The Magic of Motswari

Gerry van der Walt All Authors Leave a Comment

What a weekend we just had.


There is a very good reason that the Timbavati Nature Reserve is one of the most sought after safari and wildlife destinations in Southern Africa.  The nature experience is truly phenomenal!  


The Wild Eye Team spent the weekend in the Timbavati and more specifically in the Motswari Private Game Reserve.  After a hectic and very rewarding year it was a great way for us to get away, spend some down time together and, something that happens all the time, bounce some exciting ideas around which you will hear, and see, a lot more of in 2012.


It was my first time at Motswari and even though we only spent 2 nights at the lodge it was all we needed to get an idea of the magic of the place.  Early in 2012 Andrew will be featuring Motswari in the newly revamped Talking Travel videos, including some interviews with Motswari staff members, so make sure you stay tuned for that but before we get there I have to just say that, having been in the lodge industry for a long time, there are a lot of lodges that can learn a thing or two from Motswari.


There are no pretences and they focus on what they do well.  The food is out of this world, the staff, a large number of them who have been there for for more than 10 years which is the lodge industry is something to be proud of, are amazing and the entire experience is exactly what you would expect.  They do not try and baffle you with bullshit like a lot of other lodges but stick to the basics of what makes a fantastic African experience, a solid African lodge experience.  Stay tuned in 2012 for a close up look of this amazing lodge and our two photographic expeditions to the Timbavati.


And then there is the reason you visit a lodge – the wildlife experience.



Nikon D700, Nikon 14-24mm, 1/800, f/4.5, ISO 400


Only staying for two nights meant that we would only have four game drives.  Photographically speaking the weather was not ideal and it was overcast for the entire duration of our stay.  We literally had all kinds of overcast conditions you could imagine – dark overcast, bright overcast, rainy overcast, windy overcast – but this did not affect the experience even one bit. Ok, I would have liked to see a leopard up a tree with perfect side light but hey, you cannot plan these things.  The reality is that bright overcast conditions make for awesome wildlife photography as there are no shadows to contend with and the colors in the scenes become a lot more saturated. 


Anyway, on our first two game drives we not only saw four of the Big 5, with rhino being the only one missing, but Wild Dog as well.  Amazing stuff and even though I would have liked some direct sunlight the bright overcast conditions made for some pretty acceptable wildlife photography.  


Here are just a few of my images from the last two days.



Nikon D700, Nikon 70-200mm VR II @ 95mm, 1/640, f/4.5, ISO 400


Nikon D3s, Nikon 200-400mm VR II @ 310mm, 1/640, f/4, ISO 800



Nikon D3s, Nikon 200-400mm VR II @ 330mm, 1/50, f/5, ISO 500



Nikon D700, Nikon 70-200mm VR II @ 200mm, 1/1000, f/3.5, ISO 1000



Nikon D700, Nikon 70-200mm VR II @ 200mm, 1/3200, f/3.5, ISO 1000


Yeah, that’s only two drives worth of sightings.  Amazing stuff.


With the Timbavati being world famous for it’s white lions and leopard sightings our guides, Shadrack and Herold, along with their trackers, Tiyani and Difference, where great in getting us to sightings.  They understand why their guests are there and go out of their way to get you to where you need to be.  Wedid not get to see the white lions, althogh the image above shows the aunt of the two white females that are currently in the area, but leopard we found – a couple of times. 


We completed our Big 5 quota with a white rhino during our last morning drive but there is more to the Timbavati than just the iconic Big 5.


The diversity of the landscapes which makes for amazing photographic potential keeps you visually engaged at all times and adds so much to the complete wildlife and photographic experience.



Nikon D700, Nikon 70-200mm VR II @ 200mm, 1/640, f/4, ISO 400


One other thing that I quite enjoyed about the experience was that, compared to a reserve like Madikwe, you do not see a lot of other vehicles.  It is such a cool thing to head out to photograph nature and not have to drive past or behind other vehicles all the time.  The management of the vehicles in and around sightings is not as well managed as in Madikwe but it was never a real issue for us as we never really had many other vehicles around us anyway.


There was one situation on Sunday morning where a guide, and I use the world lightly, from one of other commercial lodges in the area made me feel embarrassed to have ever been associated with the guiding industry.  


We responded to a lion sighting and was told the young male is mobile so we have to get their quickly.  As we arrived the guide, let’s call him Goldilocks, was off road following the lion.  It took us a while to get to them and we got there we could see why the lion was mobile.  The poor thing was so damn scared of the vehicles that he was literally breaking into a run trying to get away from the vehicle crashing through trees and shrubs to try and keep up with him.


I am very glad to say that our guide, Shadrack, immediately said that he thinks we should rather let the animal go and leave the sighting to which we agreed immediately!  As we started turning around to leave Goldilocks came crashing past us again making the young male lion change direction and break into another trot to try and get away!  What a tonsil!


It is such a sad thing that someone who is supposed to appreciate and help preserve the natural balance of things and share the beauty of a place like the Timbavati with paying guests acts like this.  And for what?  A bigger tip?  


Come on man.  How much fun can it be for your guests, foreign or local, to only see the backside of a lion as he runs away from you?  And this while one of the guests on the back of the vehicle sits shaking her head?  Don’t even mention the photographic possibilities which are, well, non-existent!


One of the things I feel very strongly about is that wildlife photography should reflect animals acting natural.  You should not affect their behavior in any way – full stop!  If the animals moves away from you it is telling you something.  Why the hell would you keep on pushing?


Our Motswari guides where great.  Apart from deciding not to push the lion, like Goldilocks did, they were always aware of the animals comfort zones and, when necessary, moved away to keep the animals relaxed and their guests safe.  Well done guys!  To me this just again confirms that we have chosen the right lodge to use for out photographic expeditions to the Timbavati in 2012.


Anyway, apart from the gung-ho Goldilocks show, our lodge and wildlife experience was absolutely fantastic. If you get the chance to visit Motswari do it – you won’t be sorry!



Nikon D700, Nikon 14-24mm, 1/0.5, f/4, ISO 1600


One of the nice things about the trip was that, being out of the office, we threw around a lot of business and photographic ideas which, as an added extra, led to new topics for blog posts that I will be doing during the next few weeks to wrap up the year and then to get the new year going.  


Funny how inspiration hits at the strangest times and all those ideas are now stored safely in my iPad.  Gotta love technology.


As we start wrapping up for the year I will need to find some time to work through the rest of my Motswari images during the next few days.  I am hoping to get this done before Thursday as on Friday morning Andrew and I will be flying to Chobe for two nights and will more than likely be returning with even more images to work through.  Yeah, all in all I am loving life right now. Wink


Until next time.


Gerry van der Walt


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