After the first safari I hosted for Nikongear in 2009, I decided that road trips with a group of people were not the kind of adventures I found conducive to good photographic experiences. Getting everybody to convene at pre-determined times and stay together was like herding cats, an exercise in frustration. Also, we’d no sooner get into the groove of a place before we found ourselves on the move again, keeping up with an itinerary. All the packing and unpacking became quite a strain over the 2 weeks of that first trip and I’ll admit, it didn’t bring out the best of my personality.
I wanted something more rewarding from a safari.
I can’t recall exactly where I read about Sabi Sabi, but I’d heard of this private game reserve that was situated on the border of the Kruger National Park where the rangers and trackers used a variety of methods, including radio comms with other rangers to locate animals for their guests. Only after driving yourself around the KNP for long stretches of the day and seeing nothing can you appreciate the value of having specialists do that successfully for you.
It wasn’t very difficult to make up my mind that a single week spent in a place like Sabi Sabi would be a much better proposition than 2 weeks of driving around national parks hoping to find good sightings, all the while competing for position with many other self-drive safari seekers. And so the Ultimate Big 5 Safari was born.
The concept behind this now very popular safari is simple; we take over an entire camp for a whole week and let the experts do their thing as far as finding the animals goes. Over the 6 years since our first UB5 edition we’ve never been disappointed. We’ve seen cheetah chases twice, lions hunting and feasting, leopards making kills (and also losing kills to hyenas), giraffe males fighting, African wild dogs hunting successfully and numerous other incredible sightings.
Unlike many “photo safari workshops” organised by others, we’re not selling education. People who join our UB5 safari are generally already familiar with basic photographic principles and all we do is put them in the right places at the right times to make amazing photos. That said, what we’ve found over the years is that many who join our groups usually have some techniques that they share with us (and of course us with them), be it a camera hack or even a cool way of post processing. We just go there to have fun and enjoy the company of other people with an interest in wildlife photography. These safaris are for fun-lovers, not disciples of any particular exponent of photography.
As we get ready to enjoy edition #6 of the UB5 safari I thought I would share some memories of previous visits there. Click to enlarge the photos.
This first trip was held towards the end of October in 2010 and it will forever stick in my mind for the two amazing rangers we had looking after us, namely Ranger Rich and Rika. I had more fun with the banter that we had going between the two vehicles than I did photographing the animals. Sadly they have both moved on from Sabi Sabi, but we still keep in touch on Facebook. Here they are pretending to be giraffes on one of our drinks breaks.
The stand-out moment on that safari came on our very first drive. We may have been about 20 minutes in when we came across the cheetah (the first I have ever personally seen in the wild). Little did we know that a few minutes later the sleepy male would be up and stalking some impala before breaking into the chase, albeit unsuccessful. That was absolutely exhilarating to watch. Because it was so dark already I didn’t bother trying to photograph the actual chase - I just watched it and I am really glad I did. Some memories are better without blurry photos. After he had missed his dinner he stood on some burnt ground and I got this shot.
The next time we got to enjoy Sabi Sabi was a couple of years later in 2012. This visit became all about lions, specifically the dynamics around the Southern Pride. I think we saw the pride almost every day we were there. One morning when Pepe and I were driving from our guide rooms at Bush Lodge to Little Bush Camp a whole bunch of them were sprawled out blocking our access road to the camp. Being as we were in a Hyundai H1 there wasn’t much we could do to go around them, so we just waited there until they decided to rouse themselves. I love lions. They are definitely my favourite creatures to observe and photograph in the wild. They don’t seem to care much about anything other than eating and loving.
2013 was a smaller affair with only 6 guests joining us for an earlier than usual week at Sabi Sabi. The reason for this was because we had scheduled a month long safari from Cape Town through Namibia and Botswana for September, so the UB5 trip had to take place during the last of South Africa’s winter. I never thought it could get cold in the bush, but boy was I mistaken.
The early mornings that August were pretty fresh. It’s not so bad while you’re standing still, but as soon as those open Land Rovers begin moving though the cold air it’s only the Bear Grylls sort who admits to not feeling a bit cold. Even one of our guests from Chicago (a city not known for their mild winters) had a few layers on. For a guy like me who lives in a sub-tropical climate this sort of thing is ridiculous, so I surrounded myself with as many hot water bottles as possible whenever we headed out.
The highlight of this safari was coming across a white rhino one morning who had given birth to a calf just hours before we arrived. It was probably one of the most special sightings because there was also a hyena lurking, waiting perhaps for an opportunity to snag the little one. A short while afterwards a leopard we’d been following earlier also showed up, so we had a kind of stand-off happening as both the cat and the hyena sized up their opportunities.
In 2014 there were a few changes in my approach to photography, not least of which was the move away from Nikon to Olympus and their mirrorless technology. I found that I was getting much faster and more accurate auto focus with the Olympus E-M1 than I had ever gotten with the Nikon D700. As a result I got more in focus shots than ever before. Also, I began shooting video on this safari and found that certain moments that I may have missed with stills I now have memorable video of, including that of the leopard and her cub losing their kill from its high position in a tree to a waiting hyena below. Watch this video - it's classic!
There were also moments I recorded where a young leopard had killed a scrub hare and began playing with its dead lunch. It was almost as if he was trying to impress us with a re-enactment of his hunting skills!
Last year saw another smaller group on the UB5 safari which we linked in with our Wild Waterways Safari in Botswana. However, in spite of the smaller numbers, the sightings we had were simply amazing. There were lion and leopard sightings, including leopards mating, which is something most people can only dream about seeing. Not only that but we came across a colony of dwarf mongooses living in an old termite mound. Usually these diminutive animals will scarper as soon as they see humans, but it was almost as if we had on an invisibility shield because they sat and posed around their home for us for what seemed like ages, giving us some very rare photo opportunities.
In just a few weeks we’re off to do UB5 #6 and I can’t wait! Be sure to follow our adventures here and on the Photographers.travel social media pages.
Bookings are open for UB5 #7 so if you think this is the kind of safari you'd like to experience please go check out the page. Spaces are getting taken quickly, so don't delay if you're serious about going as we will only offer one group safari to Sabi Sabi in 2017.
Edited by DDFZ