I just recently returned from hosting the first Wild Eye Chobe photo safari of 2014, and boy was it an amazing trip! This ecosystem is so diverse and teeming to the brim with life in abundance, that photography here rival some of the best spots in the world. The ability to get close to anything from waterbirds to elephants using a boat, affords one an intimate view of nature and of course some amazing photographic opportunities. Let’s get started, shall we?
Day 1: March 12th
Sitting at the Mugg & Bean, sipping on a delicious cream cappuccino, I gaze at my flight ticket and smile – it reads “Kasane, Botswana”, and I know that a great trip lies ahead. The Chobe always delivers, and it’s great to be able to see it all year long on our Wild Eye safaris. Every season brings its own dynamics, and so many operators focus only on the late dry season, missing out on the variety that the Chobe holds. As my first guests arrive and join me before our flight, we get to know each other a bit better and start to turn the discussion to the next 4 days’ photography…lenses we brought, images we’d like to bag, improvements they’d like to see in their technique.
The flight is swift and pleasant, and after touching down in Kasane, we are shuttled to the customs office on the Chobe river, whereupon we depart Botswana as it were, and are taken across the river to Impalila island which lies in Namibia. A quick passport stamp and we are whisked to the Ichingo Chobe Lodge on the banks of the river on Impalila island. The constant sound of the Chobe river moving over the myriad of rapids in front of the lodge is a wonderfully soothing melody that quickly drones out all the din and noise from the city and the rat-race we left behind. At Ichingo you hear this on the main dining deck and in your comfy room as it lulls you to sleep…
After quickly checking into our rooms and having a snack for afternoon tea, we are ready to go out on the Wild Eye photographic boat for the first time, only to have the heavens open up with a deluge upon our boarding of said vessel. We wait for the storm to pass, have another slice of delicious carrot cake, and eventually make it out on the water, heading for the famous elephant bay.
As usual, I like to use the first game drive for all of the guests to “get their eye in”, to see what the ecosystem is about and to just enjoy being out there for the first time…getting some useful images is a bonus (which usually occurs!). Our afternoon gets filled up pretty quickly between herds of elephants playing in the water, whitefronted bee-eaters feeding their young, and a magical sighting of a bushbuck ewe and her fawn joyously frolicking about alongside the river.
For the next 4 days we would be amazed by how close we can get to the birds and animals of the Chobe with the low-key boat.
We return to the lodge for a lovely dinner on the deck, serenaded by the flow of the Chobe and intrigued by an in-depth discussion on conservation, the place of hunting and photographic tourism in Africa, and the wonders of this place.
Day 2: March 13th
We wake up bright and early to make sure we get onto the boat and make headway towards the Chobe National Park from the lodge. This would be the only morning where we have this challenge (the same challenge all other Chobe safari operators face). From this afternoon we would be based on the Ichobezi houseboat, moored deep into the game-viewing area on the Namibian side, and being in close proximity to the key areas for photography – this is one of the big benefits of the Wild Eye Chobe Safari…location, location, location, as they say.
Our first sighting is a mating pair of African Fish Eagles not 100m from the Ichingo lodge. After, amid the breaking of a lovely rosy sunrise on the river, we get really close to an Open-Billed Stork.
We spend the morning photographing the White-fronted Bee-eaters feeding their young in the nests on the embankment, and while doing that, a couple of lovely Impala rams venture closer for their morning drink…
Other notable sightings of the morning include some gorgeous Pygmy Geese, a herd of Cape Buffalo on the Caprivi side and the regular entertainers – the Fish Eagles. It’s a morning for the birds, as it were. We head back to enjoy a late brunch at the lodge before boarding our houseboat and heading back up the river…
There are few ways to cruise up the Chobe river on a lazy afternoon, none that beat this! This is the view from the lounge area on the upper deck of the Ichobezi houseboat.
As we cruise upriver towards “Elephant Bay” (which would be our mooring spot for the night), we notice large herds of elephants who had come out to the islands in the middle of the river to feed on the river grasses and reeds, and frolick in the water. I don’t have to extend a detailed invitation before all of us pile into the photographic boat again and cruise right up to the herds for some close-up photography (think wide angles and polarising filters). The building clouds in the sky provided a variety of lighting conditions, from harsh sunlight to nicely filtered soft light to dappled light, which we had to cope with by making slight exposure adjustments in the cameras.
Amid the herds there were some hippo grazing as well, and seeing them out in the open between the elephants was quite a cool sight.
It was fascinating to watch the elephants thrash the reeds and grass they pulled out of the water to clean it from loose dirt/mud and debris before consuming it.
A big bull then walks right up to where we are drifting, and proceeds to wade into the water and swim right next to us…
After going a few meters, he turns straight towards the boat! We back up a little (our guide Patrick was excellent with gauging animal behaviour and mood, and also at spotting things from way far off), and he swims right past the nose of the boat, back to the island he came from!
Eventually we move on from the elephants, and find a trio of Pied Kingfishers who delight us with their antics on a large fallen log in the shallows…
By the time we reach Elephant Bay, the light is getting nice and low and golden, and we are in for a real treat as a breeding herd of elephants rush to the water…with a teeny tiny calf among them. This guy was so young, his body was still covered in hair, he wasn’t able to use his trunk to drink the water (his trunk was flailing limply most of the time), and he needed to submerge himself to use his mouth to drink.
The problem with photographing baby elephants is usually that the adults huddle protectively around them most of the time, and that was the case here as well.
After spending more than enough time with this herd, we cruise leisurely up the river towards the Puku flats and watch another herd of elephants stroll into the sunset. We are the only boat this far up the river, which is how we like things to be, and our guests can soak up the magic of sunset on the Chobe all for themselves.
Being on the Chobe river at the last minutes of the day really makes for special tranquil moments – and that’s one of the things that makes the Wild Eye Chobe offering special: you don’t leave the river and you don’t have to go back to the lodges around Kasane when the day ends…
We arrive at the houseboat, freshen up and have an amazing dinner under the Chobe night sky, far away from everybody else, as lions roar in the distance and the hippos bellow in the river.
Could it get any better than this?
Stay tuned for the 2nd episode of this trip report, where I will share the sightings and events of the next 2 days of this amazing safari.
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