…with the focus on wildlife.

Not a month goes by without at least one person asking me what my favourite destination for wildlife photography is. To be honest, my answers are never the same. Just like it’s impossible to choose between my 16-35mm f/2.8 and my 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses, it’s impossible to choose one location that trumps all the rest, so it usually depends what ‘phase’ I find myself in – a water phase, a desert phase, or a savannah phase. That’s what happens when you’ve had the privilege of visiting so many incredible wild places.

So, after some careful consideration (and so that when people ask again in the future I can answer with some consistency) and in no particular order, here are my five favourite wildlife photography destinations and why:

Leopard in river bank

1. Grootkolk (Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa)

You just have to look at the Kgalagadi Sightings Facebook Page, which now has nearly 20000 members, to realise that the park has become a firm favourite of South Africans and foreigners alike.

Photographers who are familiar with the park know that within the colossal 38000 km2 park there are certain areas that give you photographic opportunities that are above average. Grootkolk, in the far-north of the park, is one such place.

Some of the best wildlife photos can actually be taken right from camp. Springbok, gemsbok, and red hartebeest regularly visit the camp waterhole, which is close enough for anyone with a 400 mm lens or longer. Brown hyenas and leopards also make regular appearances, even during the daytime! In fact, I usually skip the morning drives from Grootkolk and wait for one of the resident leopards to come down for a drink between 6 and 9 am – it’s happened on most mornings that I’ve tried. And if you do go out on a game drive, you’ve got a decent chance of seeing lions and cheetahs.

The campsite is surrounded by vast open areas and a surprisingly extensive road network, allowing you to get close to the hundreds of animals that congregate there throughout most of the year. Sightings are complimented by breathtaking and striking scenery, like gigantic dry leadwood trees in the middle of golden grassy plains.

Man and Woman sitting by bushveld fire

Pro: Because the camp only sleeps eight people, and is situated nearly 100 km north of Nossob, you’ll hardly ever have more than a couple of cars at a sighting early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

Con: It’s extremely difficult to get space! Try to book a year in advance and keep an eye out for cancellations throughout the year.

Bookings: Visit http://www.sanparks.org/parks/kgalagadi/tourism/availability.php?resort=55

2. Ngweshla (Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe)

Those that are familiar with Hwange will know that there are a number of public picnic sites scattered throughout the park, which can be booked as exclusive campsites at night. By far the most productive (and popular) one is Ngweshla in the south-east of the park.

Male Lion lying down

The campsite is surrounded by vast open areas and a surprisingly extensive road network, allowing you to get close to the hundreds of animals that congregate there throughout most of the year. Sightings are complimented by breathtaking and striking scenery, like gigantic dry leadwood trees in the middle of golden grassy plains.

Ideally, you want to go between June and September when it’s dry enough for the man-made waterhole near camp to attract animals, but not too late in the season when there’s hardly any vegetation left for them to feed on.

Pro: The area is frequently visited by lions, leopards, cheetah, and even wild dogs!

Con: You may have to share your campsite and ablution block with day visitors who pop in for picnics each day.

Bookings: Send an e-mail to Christina Mhuriro at cmhuriro@zimparks.co.zw

Wildebeest and Zebras walking through savannah at sunset

3. Kalizo Lodge (Zambezi Region, Namibia)

Approximately 40 km east of Katima Mulilo, on the banks of the Zambezi River, lies a small fishing lodge named Kalizo. Seven-kilogram tigerfish are commonly caught here, but it’s not the super angling opportunities that make this place so special.

A short and gentle boat ride upstream brings you to one of nature’s true spectacles. A breeding colony of carmine bee-eaters have made their nests not in the vertical bank of the river as you’d expect, but instead on top of the bank on an open patch of sand. Between August and November, thousands of these colourful birds congregate at the nesting site, giving photographers the opportunity to capture them feeding, bathing in the river, in flight, and simply sitting on the ground looking gorgeous.

