Trip Report – Private Photographic Safari At Nkurru Lodge In Madikwe Game Reserve

Grant Marcus All Authors, Grant Leave a Comment

Nkurru Lodge is a comfortable 4-4,5 hour drive from Johannesburg. The lodge is intimate with only 10 Guests that stay at any time.  My most recent safari I only had 5 guests and so you can just imagine how they could literally make themselves at home and kick back without any worries.

With such a small group it meant ample space in the lodge and on the vehicle. Everybody in the group was from the USA and for some a first safari experience. It is always such a great feeling having people with you on safari for the first time, seeing their reactions the moment they see a big male lion 3 meters from the vehicle. It is just priceless, especially if they can photograph him as well.

After lunch on the first day we sat down and I went through some of the goals and their expectations for this safari. It is important to know where your guests are with their photography journey and what they would like to focus on. Majority of the group wanted to get off the Auto setting on their cameras, which was great. We did a quick crash course on the aperture setting and how everything works together. Now that everybody more or less understands the basics it was safari time.

There were two safaris a day, an early morning and then a late afternoon safari. This time of the year the temperatures at midday averaged around 35-38 degrees Celsius so we decided to stick to the early mornings ( leaving at 5:00am ) and late afternoons ( leaving at 16:00 ).

It was now time to set out on our first safari. We took a slow drive down to the south east of the park as I knew where the lions were and I wanted to get to them as it cooled down, hoping that they will get more active. As we pulled into the sighting the lionesses started yawning and we knew we were going to have a good sighting very soon. One of the lionesses got up and called out softly to a thicket behind her and 4 cubs came stumbling out. Mommy nursed them only a few meters away from us as I rambled out settings and everybody got some amazing shots. We finished up with these lions and as the sun was setting, I gave the guests the option of stopping for sundowners or carrying on to something that might turn out to be quiet interesting. 

You know what they all chose! We got to the next sighting just before sunset so the light was very special. It was two black maned lions sleeping underneath a big tree. We went through the camera settings as we had enough time,  all of a sudden a big elephant appeared and started chasing these lions all over the show. The animals definitely kept everybody on their toes ensuring that they the right settings, everybody stayed calm and nailed it. What a great afternoon we had. We left them after dark and stopped to get a quick drink and the lions decided to surprise us out of the dark with their loud deep roaring, suddenly popped out the bushes and walked right in front of us for about 20 min.

What a way to start an African safari. We went back to the lodge for a delicious dinner. This time of the year the lodge waterhole is extremely active. While enjoying ones dinner you will always have some sort of action in front of you. It is like having dinner in a theater with a really big screen.

After dinner everybody went to bed after the very exciting afternoon we all had and also due to the long day of travels.

Every morning at 4:45am, freshly made coffee with home made rusks were waiting for the guests. Everybody felt better after their first cup of coffee. It is such a good feeling driving out of the lodge with the cool breeze blowing, only but wondering what this morning will hold for us. I made sure every morning as we drove out that everybody had changed his or her settings from the previous evening.

The plan was to go to Inkwe pan to see if there was any cat action from the previous night and Boy did we get lucky! On the edge of the pan were two lionesses that killed a wildebeest and as it was still early we had a lot of action happening. We witnessed some fighting as one female tried her luck and got to close to the carcass. Everybody had the right settings and their fingers on the triggers. Some amazing moments were captured! The Wild-Eye team always strive to put our guests in the right spot and making sure they get the best images.

 

After all that excitement we had a pretty quiet morning. We stopped for coffee and slowly made our way home. We were bumbling along & 5 minutes away from the lodge someone spotted Tsala, the female leopard in the south. We made the call not go immediately, but to go and have breakfast first and then go out after breakfast to look for her. This is one reason why Nkurru is so special, the fact that we can be so flexible for situations like this. After a quick breakfast we made our way down to the area she was spotted, scanning every single big Marula and Leadwood tree and not finding anything. As we drove on a bit my eye caught something moving in a Leadwood tree and it was Tsala. We couldn’t believe that we actually found her again. We positioned ourselves in all the best angles as we were the only vehicle there and thanks to this everybody got some cracking images of her. Who said you cannot take photos in the middle of the day?

After that amazing experience we went back to camp for a light lunch and some Lightroom work. Every morning after breakfast we spent in front of the computers working our images in Lightroom. The plan was to work in the evenings as well, but good food and better company got in the way but we made up for it during the day. One morning we worked so hard that one of the computers literally over heated. We worked on some different techniques when & if it was possible and almost everyone walked away with new catalogs on their external drives.

On our evening drive we went to Thlou dam and found some lions just off the dam wall. Immediately the thought of silhouettes went through my mind. We decided to go and have a quick drink and come back to the dam later. Our plans worked very well because as we drove up some rhino decided to go onto the dam wall. I positioned the vehicle so that the rhino and setting sun would line up and my oh my, what scene it was.  As we finished photograpghing the rhino the lions walked up the dam wall to investigate the noise of the rhino in the water.

We left the dam well after dark feeling so satisfied going back to camp knowing the action will continue at the waterhole. Wow what an end to the day. Again the guests walked away with some incredible images in the bank.

The next morning, 4:30; came pretty quickly but we were all ready to go. Making sure all settings were correct, we started our search for the Wild dogs. We did not find them, or any cats in the morning but we still had some great action of zebra fighting which was also photographically very satisfying.

It just shows that you are not having a bad day if you don’t see cats, there are so many other things to photograph as well.

After an enjoyable morning we set off back to camp for breakfast and some more Lightroom work. We pursued our goal in the afternoon and eventually found the Dogs late afternoon not far from one of our neighboring lodges. They were still sleeping due to the hot weather but I told my guests that it will be worth it to sit and wait until they get active, and oh boy was it worth the wait. While they were sleeping we could test our settings making sure the exposures were good as wild dogs are very difficult to photograph with their dark faces. When the action happened everybody was ready to shoot and the dogs gave us a such a great show with their acrobatics.

We decided to go back to camp earlier as the guests wanted to photograph some action at the waterhole before it got dark and also enjoy  an early dinner. That’s the  beauty of a safari at Nkurru, there are no set times.

We were lucky enough to have a leopard drinking at the lodge that night. Some of the guests managed to capture the scene and banked quite a few images of him.

The highlight of the next day was definitely the afternoon safari. We spent quite a long time with two male lions and what made it extra special was the fact that they vocalized right next to us. That is one sound that you can never describe to anybody, you have to be there to realize how special it is. We left the lions for the time being and I got everybody setup in manual mode so that we can play around with some back lighting. We practiced on a dead stump with the spotlight not far from us so that everybody could get used to the new settings. We returned to the sighting and with the help from another vehicle the guests could get some stunning images of the cats in back light.

The last two days the cats spoiled us, properly with great sightings at open dams and interacting with other animals like giraffe.

The mornings we spent back at the lodge were very productive and I think most people could not wait to download their images and seriously get stuck into Lightroom. One thing that I love about these safaris is seeing the confidence grow in our guests with regards to taking photos from day 1 to day 6.

Thank you to Kevin, Dawn, Beth, Edee and Gayle for joining on this Safari it was great sharing all the special moments with you guys.

About the Author

Grant Marcus

From a young age Grant’s passion for wildlife and conservation burned bright and was constantly fed by different experiences and people in his life. After completing a National Diploma in Nature Conservation in 2001 he started his bush career in conservation. After 6 years he changed his path to include the tourism side of the industry. With his wealth of bush knowledge and now also photographic skills he is really looking forward to host you on Safari and change the way you see the world.

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