Trip Report: Madikwe Photo Safari 3-9 February

Johan van Zyl Johan 5 Comments

Last week saw Grant Marcus and myself host our Madikwe Photo Safari from Nkurru Lodge in Madikwe Game Reserve, a place which I have very fond memories of, having guided in the park for about 5 years.  It was also great having the expertise of Grant who has been there for over 10 years.

Madikwe is an easy and scenic 4 hour drive from Johannesburg which was taken on after collecting all our guests that were scattered across Johannesburg and Pretoria.

Madikwe has numerous aspects that make it a very attractive safari.  Firstly it’s Malaria free, so it is a great destination for all, but especially families.  The park’s size means not only is it home to the Big 5, Cheetah and Wild Dogs, but the scenery and vegetation types vary throughout the reserve, making for some very interesting viewing.  There are numerous vistas for those whom enjoy Landscapes as well as seasonal waterholes which fill up during the rainy season, becoming a highway for wildlife.

Upon arrival at Wonderboom gate, one of the first things that struck all of us was how beautifully green the area was looking!  The same area that was semi desert a few months ago was now covered in a carpet of green grass topped with yellow and purple flowers.  From a photographic point of view, the tall grass and dense vegetation proved challenging but breathtaking at the same time, as the contrast of greens of the bush and the reds of the soil was everything a photographer could ask for.

We were met by the familiar and friendly faces of Grant and Monique, who have the ability to make everyone and anyone feel at home from the minute one arrives there.  Nkurru is a beautiful ‘little’ lodge with only 5 rooms, making it very personal and giving it a “make yourself at home” feel.

I could feel everyone’s excitement and we briefly discussed what each individuals photographic goals, strengths or struggles were, before heading out on our first afternoon game drive.  We decided to drive down to the southern side of the park in search of Lions, which turned out to be a bit harder than we anticipated.  The long grass and thick bush was perfect cover for these big cats and we agreed to move on and possibly return later in the evening when they would hopefully be active.  What unfolded could not be planned…

We slowly started making our way back to the lodge, when not too far from where we were looking for the Lions earlier, we found a Lioness with a Cub no older than a day or two in her mouth.  The excitement and panic was tremendous, what a privilege it was to view these little cubs for the very first time.  Anyone that has experienced finding a sighting before the other game viewers will be able to relate to the emotions that I’m describing.

One of my favourite things about hosting a photographic safari is that excitement  you get when driving back to the lodge, knowing what you have just witnessed was unbelievably special.  No one wasted any time to get the memory cards out the cameras and download immediately, excited about what they captured.  The images that came out of that sighting were phenomenal, and definitely the smallest Lion Cubs I have ever seen.

The mornings, as with most safaris, started off nice and early and after a quick cup of coffee at 05:30 it was time to head out to see what we could find.  The African Wild Dogs had been around the area to the North West of Nkurru, but with all the rain that had fallen, tracking become quite challenging.  The Elephant viewing this morning and throughout the week was phenomenal with a lot of youngsters  around and all covered in the iron rich red soil.

Traditionally a coffee break mid way through the drive is a must, or at least for the caffeine addicts amongst us and Grant’s “Mocharula’s” were a real hit (I think most of us are going to try and make this at home)!  We decided that the Wild Dogs had the better of us on this morning and headed back to camp for a hearty breakfast.

The food at Nkurru is as delicious as any 5 star lodge in Africa, thank you to Gabriel and Monique for the attention to detail and for catering to everyone’s dietary requirements.

After breakfast it was time to get stuck into the organising and processing of images, something which has become key with modern photography.  With a small group (only 5 guests) it was possible to give individual attention to every guest, making sure the basics of post processing is understood.

As the week unfolded, it was great to see how everyone was getting more and more comfortable with their camera’s and settings.  With all the photographic opportunities we had, especially with general game, we decided to play around with a more creative approach.  Radial blur is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but the results that were achieved combined with the fun and laughs that were had, made it extremely enjoyable.

The rain kept making an appearance and although this meant that some of the roads were not drivable, we were still able to get some great Lion sightings.  One that stands out in particular was a pride of over 10 Lions on a Zebra kill.  The pride consisted of all adults Females, Sub adults, Cubs and a big Male Lion, everything one could ask for.  As we sat in the sighting, snapping away, the radio call came in…

They had found two male Cheetahs to the North west of the reserve, a long way from where we were.  Deciding it was time for our “dose” of Mocharula, Grant parked the vehicle in an open clearing, making sure we have a good view of any potential animals approaching, and suggested we head back to camp, have breakfast, and then head out again to try and find the Cheetahs before they disappear.

This is without a doubt one of the standouts about staying at Nkurru.  Times are flexible, there is nowhere you “have” to be at any time, and the main focus is to get out there and take images, which is why we came right?  Our “hard work” paid off and we found the Cheetahs with their bellies full, lying under an Acacia, constantly keeping an eye out for any potential predators creeping up on them.

Madikwe continued to produce great sightings of general game as well as Elephants, Rhino’s and Lions…   But we were missing one particular species…  The African Wild Dogs…

We searched everywhere, on tracks, off tracks, North, East, West, South…  Nothing.  Other vehicles came into the area to help, there was no sign.  As the week drew to an end, I was getting worried!  We all know that there are no guarantees when out on Safari, but surely, surely our hours of tracking and looking for them would pay off?

It was our last afternoon game drive and Grant again suggested that we head out half an hour earlier, after getting reports that the Wild Dogs have been seen close to the Northern boundary.  Again no guarantees that they would still be there by the afternoon, but worth a shot and leaving a little earlier would just increase our chances.

Our hard work did pay off and we eventually found the pack of Wild Dogs, getting up every now and then to greet and play with each other.  What a way to end of an incredible week.  Considering the weather that was around, the game viewing was nothing short of exceptional, and the experience that Grant gave us, made the trip a very successful and enjoyable one.

The April Safari to Madikwe is already fully booked, but there is still space on the November Safari.  Click here and make sure you book your spot on this trip to allow us to help you change the way you see your photography.

Till next time


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About the Author

Johan van Zyl


The opportunity of visiting some of the wildest, undisturbed areas and sharing my passion for wildlife, conservation and photography with like minded people is a privilege that I am forever grateful.

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