Photographing the Queen

It’s always going to be quite the privilege, right?

A few mornings ago, we found Queen Ntombi’s tracks meandering along the long dusty road that makes up our Northern boundary. Magic Albert was left to do his thing and not half an hour later, we were in the presence of royalty. Thanks Albert!

It’s not often that you get to have a long, uninterrupted encounter with a leopard anywhere in Kruger, but on this morning we lucked out. Another leopard sighting in the far north had drawn the masses there and the safari guides in the south were all far away tracking lions who were never found. And there we were in the middle, all alone with a leopard who has ruled this area for over a decade. Special much?

These are the moments we live for. With a really shaky and excited hand, I managed to snap a couple of photos (okay, 176 photos), before we eventually drove away after an hour in her relaxed company. I can only hope that she went on the catch a much needed meal later in the day.

A leopard’s life isn’t easy. They’ve got to make it on their own, or not at all. Any leopard who makes it past the fluffy cubby stage still has a lifetime of lions ahead of it. And other leopards willing to fight to the death for a great territory like Ntombi’s. And hyenas following them around constantly looking for an easy meal, and often getting it.

I decided to go black and white with these photos and up the drama. Because that’s her. Sometimes you need to edit photos BIG and BOLD to match the weight of the subject. The Queen is an old girl now and it shows. To stick her in black and white is a tribute to the fact that she’s a classic. She oozes straight up old-skool glamour. If she was a human, she’d be retired to her home in the Hollywood Hills. Love this lady always.

Wildlife Photography for Ducklings: “But… But… Butt.”

“He’s beautiful!” I gasp out loud.

He’s looking the wrong way,” says the safari guest.


So here’s the confession: I rather like it when animals don’t look at us on safari.

Why? Well, it It means they’re doing what they’re meant to be doing – going about their lives without worrying much about the big metal blobby thing full of humans that’s standing right next to them. That should be our goal when we’re in close proximity to wildlife. Always.

“But… but… it’s a butt…



Your photography doesn’t have to suffer. Doesn’t that butt encourage you to be more creative? Look for wilder angles? Focus on someplace new and exciting? I can promise that there are thousands, if not millions of images floating around the internet of that animal’s face. How’s your image going to be different? How will it stand out? How will it be anything but? Butt?

I like this zebra image that I shot this morning. The sun shines right on his big rounded belly, which reminds of me of how gassy zebras are, which automatically makes me smile. The glow brings back the sunrise we had today, that cast an immense light over not only this zebra, but the impalas and the Wahlberg’s eagle behind him. And the random hyena who showed up too. It’s memories.

As a brand new baby photographer, I’m quickly falling in love with looking for that weird perspective; the photograph that doesn’t just get lumped in with the rest. And as a result, I’m finding new quirks in every animal I come across and making tons of new memories and I love it. That’s what truly matters.

Happy snapping, Safariosophers…

The Little White Elephant of Timbavati

I’ve been trying to get a great photo of his stunning white tail for months! Thanks Nikon x

This morning we were lucky enough to spend some quality time again with the little albino elephant who lives in our corner of Greater Kruger Park.

And wow. He. Is. Adorable.

Sure, he has his obvious disadvantages. He’s wobbly on his feet and probably rather sight-impaired as well. Whenever we see him, he’s tripping over things or bumping into things or eating food that’s a bit weird. His lighter colour is also going to leave him vulnerable to sunburn. But instead of focusing on what he’s got going against him, let’s look at the weighty advantage he carries with him everywhere he goes: his family.

This super cute toddler is never more than a step or two away from his brilliant mother and has a big brother who’s got his back. And that’s just his immediate family. If he ever finds himself in trouble, he’s got aunties and cousins who’ll step right in.

Albino elephants are extremely rare and don’t often survive out in the wilds of Africa. There have been only a handful spotted in Kruger over its entire history. This little guy really is extremely special. For my guests, I make sure that they understand that he’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime safari sightings.

His life isn’t going to be easy, but right now he’s got the best support a little elephant could ever hope for. Love.

Smile, little cutie!

Eating some Mother-in-Law’s Tongue (actual plant name). Yum?

He can certainly navigate the thorns on this Acacia nigrescens…

Elephants use their highly sensitive feet to feel their way around. For an elephant with impaired vision, his feet are extra important…

Wild Puppy Love

This morning we’d barely left the lodge when my tracker, Magic Albert, spotted some Wild Dog tracks in the road and hopped off to investigate. Wild dog tracks can be nearly impossible to follow because the dogs run WILD. They run up. They run down. They run in circles. They run here. And there. And back again. When they’re on the move, they’re on the move. When Magic Man tracks a leopard, he can think like a leopard. No one can think like a Wild Dog. Unless they’ve consumed lethal levels of sugar.

After a minute or so, Magic Albert called me over to show me how fresh he felt these tracks were. So fresh in fact, that as my tracker and I were sitting nose to the ground, inspecting paw prints, my guests were happily snapping photos of the wild dogs who’d come from nowhere and were now standing right in front of the vehicle.

