Certain experiences in life change us forever. For me, a recent trip to South Africa proved to be just such an adventure. During the month I spent in various southern African nations, I enjoyed four days at Tau Game Lodge in Madikwe Reserve. The South African government set aside this land for conservation in 1991.
While there, I went on two game drives per day. The first departed at 5:30 a.m. and allowed me to photograph wildlife at sunrise. The second left at 3:30 p.m., letting me take pictures as the sun was setting into the night. On those excursions, I encountered the fabled “Big Five” African game: elephants, rhinoceroses, leopards, cape buffalo, and lions.
Just being near those animals in their natural habitat feels truly magical. More than once, I found myself trembling behind my lens, and I’ve been a professional photographer for many years. I was particularly struck by how gently the lions behaved around their cubs. It was a reminder of the universal strength of the maternal and paternal instincts.
I was especially excited to photograph a cheetah in a tree. Unlike many felines, cheetahs usually avoid scaling trees. In some cases, though, they’ll hide up in branches to evade predators. Approximately 12,500 of these animals are alive today, and they make their homes in 25 different nations in Africa. When you’re in the presence of one, it’s hard to take your eyes off of the majestic spotted coat and notice it’s awesome power.
I also took many photos of perhaps the most famous black-and-white animal, the zebra. How could someone not love these animals, their stripes are mesmerizing, and dignity is inspiring. And, in case you were wondering, a zebra has a white coat with dark stripes, not the other way around.
A pair of Southern yellow-billed hornbills posed for me at sunset. These birds nest in treetops and frequently hunt for food on the ground. Their curved beaks and upturned eyes seem especially interesting and made to feast on seeds and tiny creatures
In South Africa, I was delighted by members of another species: human beings. The people I met at the reserve’s Tau Game Lodge were warm, friendly, and excellent conversationalists. The same could be said of my trusty safari driver, Derek.
The service at the lodge was exquisite. The employees were keenly attuned to the smallest details of hospitality. For instance, each night after dinner, someone would turn down my bed and start the heating pad to keep it nice and toasty. The accommodation consists of 30 luxury chalets, all with views of the game approaching the water hole. Each chalet ensures privacy with its own viewing deck, en suite bathroom, open-air shower, air-conditioning and ceiling fans. I loved being able to view animals from my back deck.
I also spent two of the late morning hours after breakfast taking advantage of the lodge’s excellent spa services which are all world class, including the intonga stick massage: Intonga is a deep tissue and stress relieving treatment. Skillful movements are performed with the hands, while different sized wooden sticks are used to stretch tight muscles and ease toxic overload from daily stress.
Here are a few video clips from a few of my unforgettable game drives, the great service I received, and wildlife I encountered in Madikwe:
I highly reccommend visiting Tau and Madikwe and hope to return myself someday!