Trip Report: Private Guided Kruger National Park Safari

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Gerry wrote an interesting blog on his experience in the public section of the Kruger National Park a while back, titled “Do you still believe in Kruger?“.

Although there is a HUGE amount of bad media surrounding South Africa’s ‘flagship’ national park, I am convinced that it is still as captivating as it was a few decades back.

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A typical Kruger scene

Unfortunately, social media groups such as “Kruger Idiots”, have given the general public a platform to post images of, and vent about, a handful of individuals who refuse to abide by the rules. In some cases, people will focus more on going in search of wrong doers and catching them in the act as opposed to indulging in the unbelievable wildlife and nature experiences this vast piece of land could offer.

With 1.4 million visitors passing through the gates each year, there are bound to be a few bad apples, but there is no need to focus purely on the negative side of things.

I do still believe in Kruger. My recent trip with the Heller family has reaffirmed my belief.

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The ‘happy’ smile of a Nile Crocodile

Right, now for the actual report!

Arriving at Numbi Gate around lunch time, my guests (a wonderful American family now residing in SA), having never been to Kruger before, didn’t quite know what to expect. After stocking up on a variety of well crafted wooden sculptures at the local curio shop, we were soon off to Skukuza rest camp where we would be staying for the first of three nights.

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This young male kept us entertained with a few fantastic poses

Tuition always plays a big part in a safari I host, and during our time spent at the park I helped my guests master a few different slow shutter panning techniques, using depth of field to their advantage, as well as mastering exposure compensation on the fly to create more out of the box images of which they would be proud.

The variety of landscapes, including open grassland, dry riverbeds and thick woody forests, presented unique challenges photographically, which kept our fingers very busy, continually changing settings to ensure good clean photographs.

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The naughty face of a young Chacma Baboon- be sure to keep those windows closed!

Dry winter weather conditions ensured that majority of the surrounding wildlife were concentrated around the Sabie river and nearby waterholes, and we enjoyed some great game viewing as a result.

In true Kruger fashion, the photography opportunities came thick and fast, with a surprise around every corner.

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A slower shutter speed allowed for a more dramatic image of this Honey Badger

Skukuza made for a great all-round experience. The accommodation was well maintained and affordable, the restaurant (although under renovation) catered for all pallets and the river lookout area provided some magical sightings of elephant and buffalo each day. We even managed to fit in a two hour night drive which proved to be very fruitful, with an intimate honey badger encounter.

During the heat of the day, we would have a few hours to relax back at camp and enjoy a cooling swim in one of the camp’s pools, or a quick power nap in the air-conditioned chalets.

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One of  Kruger’s ‘old timers’

One thing that always strikes me about this particular area of the park is the huge Fig, Acacia and Leadwood trees that grow along the Sabie and Sand rivers. I encouraged my guests to add a few of these monsters to their portfolios as they can provide such stunning images.

Finding the right exposure was always a challenge due to the dappled light, but trees rarely move and being the perfect posers, gave us ample opportunity to compose a perfectly exposed shot.

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Patience is key when trying to snap a Hippo’s pearly whites

One of the trips major highlights was our time spent at the Lake Panic hide.

The variety of birdlife, as well as the local pod of hippos, would keep us entertained for hours. The Heller family was hell bent on capturing an iconic hippo yawning image, which they eventually managed to get after a lot of patience.

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A small family of Southern Ground Hornbills were very intrigued by their reflections cast on our shiny Jeep

Our next stop was the famous Lower Sabie rest camp, which also happens to be one of my favourites.

Although we only stayed the one night, we were treated to good sightings of all the Big 5 as well as a Cheetah mother and cub, which ensured we ended our five day trip on a high note.

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Margaruitte Heller wrote the following about her family’s experience:

“This was our first trip to Kruger. We traveled as a family of 2 adults and our 12 year old son. We’d done the majority of our traveling to private game reserves and concessions, always thinking that Kruger was overrated, overcrowded, full of rude people disrespecting the animals and each other, causing huge traffic jams and also endangering the animals and each other.

Unfortunately, this is the view you may get about Kruger if you’ve never been there. You may see great images of the wildlife there, but also many images of people being rude and down-right stupid. Who needed that? Well, let me tell you this: We were wrong. Our first trip to Kruger was none of the above. Yes, at times you may stumble across someone breaking the rules or being rude and disrespectful, but this also happens in the private reserves.

While first a bit anxious about staying in a public rest camp, the experience of being able to walk around and enjoy the areas within the camp, views of wildlife and scenery that you pay premium prices for in the private reserves and concessions, we were pleasantly surprised with both the cleanliness and the courteous service offered at both camps.

Private reserves and concessions have their perks but so does going to Kruger. I will also tell you that when you go to Kruger with a Kruger-experienced professional photographer who loves Kruger as much as you are learning to, you will get the best of both worlds. A small group, the flexibility of going wherever you want, staying out as long as you want or staying at a sighting as long as you want, not to mention photographic guidance to get the best images possible, are what made the trip so worthwhile. It was a fabulous experience and we wish we’d tried it sooner.”

Image Gallery: Margaruitte

Image Gallery: Aaron (12yrs old)

Image Gallery: Erich

Image Gallery: Chad

I can’t wait to head back there in November for another affordable 5 day private photo safari with this fantastic family.

At the end of the day, Kruger is what you make of it, pure and simple.

To join me on an unforgettable private photo safari to an amazing African destination, drop me a mail to book your spot for 2015.

Chad Wright

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