The dogs are never easy to keep up with, but we managed to spend some quality time with the puppies, who’d  hung back while mummy, daddy, aunties and uncles had gone off in pursuit of unfortunate antelopes.

The puppies always stay out of the way when the adults are hunting, and for good reason. Firstly, they would totally screw up the hunt, the way baby lions and cheetahs so often do. But also, why hunt when you’ve got a massive family with overtly altruistic tendencies who are going to come and regurgitate all the meat you could ever dream of? Regurgalicious.

So here they are, a few snaps of this morning’s very energetic little puppies. Not the greatest photographic subject when you’re still trying to figure out all the little buttons and knobs on your camera. But more on that later. Love. Puppy love.

Photo of the Day: The Milky Way (as seen from the roof of my car)

Last night I was plagued with a sniffly cold and couldn’t get to sleep. Fantastic. But after a considerable quantity of flu medication, my hazy little mind started to think, ‘Stars. I want to take pictures of stars. Coffee table Dumbledore snowflake.’

I’ve never had a camera capable of taking pictures of stars, but as you know, now I do. And I’m fortunate enough to live in this incredible place where we actually have a night sky worth photographing.

I love that the camera can see so much more than we can; that this little device can let us see right into the galaxy. Dude. That’s a bit special.

So here’s a first attempt. There’s tons of background light and no tripod involved. It wasn’t even all that dark to begin with. Also, my car roof acted as a stabilizer. Anyone who has a camera and knows how to use it will look at this and think, ‘wow, that’s not amazing.’ But whatever. I can’t wait to try this again properly, with some more professional equipment and without Codine. For now, I’m really happy with the result. And now every time I step outside my door, I can look up and know that all of this is there. What’s more valuable than that? Love.

Hoofnote: When the skies are just right, I love showing my guests the Milky Way. Yet it’s astonishing how little most people know about it! Not everyone seems to understand the shape of our galaxy; that itessentially sits like a fried egg. Because we’re nowhere near the centre, we’re on the outside looking in. That’s why it looks like a band across the sky to us. We’re looking into the yellow bit of the egg from our position in the white bit. Eggtastic.

Johannesburg: A Different Kind of Wild

Johannesburg.  If you’ve been on safari in South Africa, you’ve probabaly been there. Almost all of my safari guests here in Kruger can say they’ve ‘been to Johannesburg.’ You pretty much have to if your final destination is the Lowveld.

But did you just pass through the airport like the majority of people I’ve asked do? Did you have time to kill there? Time you wish you didn’t have, because everyone you ever spoke to before your African safari told you, “Oh South Africa is lovely, but don’t leave the airport in Johannesburg, or you’ll be MURDERED. Instantly. That’s just what people do there.”

If you had that dreaded day ‘stuck in Johannesburg’ before or after your safari, did you get a shuttle to a hotel in Sandton (which is not Johannesburg) or did you step it up and brave an organized ‘Soweto Tour’ (also not Johannesburg)?

Most of the beautiful souls I take on safari ask me where I like to go on my time off and I’m happy to tell them how I’ve spent my last few breaks in my favourite city on this planet, Johannesburg.

Standard response:

“Oh. Really? We were told not to go there.”

And if you’ve been told not to go, you’re missing out on SO MUCH. You miss one of the most beautiful cityscapes on Earth, set within the biggest man-made forest in the world. You’ve passed by a city barely more than a century old that sprung from nowhere when gold was discovered on a dusty savanna. No ocean nearby. No lake or river either. That makes it unique among the world’s cities. To get to where it stands today, this city has been through more than you can ever know and its story (its millions of stories, actually) will leave you astounded. Yep, Johannesburg was born out of pure stubborn determination, and that’s totally the vibe you get when you explore it.

I’m here to encourage you not to skip the city; not to hide away in a hotel room in the leafy green parts or do a cheesy, artificial group tour around a township, before your charter flight to a private game reserve. Spend your time in Johannesburg, experiencing Johannesburg. It’s easily done, as I learned on Sunday when I was taken on the city’s sightseeing bus. By a very cute boy.

“What, wait? There’s an open-top sightseeing bus in Johannesburg? Aren’t those for like, nice cities?”

Indeed there is, and I totally loved it. You will too. Promise. I moved to Johannesburg from the UK 10 years ago and from the moment I arrived I knew I was home. I just knew. And yet, I never took the time, not even a day, to learn a little more. For 90% of the bus trip, I was travelling roads I’d never travelled before. And that’s tragic. Tragic that I’d been so ignorant. I’m sorry, Jozi. Hearts and kisses.

The eagle on the right is wearing a crown. Super win.

The bus tour was excellent. The commentary managed to present a reasonably balanced narrative (which is rare around here) and we ended up just staying on the bus and doing the whole thing again! We weren’t alone in doing that either. Popular thing to do on a Sunday…
The second time around I unplugged the earphones and stared dreamily at the boy next to me as he delivered his own version of the tour, complete with now-derelict rooftop ice skating rinks (WTF AWESOME), matric farewells at racecourses and the wild history of Rhodes’ beloved Rand Club. And I got back scratches. Joy.

