SABI SAND November 2022 Trip Report
Photographic Safari : The Big Cats
Participants : 2 ( Private Safari )
Duration : 7 Days
Areas Covered : Sabi Sand Game Reserve, South Africa
Lodge : Elephant Plains Game Lodge
Lions : 21
Leopards : 6
Wild Dogs : 8
Guide : Gabe Harmer
The Sabi Sand Game Reserve is situated in the southwestern corner of the world-renowned Kruger National Park in South Africa and consists of 65 000 hectares of pristine wilderness. It is one of the most prestigious game reserves in South Africa and specially famous for incredible leopard and lion sightings. Officially named Sabi Sand Wildtuin, the Sabi Sand Game Reserve consists of a group of private game reserves. The park's name comes from the Sabie River on its southern boundary and the Sand River flowing through it. Sabi Sand shares a non-fenced boundary of 50 km (31 miles) with the Kruger National Park to its east which allows wildlife to traverse from one area to another freely. Among the various private reserves in Sabi Sand we chose Elephant Plains for this private safari . . . Great location, great accommodation, great service and extremely professional guiding by Gabe Harmer making my work as the photographic leader much easier . . . Thank you Gabe !
Here is a little history about Elephant Plains Game Lodge which is situated in the northern part of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. Koot Steyn, his son, Dries Steyn (Etienne’s grandfather) and a third partner, Jannie Wilkens bought the farm Arathusa, from Mr. Tresford in 1962. At that time the only buildings on the property were the old Main Building and two Rondavels. More Rondavels were added but the camp was only used as a winter holiday destination for family & friends at the time. Koot Steyn passed on and the northern section of the farm was sold to Mr. Jackel. It has since been re-sold and is currently operated as Simbambili Game Lodge. The southern section which was sold to Mr. Abrahams is now owned by his daughters, Shirley and Joan. This is the private camp you can see from the original pool deck. It was at this point when Dries Steyn divided his property in two – Elephant Plains Game Lodge and Arathusa Safari Lodge . . . Elephant Plains Game Lodge opened its doors to the public on the 1st of October in 1998 and ever since we have been enjoying amazing wildlife experiences in a very special part of South Africa.
On Day 1 the highlight was without any doubt our first encounter with Tiyani, a female leopard. It would not be the only time we saw and photographed this beautiful cat. But right after landing at the Arathusa airstrip on the way to our lodge we already had some fantastic sightings that included Elephants, Kudu, Nyala and Hippo to name a few species. On our first game drive we also got lucky with a Verreaux Eagle Owl.
Day 1 - Tiyani emerges from the lush bush
Day 1 - A sleepy Verreaux Eagle Owl naturally framed
Day 2 started off with an overcast sky but nothing to worry about because these conditions eliminate harsh lights and shadows so photography is actually pretty good. Sightings were not disappointing at all . . . Hyenas, Elephants, Zebras, Buffalos, Jackals, an incredible variety of birds and of course, Tiyani made her second appearance. But it was the Ottawa pack of Wild Dogs that made the day. It's always special to see these endangered animals interacting.
Day 2 - Wild Dog interaction
Day 2 - Wild Dog from the Ottawa Pack
Day 2 - A Leopard in the night
On Day 3 we were going to get wet. It had rained during the night and as we headed to our vehicle it started again but that was not going to stop us. Ponchos for us and covers for our gear . . . Off we went in search of opportunities in the rain but it turned out to be a rather short drive. The rain got really bad but we still got some good sightings in the morning drive. The evening drive would however, be one of the best on this safari. We got to see a Leopard known as Makhomsava stalk a Scrub Hare and kill it. Pretty AMAZING !!!
Day 3 - Rainy and overcast days never stop you from getting some pleasing images
Day 3 - Makhomsava up in a tree with her kill
Day 4 was maybe one of the most productive in terms of variety. Another overcast day so photography conditions were great. Hyena pups at their den in the morning was definitely a highlight. The Tortoise Pan male Leopard was spotted and pictures were taken. We had a great opportunity with Zebras, saw Rhinos and the Lions finally made an appearance so overall a very good day.
Day 4 - Adult Hyena not feeling the youngsters need for playtime
Day 4 - Zebra interaction
Day 4 - A young male Lion from the Imbali Pride
Day 4 - Close up image of Red-Billed Oxpecker and a White Rhino
Day 4 - A male Leopard know by the name of Tortoise Pan
Day 5 was simply put, another great day. Just don't know how to describe it. 3 Leopard sightings !! How can you beat this ? We saw Tiyani posing beautifully on a mound, Tortoise Pan male and Makhomsava. Also bumped into Rhino today. But if I have to pick a photographic sighting it would have to be Tiyani on a mound in the best possible light a photographer can wish for.
Day 5 - Tiyani on a mound in golden light
Day 6 was our last full day in Sabi Sand Game Reserve so hopes were high for something epic to capture. Wild Dogs in a great setting, a Leopard with a creamy background and Lions at a waterhole in the twilight hour definitely made it an epic day.
Day 6 - A member of the Ottawa Wild Dog pack
Day 6 - A male Leopard known as Maribye
Day 6 - One of the Talamati Pride Lion cubs
On our final game drive on Day 7 we could not be treated to a better wildlife encounter. . . Tiyani was kind enough to introduce us to her cub Laluka. It all happened within 100 meters from one of the rooms at Elephant Plains Game Lodge. What a treat !!
Day 7 - Last leopard sighting of the safari
But I can't end this blog post without showing you what Sabi Sand Game Reserve looks like during this time of the year. Moody skies and lush green vegetation . . . Just magical.
Day 7 - Sabi Sand scenery in November
It has been an incredible 7 days in an area that I consider to be one of the most productive photographically speaking, in Africa.
All Images by Mario Moreno