Anna and Maureen’s visit, according to my iPhone

Two of my best girlfriends have been visiting us for the past two weeks. We went on safari in Kruger and flew down to Cape Town and explored Johannesburg thoroughly. It was a blissful time and I wish your best friends could always be across the hall, a few steps away like they were in college.  It was sad to take them to the airport yesterday but if we all lived in the same place we probably wouldn’t have spent the last two weeks spotting lions together in Kruger, wine tasting in the Western Cape and eating meat and pap with our hands at a shisa nyama in Soweto. I feel so thankful that so many of our friends have come and visited us here in South Africa (and when we were in Berlin) and all the priceless memories we have running around the world with them.

Thanks for coming, Anna and Mo! xx

So, I have an obsession with apex predators.

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Any time you feel down, just look at pictures of apex predators. These guys were about 3 feet away from our car, and slowly passed us one by one, giving new meaning to the word ‘catwalk.’ For the first lion, the windows were rolled up. After we saw that what they were interested in wasn’t us we rolled down the window a bit in the name of good photography.

Why did 5 male lions cross the road?

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Another set of lovely friends visiting (Nick and Rachel), another safari in Kruger (my life is very hard, I know). This time in the category of Things I’ve Never Seen Before: a whole group of young male lions (I don’t think it’s proper to call them a pride when they’re just a wandering group of brothers who aren’t fully grown) and a group of hyenas ripping apart a left over animal corpse (look carefully, you can see them). As the lions paced around our vehicle, staring at the humans inside I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures when they were directly next to me. The female scared me far more than the males, I felt as though she knew exactly how easy it would be to jump inside and tear me to shreds (ok so maybe I was a bit nervous since I’ve never been directly available to so many wide awake apex predators). I was too nervous and excited to operate the camera properly and had to put it on automatic mode.

We stayed in a lovely cottage overlooking a river in and in the morning we watched a hippo splash around for her morning bath from our porch.  I’m not sure how many times I’ve been on safari now, but every single time I feel like I’m a five year old discovering how planes fly or where rain comes from. Normally I pay almost exclusive attention to the big game, but thanks to Nick’s enthusiasm (during his high school years he taught ornithology at a local nature center)  I became interested in the birds. Above you can see the technicolor European Bee Eater perched cheerfully on a tree. Following his lead I purchased an animal guide to Kruger and surrounding areas and we worked hard at checking off every animal, bird and reptile that we could, and before I leave this continent I am determined to check off every single one.

Pilanesburg Elephants in Black and White

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Our good friends Jon and Katie came to visit us for a week and it was amazing as always. Every year for the past three years we’ve vacationed together at some place around the world and next year we are planning somewhere in Latin America where P and I have never been. These trips are always such a treat and it’s so fun to see how our lives have progressed in a year, discuss every subject under the sun, and make fun of each other a lot. We plan to continue this tradition until somebody gets knocked up, at which point I hope to resume when the kids are old enough- this way mommy can drinks lots of cab sauv in one room while the kids who at this point will probably be bratty and loud are in another. I digress… since we had visitors it was back to safari and back to Cape Town.

For the bush we went to Pilanesburg National Park which is a two hour drive away from Jozi and contains all of the big 5. Since I feel like I’ve been on safari a lot lately and have been posting lots of animal photos I’m just going to feature some elephants today. One thing I love about elephants is that because of their deep wrinkles and grey skin they look gorgeous with different black and white and split toning in Lightroom.

******

A couple tips on Pilanesburg: we got our guide using Game Trackers. I wouldn’t do it again. You feel as though you are in Disney World and not the bush, plus I felt our guide was very unknowledgeable and cheesy.  Rather go with someone like Chris Green. I’ve never personally had the pleasure but I met him through my friend Heather who has gone and loved it and I hope to soon. Plus, he is charming and knows everything and if you’re lucky he might tell you about the time a Cape Buffalo nearly gored him to death with its horns.

Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

We went on safari in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve, the oldest game reserve in South Africa. We started at dawn and drove around the Imfolozi section of the park, which is located on King Shaka kaSenzangakhona’s (the most famous of the Zulu kings) hunting grounds. We didn’t see any of the big cats but we had another magical moment, this time with elephants.

