, we saw hundreds of elephants, dozens of giraffe, a couple of cheetah and some of the most incredible trees you will ever have the pleasure of laying your eyes upon. The true magic of Mashatu though, is the landscape. There are few places that will give you such a sense of remoteness as Mashatu and the sheer number of environments you find yourself passing through is nothing short of extraordinary. Lastly, the photo hide – my word I don’t have the words to describe it but when it goes off, boy does it go off!
Mashatu is one of those famous places that is highly regarded in the wildlife photography world. Your pilgrimage to this mecca will not be forgotten.
MalaMala – Main lodge – Mpumalanga, South Africa
Main Lodge has gone through some rather extensive renovations over the years and today it really is a beautiful and relaxing place to spend your safari. The main area has a massive deck that overlooks the famous Sand River and the main lounge area is big with ample space to relax with your friends and family. The bar area still has the classic MalaMala score board and the dining areas both outside and inside are absolutely perfect. The room is super spacious, light switches are labelled and they have everything that you can think of!
We were fortunate to see 7 different leopards over the course of our stay. Of course, MalaMala is well known as possibly the best place in Africa to see leopard but there is so much more to this reserve. It forms part of the Greater Kruger so there is no doubt that the wildlife is nothing short of spectacular. We saw 2 prides of lions, 2 different coalitions, countless elephants and everything else you can imagine.
For me, MalaMala offers the best wildlife viewing and safari experience in Africa.
Timbavati Private Nature Reserve – Kings Camp – Limpopo, South Africa
Kings Camp had just renovated most of their rooms when the lockdowns started to take over the world. What this means is that the rooms, while being brand new haven’t had nearly as much use as they normally would have. Of course, I am happy to note that this is quickly becoming a thing of the past as the world begins to travel again. The lodge is one of the more interestingly laid out of them all. It comprises of a massive lawn area with pathways that criss-cross it in all directions, from room to room and lodge area to pool. It has an awesome upper level look out deck for lazy days spent reading a book. Sadly, I didn’t stay in one of the new rooms so I can’t really elaborate too much more on them but my guest was super happy and overall the lodge is gorgeous and found in one of the best wilderness areas out there.
Of all the lodges and reserves we stayed at on this epic safari, Kings Camp produced the most keeper images for me and that really is saying something. Our first afternoon was filled with a leopard on a kill in a tree and lions stealing said kill from said leopard and attempting to climb said tree. It was fantastic! The next day we caught up with some wild dogs and later that day they killed an impala right in front of us. We had the privilege of spending a large amount of time with some lion cubs and their mother and pride. We even got to see those lions get chased, just a little, by a herd of elephants. We then had lions on a kill one night and got to enjoy them again on our last morning. It was mind blowing!
The Timbavati is where I have spent most of my lodge-based years and it never ever fails to impress. Low vehicle numbers also mean you are due for one of, if not the best, safari experience on the continent.
Tswalu Private Game Reserve – The Motse – The Northern Cape, South Africa
There are few places that amount to the unique and luxurious standards that The Motse seems to so effortlessly attain. The lodge is out of this world and everything is of the finest quality. From the welcome passage to the bar area, main lounge and indoor dining to the deck and pool area is simply gorgeous. There is also a media center where you can work on your images and even print a copy or two if you would like. Lastly, The Klein Jan restaurant is simply incredible. Dining at this world class establishment is an experience that I wish everyone could have. I don’t want to give too much away but if you ever have the chance – just do it!
Firstly, Kalahari black mane lions! Secondly, meerkats! Thirdly, roan antelope! From first thing in the morning until the last light of the day, you are treated to some amazing sightings. There is always something to look at whether that be a stunning vista, a couple of male cheetah or possibly even some black rhino in the thickets. Prepare for a sensory overload! We thoroughly enjoyed this safari experience.
Safari at this level is something that, despite the price, should be experienced by any avid lover of nature. What a truly special place they have there out in the desert.
What an absolutely amazing journey, at the of the day I would happily visit any one of these lodges and reserves again. They all impressed, not only from a photographic point of view but also from a lodge and experience point of view.
I look forward to my next 5 week safari in September 2022!
Until next time, happy snapping,
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