Two carmine bee-eaters leave the nest at the Kalizo colony.

But it’s not easy! Even though you can get to within a couple of metres of nests and birds, photographing them can be incredibly tricky. It must be what a hunting lioness feels like when she’s got to choose her target from a large herd of zebras – it’s almost impossible to decide which ones to focus on. The sheer number of birds and constant movement challenges even the most seasoned photographers, who will all tell you to book at least two or three days at the lodge, giving you the opportunity to return a few times for that perfect shot.

Pro: The birds are incredibly relaxed and not at all phased by the presence of photographers, allowing you to get great close-ups even with a 300 mm lens.

Con: There’s not a huge amount of other wildlife to photograph in the immediate vicinity. It’s a great birding area in general and there are some animals along the river, but it’s not nearly as productive as the nearby Chobe River, making it a bit of an out-of-the-way-for-only-one-stunning-species photographic destination.

Bookings: Visit http://www.kalizolodge.com/

Kalizo bee-eater colony with woman watching in background

4. Khwai Consession (Okavango Delta, Botswana)

The beauty and multitude of wildlife photographic opportunities of Khwai was only revealed to me in May this year when I led a photographic safari to Machaba Camp for ODP Safaris. The concession lies directly north of the Moremi Game Reserve and forms part of the world-famous Okavango Delta system.

What I love about this area is that there’s plenty of water all year round; sometimes too much, in fact. When water levels rise some of the sandy roads disappear for a month or two, forcing you to concentrate your game viewing efforts on high-lying areas or to test your nerves and 4×4 skills crossing designated waterways.

A small herd of red lechwes on Letchwe Plains in the Khwai Concession

Either way, you are in for an adventure! Wild dogs, lions, leopards and many other specials, such as tsessebe and sable antelope, are regularly seen here. Misty sunrises and dusty sunsets provide unbeatable silhouette-in-golden-light opportunities and a series of pans and lagoons will have bird photographers smiling from ear to ear. All in all, it must be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been lucky enough to visit.

Pro: Because the area falls outside Moremi and Chobe, there are no park entry fees to pay, only accommodation fees, making it slightly cheaper to camp here then in one of the parks.

Con: You can easily get lost here, so make sure you have Tracks4Africa and at least a few waypoints marking the boundaries of the concession. And don’t drown your car at a river crossing!

Bookings: For camping at Khwai Community Campsites, send an e-mail to khwai@botsnet.bw or treat yourself at Machaba Camp (www.machabacamp.com).

Male lion walking across horizon

5. Manyeleti (Greater Kruger National Park, South Africa)

Very few South Africans know about the Manyeleti Game Reserve, despite it being located in the heart of one of the best game viewing areas in the whole of Africa. It’s a provincial reserve tucked away between the Timbavati (to the north), Kruger National Park (to the east) and Sabi Sands (to the south) in South Africa’s Lowveld, but unlike the two famous private game reserves that sandwich it, it’s very open, much like the areas around Orpen and Satara in the Kruger National Park.

Open savannah habitat attracts a lot of grazers like blue wildebeest, zebra and buffalo, which in return attract an abundance of predators – especially lions! I can’t remember the last time I didn’t see lions in the Manyeleti. In my opinion, the Manyeleti is much more scenic than the Sabi Sands and, even though sightings are not quite as good, the stunning surroundings make for better photographic opportunities.

Waterbuck standing in the road

Pro: You can self-drive as a day visitor in the Manyeleti, and because so few people visit the reserve you often have mega-sightings to yourself!

Con: Unfortunately the reserve is poorly managed, so don’t expect a reserve map, any sign boards or picnic sites along the way.

Bookings: Contact Lynn at lynetteross@telkomsa.net to book either Buffelshoek or Ndzhaka self-catering camps or visit www.honeyguidecamp.com to book a night at Mantobeni Camp.

Lions lying on riverbank
A herd of 2000 buffalo congregate around a water source in the centre of Manyeleti