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I'm back from a trip to South Africa. A country with such an amazing rich diversity, both cultural and natural! Almost every day we witnessed different landscapes gliding us by, proving the old slogan “a world in one country” quite right. The people inhabiting those landscapes where just as diverse, together making up the rainbow nation.

The differences in social and economic status however are often very big. Hence, one day you can be the guest in a welcoming, but poor Xhosa village somewhere on the wild coast. The next day you imagine yourself somewhere in the British countryside, while you are in fact in the middle of the KwaZula-Natal Midlands. Despite the poor living conditions of a big part of the population, it is easy to travel around in this country with the majority of infrastructure, facilities and hospitality quite good. I very much enjoyed my visit, the warm hospitality of all its people, the landscapes and wildlife and I will keep a keen eye on South Africa’s developments to come.

My wife and I where privileged to have the opportunity to travel for a month from Cape Town all the way to Johannesburg, mainly following the coast and with some short detours into the Little Karoo and Drakensberg. Photography wise it was a very productive trip and this item contains a whopping 42 pictures from South Africa (hey, I simply couldn't choose). I also uploaded a new pic of the month (+ bonus video).

Five meerkats (Suricata suricatta) checking their perimeter. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 400, handhold.
Five meerkats (Suricata suricatta) checking their perimeter. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 400, handhold.

A red-billed oxpecker (Buphagus erythrorhynchus) performing services for a young male impala (Aepyceros melampus). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 800, handhold from car.
A red-billed oxpecker (Buphagus erythrorhynchus) performing services for a young male impala (Aepyceros melampus). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 800, handhold from car.

A lappet-faced vulture (Torgos tracheliotos) standing protectively over its trophy: a zebra's head. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/640, f/8, iso 1000, handhold from car.
A lappet-faced vulture (Torgos tracheliotos) standing protectively over its trophy: a zebra's head. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/640, f/8, iso 1000, handhold from car.

A plains zebra (Equus quagga) crunching away at some tasty grass. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 800, handhold from car.
A plains zebra (Equus quagga) crunching away at some tasty grass. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 800, handhold from car.

A tortoise in the Little Karoo. Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/250, f/10, iso 100, handhold.
A tortoise in the Little Karoo. Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/250, f/10, iso 100, handhold.

A little elephant (Loxodonta africana) discovers new uses for its trunk. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/640, f/8, iso 250, handhold from car.
A little elephant (Loxodonta africana) discovers new uses for its trunk. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/640, f/8, iso 250, handhold from car.

An African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) putting everything in order. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/640, f/8, iso 250, handhold.
An African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) putting everything in order. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/640, f/8, iso 250, handhold.

A terrapin foraging for food. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/640, f/8, iso 250, handhold.
A terrapin foraging for food. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/640, f/8, iso 250, handhold.

A young leopard (Panthera pardus) ignoring us. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/250, f/8, iso 1600, handhold from open vehicle.
A young leopard (Panthera pardus) ignoring us. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/250, f/8, iso 1600, handhold from open vehicle.

A 'dassie' or rock hyrax (Procavia capensishyrax). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/640, f/8, iso 250, handhold.
A 'dassie' or rock hyrax (Procavia capensishyrax). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/640, f/8, iso 250, handhold.

A capped wheatear (Oenanthe pileata). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 400, handhold from car.
A capped wheatear (Oenanthe pileata). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 400, handhold from car.

A curious dwarf mongoose (Helogale parvula). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/320, f/5.6, iso 400, handhold from car.
A curious dwarf mongoose (Helogale parvula). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/320, f/5.6, iso 400, handhold from car.

A traditional meerkat (Suricata suricatta) pose. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 1000, handhold.
A traditional meerkat (Suricata suricatta) pose. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 1000, handhold.

A red-crested bustard (Eupodotis ruficrista) making himself known. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 160, handhold from car.
A red-crested bustard (Eupodotis ruficrista) making himself known. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 160, handhold from car.