We spotted a herd of elephants moving through the bush. Our guide drove us around because he saw them heading to cross the road. We waited and then almost out of no where, first one and then about 50 elephants appeared. In front and in back of our vehicle giant mother elephants and babies surrounded us. Some of the mothers trumpeted their horns, warning us not to get any closer. Through we were in a rather large vehicle (a bakkie kitted out with safari seats) I’ve never felt smaller. We were literally surrounded with fifty+ 3 ton+ elephants on on all sides. If they feel you are threatening their babies they will attack- we have friends whose car fills with water when it rains because an elephant tried to crush it.

Before we knew it they had crossed the road and disappeared into the bush, leaving us in wonder how a group of animals who individually weigh several tons could appear invisible after walking a few feet into the green.

We were enamored with the larger game, but our guide informed us the wild dogs we saw are a rare sight as he goes years without seeing them, because they are on the brink of extinction. As you can see if you look closely, one of them is collared so that they be studied by conservationists. Although the warthogs were plenty and thus a relatively boring sight, that was probably my best picture because I was able to get so close.

I wonder if Safari Guide is the career path I should have chosen.

iSimangaliso Wetland Reserve

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

After a long day at the beach in St. Lucia we decided to take the Clio on a drive in iSimangaliso Wetland Reserve. It is a World Heritage Sight and where they brought back one species of the rhino from extinction, though they still rest perilously on the brink. The demand for rhino horns in several Asian countries makes it difficult to protect them from poachers. As an aside, did you know that the Western Black Rhino was declared extinct in 2010? Sigh.

We drove through, catching sight of several of the regular things- zebras, wildebeests, and even some Cape Buffalo. We drove onto a little side road and while going past a giant bush we discovered a mother rhino and her baby. It was a magical moment. Had we seen the rhinos from afar we would never have driven so close but because they were obscured by the bush we all sat in silent wonder, about 10 feet away from these giant creatures staring and taking them in. After we got a hold of ourselves we moved to sit in the open windows of the car, snapping photos and pinching ourselves, then drove on. We turned the car around in a little slip and when we drove back we passed them again, the baby got a fright and made a run for its mother and we knew it was time to step on the gas.

Over our days in the bush there were several times when we felt the awesome power of a mother animal with her baby. You feel keenly aware of your size, the size of your vehicle and the size of the animal who is 2 or 3x’s your car, even when when you are in a safari jeep. Mothers, whether they were elephants, hippos or rhinos made a show of strength and warning  by baring their teeth, trumpeting their trunks or simply by keeping her giant eye on you the entire time. If we didn’t move to South Africa I probably would have gone on safari once or twice in my 40’s or 50’s and for that I am thankful.

Boat Safari in St. Lucia Estuary Reserve

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

After CPT we got back home around 11pm and at 5 the next morning we set off for St. Lucia. I very much recommend it as a perfect place to bring guests since you can do everything: safari, beach, scuba dive, surf, fish on the ocean, whale watch, and eat lots of seafood. After our 8 hour drive we set off for our first of many game drives. In this case it was a boat safari and we saw sooo many hippos and crocs, along with exotic birds.

I am proud of a few of the pics, but wildlife photography requires two things (after knowing how to work your camera): patience and luck (and maybe the ability to compose a shot really quickly as an animal zooms by). Next time I know I am going to rent some crazy large aperture 500mm lens, because my 50-250 is too weak on both ends and since I’ll only be going on safari a semi-regular basis for a few years it’s not worth it for me to make a purchase.

It was such a thrill, as always, to be so close to animals who are wild.  Although hippos are herbivores you should take them seriously: hippos kill more humans than any other animal per year.

Stay tuned this week for some more animal photography from the game reserves all around St. Lucia.

PS. The last pic of the hippo with the open mouth is quite blurry but I just loved the composition too much to not include it.

PPS. These few pictures are culled down from over 600 pics on just a 3 hour tour.

From the top:

1. Croc waits in the trees, still as a stone statue

2. Heron hunts for fish in the estuary

3. Hippo eyes our boat

4. Kingfisher takes a rest from fishing on the roots of the mangrove trees

5. Crocodile swims quietly in the estuary (my favorite picture, click to enlarge for the full effect)

6. Weaver Finch stands on his pride and joy: a newly made nest

7. Hippo stays cool and prevents sunburn under the water

8. Heron perches on the grass

9. A crash of hippos ignore our giant boat

10. White-throated kingfisher takes a rest

11. Adolescent female hippos gets in a kerfluffle with her younger sister and runs toward her mom, crushing a crocodile that had been waiting quietly nearby

12. A shaky shot of a hippo baring it’s 2+ feet long teeth, but I loved the composition so I included it anyway