Kgalagadi Dreaming

Last week, Rob and I took off on what seemed to be a long overdue trip to the bush (well, for me at least).  A combination of year-end fatigue and wanting to take Rob’s new Toyota Fortuner into the bush for the first time prompted a hurried leave request and the swapping of corporate attire for slip slops, shorts and a t-shirt.  A week in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park was beckoning…

My first visit to the park was earlier this year just after the rainy season, and the landscape was green with fresh vegetation.  Now, at the end of the dry season, it is abundantly apparent that we are in a desert. Red Kalahari sand dunes stretch as far as the eye can see. The main roads take you through the dry river beds, parched and dusty with the odd camel thorn tree providing the only respite from the intense midday sun.

Despite the unforgiving environment, this is the best time of year to visit the park.  All of the animals leave the dunes and descend into the riverbeds in search of food and water.  The predators have a field-day as there are easy pickings from the hot and tired herds of antelope.  Those who head out at sunrise are almost guaranteed an action packed game drive and by the time the temperature breaches 40 degrees (around 10:00!), wound-up windows and air conditioning make the drive back to camp bearable.

With everything packed easily into our new drawer system in the back of the vehicle, we had all of the front and middle seats free to maneuver around in order to get the best angles for our shots.  Rob was armed with his Canon EOS 7D and Canon EM 100-400mm lens ( a killer combination for wildlife photography) and I had my trusty Canon EOS 450D, swapping between my Sigma 70-200mm and an old Sigma 170-500mm (No image stabliser.  TIP: Always turn the vehicle off when taking pics with one of these. Just the vibrations of the idling engine will detract from the clarity of your photos).

Within an hour of entering the park we came across a lion kill, lying in the middle of the road. The lions were resting in the shade, planning to feast when the temperature dropped later that afternoon.  Knowing this, we found our own camel thorn tree at a near-by picnic spot and rested in the shade for 3 hours before returning to the kill.  It wasn’t long after our return that the lions started picking at the carcass, one at a time.  We settled into a comfortable shooting position and were spoilt by the show going on in from of our lenses.


The rest of the trip followed in the same vein with over 15 lion sightings, 12 cheetah, a couple of African Wild Cat, amongst many others.

One treat in particular was the breeding Swallow-Tailed Bee-Eaters.  At this time of year, these birds nest in burrows in the sand, often in the verge of the road.  Sitting patiently at the opening of these nests provided some of the best photo ops I have experienced.  Hunting parents would enter the hole with their catches to feed the babies, exiting seconds later to find more food.  We set our cameras onto continuous shooting and watched with our trigger fingers itching.  Trying to estimate the best focal point before the bird emerged was the trickiest part. However, the sense of achievement when we got it right outweighed the numerous green blurs streaked across the pictures we got wrong.

We have added a number of photographs through the different category pages.  Take a look! Our top tips after this trip:

  • Start your day early.  A lot of action happens in the morning and the lighting is incredible.  Late afternoon is also good.
  • Keep your camera on continuous shooting.  You never know when action will happen.  As much as my 450D has served me well, I now realize the importance of a fast camera and lens.  It provided great “training wheels”, but when I upgrade, speed will definitely be an important factor for my choice of new camera.
  • Make sure you have a beanbag in order to stabilize your telephoto lens.
  • Make sure the vehicle is off when you shoot.

Happy shooting!