Madikwe Game Reserve in the North West province of South Africa is a special place for most of the Wild Eye team and for me, it is the first place where I spent an extended amount of time in the bush working first for the Ecological services division and then for many of the lodges in the area as a guide.
Returning to a familiar territory is always exciting and was made even more exciting this time by the fact that i was here to share my knowledge of the area with a guest who had never visited Madikwe before. The private guided experience begins long before your feet touch the ground at your final destination and in this instance began with identifying which lodge would work best in terms of location for this time of year, the style and room layout, food and of course flexibility when it came to arranging a private vehicle.
With this in mind I had chosen Etali Safari Lodge, located in the eastern section of the Reserve which provides great access to the central plains and eastern blocks of the reserve. The lodge did not skip a single beat delivering some of the most incredible food to accompany the seemingly endless streams of game that visited the waterhole throughout the day.
Whilst the lodge certainly plays an important role in the experience, it’s really what happens out in the field and on the vehicle that counts the most and luckily for me my guest was ecstatic to be n the bush and had no pre-conceived ideas of what he wanted to see or capture. I always find it strange how those who arrive with high expectations and are keen to rush around from one area/sighting to the next actually don’t end up seeing that much.
This was not the case though and we were rewarded with some amazing sightings and encounters even though we missioned off to some of the more remote and quieter regions of the park.
We racked up all of the big five on our first evening drive, the highlights of which were a brown hyena, rhino drinking at a dam, a pride of 12 lions relaxing on the eastern airstrip and a young male leopard up a Tamboti tree with a young wildebeest calf.
Madikwe has never been known for its leopard sightings but we saw two separate leopards in this exact spot and also had a different male visit the waterhole in-front of Etali. They certainly seem to be becoming more relaxed in the presence of vehicles but still show that wild edginess which many of the leopards in the lowveld seem to have lost. I must say that I love seeing an animal which I know is still wild and needs to be approached with caution!
Our first morning drive was a very relaxed affair which saw a crisp clear sun rising across the central plains of the reserve.
Not being focussed on chasing down sightings meant that we could take breaks and head out on foot to capture images of scenes where we would not have necessarily been able to get the ideal angle from the vehicle. One such instance was with a colony of ground squirrels who were going about their morning activities whilst we enjoyed a cup of coffee and made the most of the low angles.
The reserve is pretty dry at the moment after having only received around 250mm of their annual average of 450mm. This coupled with the fact that it had not rained much at all in the preceding weeks meant that any and all permanent waterholes were a hive of activity. Unless the reserve gest some good rain in the next couple of months I think the dry winter months will be very interesting and will provide excellent game viewing at the various waterholes.
We sat on the dam wall for a good hour as we watched herds of zebra, wildebeest and a number of warthogs file out from the surrounding bush to quench their thirst.
Animals are known to get quite edgy when resources are scarce and a particularly grumpy male warthog took great joy in chasing some of the game from what he obviously deemed to be “his” waterhole. Apart from the general game that was drinking this particular piglet also fell victim to his wrath and made a speedy escape through the shallows.
Most of our afternoon was spent along the fringes of another water-source towards the west of the reserve where we not only had great sightings of rhino, elephant and general game but were treated to a spectacular sunset as the sun dipped behind the Enselbergs which dominate the north-western portion of Madikwe.
Sitting back and just enjoying the scenery and sounds of the bush were most definitely a highlight of the trip for both of us.
Our plans of capturing the night sky in the early morning were brought to an abrupt halt by what was the only cloud we saw on our entire safari. Waking up at 03:00 in the morning we decided to stick to our guns and ventured out for a game drive – another one of the many benefits of having a private vehicle. We had hoped to catch black rhino drinking in the early hours of the morning but were only able to find 3 young male lions and, to our surprise, a different leopard finishing up the remains of the young wildebeest carcass in the same Tamboti tree.
In-between drives when we weren’t eating, resting, indulging in spa treatments or making use of the outdoor gym, we would get stuck into Lightroom and it was here that I was able to take the photographic learning to the next level as I shared post-processing tips and tricks to help my guests get the most out of the images he had captured during his time with me.
It is a mistake to underestimate the power and importance of post-processing.
Thats not to say that you need to spend a vast amount of time working on images but that with a few focussed adjustments and enhancements, one can add that “finesse” to an image which completes and enhances the story that you set out to capture in the first place. Penny had a great blog on just this a couple of weeks ago where she touched on the Trigger which gets you to pick up your camera and trip that shutter. It is vital that you know what this trigger and your story are as this will act as a guide when processing your images.
Madikwe is a great reserve which has provided many memorable experiences for me.
At first glance, the harsh environment may not seem as “pretty” as the beautiful parkland landscapes and riparain vegetation of the lowveld but this, for me, is raw Africa. A harsh environment where, if you are patient and willing to immerse yourself in the wildlife experience, you may just change the way you see the world.
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