A female steenbok (Raphicerus campestris) doing 180 degrees. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/640, f/8, iso 500, handhold from car.
A female steenbok (Raphicerus campestris) doing 180 degrees. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/640, f/8, iso 500, handhold from car.

A frenzy of white-backed vultures (Gyps africanus). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 500, handhold from car.
A frenzy of white-backed vultures (Gyps africanus). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 500, handhold from car.

A curious baby chacma baboon (Papio ursinus) seeing the world upside down. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 320, handhold from car.
A curious baby chacma baboon (Papio ursinus) seeing the world upside down. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 320, handhold from car.

An young African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) taking a nap. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/7.1, iso 500, handhold.
An young African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) taking a nap. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/7.1, iso 500, handhold.

A close-up of a tusk from an African elephant (Loxodonta africana). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/320, f/6.3, iso 250, handhold from car.
A close-up of a tusk from an African elephant (Loxodonta africana). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/320, f/6.3, iso 250, handhold from car.

A yellow-billed kite (Milvus aegyptius). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/640, f/8, iso 125, handhold from car.
A yellow-billed kite (Milvus aegyptius). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/640, f/8, iso 125, handhold from car.

A male African masked weaver (Ploceus velatus) building its nest. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 640, handhold.
A male African masked weaver (Ploceus velatus) building its nest. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 640, handhold.

A crab running over the beach. Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/40, f/5, iso 100, handhold.
A crab running over the beach. Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/40, f/5, iso 100, handhold.

Very funny subjects those jackasses (Spheniscus demersus). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 160, handhold.
Very funny subjects those jackasses (Spheniscus demersus). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 160, handhold.

This leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis) is definitely not winning the race. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 125, handhold from car.
This leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis) is definitely not winning the race. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 125, handhold from car.

A tree squirrel (unknown species). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 1250, handhold.
A tree squirrel (unknown species). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 1250, handhold.

A skink (unknown species) basking in the light. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/250, f/5.6, iso 200, handhold.
A skink (unknown species) basking in the light. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/250, f/5.6, iso 200, handhold.

A good catch for a saddle-billed stork (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 160, handhold from car.
A good catch for a saddle-billed stork (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 160, handhold from car.

Two meerkats (Suricata suricatta) having a staring contest. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 400, handhold.
Two meerkats (Suricata suricatta) having a staring contest. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 400, handhold.

An ever present Red-necked Francolin (Pternistis afer). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/400, f/7.1, iso 1600, handhold from car.
An ever present Red-necked Francolin (Pternistis afer). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/400, f/7.1, iso 1600, handhold from car.

A African elephant contemplating life (Loxodonta africana). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 1000, handhold from car.
A African elephant contemplating life (Loxodonta africana). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 1000, handhold from car.

Just a hint of moving sand dunes. Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/125, f/10, iso 100, handhold.
Just a hint of moving sand dunes. Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/125, f/10, iso 100, handhold.

A endangered bontebok (Damaliscus pygargus pygarus) with young. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 400, handhold from car.
A endangered bontebok (Damaliscus pygargus pygarus) with young. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 400, handhold from car.

Two meerkats (Suricata suricatta) in the early morning light. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 4300, handhold.
Two meerkats (Suricata suricatta) in the early morning light. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 4300, handhold.

The vulnerable, but big Southern ground hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 320, handhold from car.
The vulnerable, but big Southern ground hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 320, handhold from car.

The never ending struggling between dynamic sand and vegetation. Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/250, f/11, iso 100, handhold.
The never ending struggling between dynamic sand and vegetation. Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/250, f/11, iso 100, handhold.

A male waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus) looking into the lens. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 250, handhold from car.
A male waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus) looking into the lens. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 250, handhold from car.

Red-billed oxpeckers (Buphagus erythrorhynchus) cleaning a giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 1000, handhold from car.
Red-billed oxpeckers (Buphagus erythrorhynchus) cleaning a giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 1000, handhold from car.

An juvenile African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) making its presence known. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 500, handhold.
An juvenile African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) making its presence known. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 500, handhold.

