ODP Phinda Safari
There is no doubt that the African bush has a magical quality that, once it has crept into your soul, never leaves again. Each visit beguiles one more and the yearning to return time after time drives a search for undiscovered places and new experiences. KwaZulu-Natal has only a smattering of destinations to explore and the most desirable of these is Phinda Game Reserve. A destination much vaunted for its Black Rhino, Cheetah and Lions, this reserve has to be high on the agenda of any bush junkie. So it is that I find myself heading east towards the Indian Ocean to attend an ODP photographic safari.
Our first sortie into the bush comes shortly after we arrive and the familiar feel of the wind whipping through my hair is a welcome one, while the discomfort of the bench on the back of the safari vehicle allows me to savour the moment of being back in amongst the thorn trees and grasses of the African plains. We head north towards the Marsh Area in an attempt to search for a pride of lions that have been seen in the area.
Without too much searching we find our target. A sizable pride consisting of two dark maned males, three lionesses that are lying indolently in a small clearing, as well as eight cubs, about three months old. As cubs are, they are constantly on the move, either wrestle with each other or trying to see if they can get one of the adults to play.
The staccato of shutters keeps breaking the silence of the afternoon and we stay with the pride until nightfall. Once the sun has set we try our hand at night photography under the careful tutelage of Hilton Kotze and Andrew Schoeman. I am not a great proponent of the night photography gig but Hilton gently cajoles me into participating. His argument is that I am there to learn so why am I not doing so? His good-natured banter gets me into the zone and soon I am trying my hand at the craft.
On the third day of our stay we come across the pride again. During the night they have been on the hunt and the dregs of the feast are lying in the long grass. Each member of the pride has a clearly distended mid-section and sleep has overtaken almost all of them. One little cub is valiantly tackling the stripped ribcage of the Wildebeest on his own. We leave them still sleeping off their grand meal.
That night the pride is still camped out in the same clearing and we return to try night photography once again. The images this time are more successful as we are entertained by huge yawns from the adults and the curiosity of cubs as they play with a hapless grasshopper whose efforts at escape are thwarted at every turn.
On the evening of our fourth day, the Lion Pride once again presents itself in the right place at the right time for good photography. Hardly believing our luck we set up for night shots again and countless times we are able to set the shutters alight as we stare into the throat of the king of the beasts.
Day five dawns misty and cold. It is the end of the safari. We head towards the marshes yet again but this time in search of the elusive Black Rhino. As we head East we unbelievably stumble across the Lion Pride yet again. And again, they are lying in a perfect little clearing making photography a cinch. The light however is challenging but the opportunities countless. As the sun’s warm glow touches the earth its gentle light reveals the landscape and the fur of the lions take on a rich golden hue. Many visits to the bush have presented either the lions at the right time and the light does not appear or the light is there sans the lions. Here, we have both. Photography magic is made. We move around from side to side to get different and better angles.
Then, it happens. One of our vehicles gets stuck in the mud only 20 metres away from the Lion Pride. The poor ranger is mortified but I am delighted! Once before on a trip to Zimbabwe our vehicle broke down in the bush. While all the other guests on the vehicle were supremely bored I spent the most amazing hour and a half photographing a troop of Chacma Baboons that had settled down a few metres from the vehicle. Here was my chance. With a vehicle stuck and everyone concerned about how to extricate it from the clutches of the dark, oozing, sticky earth I keep my camera pointed towards the Lions.
However, the unusual activity unsettles the Lions and they moved off. In a rather mercenary move we follow them leaving our unfortunate friends to fend for themselves. The morning ends with an African Safari speciality Amarula coffee and rusks next to a small dam. A feeling of deep satisfaction permeates my soul as I take in the perfectly created day. The African bush has once again proved that it can always provide special moments for those seeking them.