A couple of klipspringers (Oreotragus oreotragus) in the afternoon sunlight. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 400, handhold from car.
A couple of klipspringers (Oreotragus oreotragus) in the afternoon sunlight. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 400, handhold from car.

A roosting cape eagle-owl (Bubo capensis). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/250, f/5.6, iso 1600, handhold.
A roosting cape eagle-owl (Bubo capensis). Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/250, f/5.6, iso 1600, handhold.

A lioness (Panthera leo) in the hot afternoon sun. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 320, handhold from car.
A lioness (Panthera leo) in the hot afternoon sun. Canon 50D, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM, 1/500, f/8, iso 320, handhold from car.

A endemic black girdled lizard (Cordylus niger). Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/125, f/10, iso 100, handhold.
A endemic black girdled lizard (Cordylus niger). Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, 1/125, f/10, iso 100, handhold.
 


I have lots of stories to share, but for now I will stick with some observations on wildlife photography. I also made my personal top five of animal encounters (in no specific order), involving short reviews on some of the services we used. I wrote this mainly for the sake of other future travellers. I planned our trip mainly with the help of travel books and online trip reports, so why not add to what’s out there?

Thoughts on wildlife photography:

I wanted to share some experiences on wildlife photography in South Africa, even though they are described before and much better elsewhere.

We travelled in South Africa at the end of the dry season, between the 16th of September and the 15th of October. We choose this time frame for a number of reasons: mainly because it is spring this time of the year with a big chance on blooming flowers and migratory whales. It is also outside of any public holidays and in the low season. Finally, precipitation is less, making it easier to spot wildlife at waterholes or simply due to lack of vegetation. This choice proved to be a good one, because we enjoyed seeing large numbers of wildlife during our trip.

Sunset and sunrise are a matter of minutes. This means that the light you have to work with gets hard very fast. There is not much you can do about that, except cherishing the hour just after six am and before six pm when most national parks and rest camps close their gates. For the rest of the day it is mostly about fine-tuning the exposure and white balance. Also when it is very warm the hot air is literally shimmering, making it more difficult to take a sharp picture from a subject that is further away from you.

The amount of subjects is incredible, whether it landscapes, wildlife or people. I mainly focused on wildlife. Not because I wanted to do justice to the name of my website, but for more practical reasons. I was driving the full 6358 km of our road trip, so I mainly had my 400mm telephoto lens up and ready. Also, there is just so much to see. Since it was my first visit to southern Africa I almost automatically zoomed in on everything that crawled, ran or flew by. Biologists… Anyway, when you do change lenses, don’t freak out about dust. In online forums I often read about almost paranoid approaches to preventing dust creeping into your lens or onto your sensor. If you use a sheltered place to change your lenses, like the inside of your car (and not while sitting on top of a sand dune like in the Hoop Nature Reserve) you’re good to go. I brought a rocket blower with me, which worked just fine.

My best purchase for this trip was definitely my beanbag. It proved very valuable while photographing from our car, giving me that little bit extra stability and hence sharp pictures. I filled it with about 4 kg of rice which made it an inexpensive accessory.

For wildlife I mainly used my Canon 400mm lens and noticed I was often too close to the subject in question in order to take an overall shot of the animal. Especially when in your vehicle you can approach animals extremely close. A tele zoomlens, like the 70-200mm should be sufficient as well.

Top 5 animal encounters:

In short... wildlife is everywhere and easy to see on your own. We especially enjoyed Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve and iSimangaliso Wetland Park. However, we used the services of several companies to take our wildlife experience one notch farther:

1) Meerkat adventures
Definitely one of the highlights of our trip! While visiting Oudtshoorn we booked with Devey Glinister of Meerkat Adventures. He habituated a family of meerkats (Suricata suricatta), making it possible to see them waking up just three or four meters away. They are still wild mind you, and they go about their business without as much as looking at their visitors. You meet before sunrise and drive to the location. After enjoying some coffee or tea you walk to the burrow they used for the night. Devey is quite the colourful character, and has lots of fun stories and in-depth details about meerkat life to share with you. After going through their morning rituals they run off foraging, with occasionally the sentry’s head sticking out over the vegetation. We wanted to do this tour just to make sure we saw some meerkats, since they are normally hard to spot. We eventually did come across some foraging meerkats - including a pup - in Addo Elephant National Parks, but that encounter lasted just a minute. Devey stories, the meerkats, and a beautiful sunrise make this worth your money. We where also lucky to be there when all the wild flowers where blooming - even the inhabitants of Oudtshoorn didn’t see such abundance for a while.

2) Marine dynamics
Gansbaai is famous for its great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias), due to the proximity of Geyser Rock, home to around 60.000 brown fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus). You wouldn’t believe the stench this colony gives off! There are many operators out there who offer cage diving experiences. I ended up choosing Marine Dynamics, operating from Klein Baai, because of their knowledgeable staff (several marine biologist on board) and their honest interest in white sharks. They are not just another commercial company; they actually perform research and try to increase awareness on great white conservation. We enjoyed a great morning with them and where lucky to see 12 great whites coming to take a peek.

3) Shakabarker tours
We spend one night in St. Lucia in order to pay a visit to – at least a very modest part of – the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Of all the national parks we visited (Table Mountain National Park, Bontebok NP, De Hoop Nature Reserve, Garden Route NP, Addo Elephant NP, Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park, Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve and Kruger NP) we liked this one the most. Because of the variety in ecosystems, the diversity of wildlife is simply stunning. We booked a so called Night Drive / Chameleon Safari with Kian Barker of Shakabarker Tours. This witty and funny biologist gave us a great night excursion through the wetland park, where we indeed saw chameleon (see the photo on this very webpage), but also bushpig (Potamochoerus larvatus), side-striped jackal (Canis adustus), African dwarf kingfisher (Ceyx lecontei) and much more. We also got a lesson in ecology and astrology, making him a great all known naturalist and storyteller. Highly recommended!

4) Daniell cheetah breeding farm
Daniell Cheetah Breeding is close to Addo Elephant National Park, so you can combine a late afternoon visit with exploring Addo Elephant National Park during the day. Daniell cheetah is all about contributing to the conservation status of cheetah's (Acinonyx jabatus). Which is not such a bad idea, considering their dwindling range. Sure, these are captive animals, but where else can you come face to face with these magnificent creatures? We where supposed to go for a stroll with Zintle – ‘the beautiful one’ in Zulu. Cheetah’s are the fastest land animals on the entire planet, so I was prepared to get dragged all over the place. Zintle however, felt more like basking in the late afternoon sunlight and keeping a sharp eye out for possible furry prey. None appeared, so she was satisfied with us petting her chin, resulting in approving purring sounds. (check out my profile pic at the ‘about page’ to get a impression of how it was like). Maxie and her colleague really took the time to explain us about cheetah life, making it a memorable experience. Fun fact: Daniell cheetah project also provided two cheetah’s for the 2005 film Duma.

5) Gomo gomo game lodge
So you travelled all the way to Kruger National Park to have the best wildlife experience of your life, but end up stuck in a small traffic jam instead in order to see lion, leopard and other animals? Ok, I admit I’m exaggerating, but it can be annoying. Try this experiment for example: stop your car somewhere to look randomly at the landscape and count the amount of cars stopping behind you desperate not to miss out at possible wildlife. While you in the meantime just wanted to pick your nose ;) Kruger is huge, has a lot to offer, we had awesome wildlife encounters there and is definitely a must when visiting South Africa, but try a private reserve as well. Gomo Gomo Game Lodge is one of the more affordable private reserves, with great wildlife, knowledgeable rangers, comfortable accommodation and great food. Gomo Gomo is located close to Orpen Gate and is part of the Klaserie Private Nature Reserve, which in its turn is part of Greater Kruger National Park. Meaning you will see the same wildlife as in Kruger, but with no traffic jams what so ever. The rangers Danie and Iwan where great fun and we where glad to have met them. Some of the best encounters involved mating lions (Panthera leo), several leopards (Panthera pardus), a bushbaby (unknown species) prancing around and a flat tire during a night drive ;)


New photos: South Africa