Had I not been burnt crispy in the style of American bacon by the sun, we would have hopped off the bus for a walking tour of the mining district. Instead, we disembarked at an air-conditioned casino and drank blue cocktails from jars. That’s fine too. But you can bet I’ll do the walking tour next time. And wear sunscreen. I’ve already got a long list of places to explore further and read up on, and I’ve got a boy who’s on fire for all the history that Johannesburg has to offer. I’m in love. In so many ways.

So let’s stop seeing ‘Johannesburg’ as an airport you need to pass through during your trip to South Africa. Add it to your itinerary. On purpose. Be part of a super-vibey place with kudutastic people, crazy history, mad creativity,  the finest food and drinks you’ve ever shoved into your face, and tons of hope. Ooh, it’s so Instagrammable. You’ll fall in love too…

Photo of The Day: It’s a Hyena Duckling

Because, like, I have a camera now…

And I can’t get enough of hyenas. I could turn this into a hyena blog. How many hyena blogs are out there? Not many. Hyenas are incredible. They deserve so many blogs.

So this was tonight at the hyena den. I’m still getting to grips with my fabulous new camera but I’m LOVING it.

So much more photography to come. Straight outta Kruger…

Crimes Against Photography

Good Morning beautiful Safariosophers!

I am on leave. This means that an incredible work cycle in Timbavati has come to an end and I’m in the big city again. It’s been 5 weeks of incredible wildlife sightings and the safari guests who I’ve got to share them with. I love every moment of this life. Thank you to each and every one of you!

But now as I sit here in a hair salon undoing the ‘wild’ from my hair, it makes me think that bush people like me really shouldn’t be allowed in cities and malls and salons and things. Because we go a little crazy. Every time.

Take yesterday afternoon, for example. A simple trip to a very newly Americanized Rosebank Mall, to indulge in Krispy Kreme doughnuts and Starbucks, turned into a life changer.

Why? Because doughnuts aren’t life changers in themselves.

I bought a camera. I didn’t plan to. Not yesterday, anyway. But the deal was too good to pass up on. I didn’t buy just any camera, I bought a really really nice camera. This means that from now and onwards, I’ll be taking photos using an actual camera and not by holding my binoculars up to my iPhone camera.

There are photos in my Instagram that get great reviews and comments.  What lens did I use? What was my ISO? No. No no no. What’s an ISO? I just mastered the art of holding my binoculars just right with a shaky hand and cropping the photo later. Winning. Except taking these gorgeous photos gave me a bug. A high. Here’s the admission that I like wildlife photography. And now I own a camera. Perhaps I’ve entered into an endless trap. One that will suck out all of my money and turn me into a safarier who sees animals as objects in good or bad lighting, and not as glorious, living creatures who make life worth living. That’s my deal breaker. The day I look at a lion and think, ‘gee, I wish the sun was just a little more over your left ear…’ is the day I stop. Full stop. Or the time I sit with a leopard and worry that the light is too ‘challenging’. That’s the end. I promise. That’s the day I’ll sell up. Anyone want a Nikon D7100? Nope. Not yet.

What I want to achieve here is something like this: while I’m sharing a brilliant wild dog sighting with guests, I’d like the experience to be like, “Hey guys! Isn’t it wonderful that these dogs are cooperative breeders and all of puppies are raised by devoted parents as well as supportive aunties and uncles and I can see you’re struggling to get good photos this early in the morning, so just try and widen your aperture slightly.” Love. I don’t know how this all works yet and I’m not pretending I know what an ‘aperature’ is, but the seed is planted. #safarigoals

But now to celebrate this new foray into wildlife photography, I present some of my favourite images from the past couple of months in Kruger. All taken by holding a pair of binoculars up to a sensible rose gold iPhone SE…

 These all start out like these and had to be cropped out…

Much more to come. This might even turn into a photography blog. The horror. The wonder

Kingfishers? More Like Kingfraudsters…

Here’s a lovely ‘photo of the day.’ It’s a Giant Kingfisher sitting on a wall at Kruger Park’s epic Sunset Dam just outside Lower Sabie.

Of the 10 species of Kingfisher we have here in Southern Africa, the Giant is special for the fact that it actually eats fish.

Did you know that only about half of our kingfishers will snack on fish, the rest are foresty and eat foresty things like bugs and lizards.

Kingfishers are related to Australia’s awesome kookaburras, which specialize in fresh (still on the grill) braai meat.

Brilliant birds, but time for a name change? Nah… 

Surviving Southern Kruger Part 3: A Day Beyond the Wall

Yesterday, (edit: so I wrote this one several days ago) my four-day Kruger epic came to an end. As I drove out of Orpen Gate right at closing time, I reflected on just how joyous the trip had been. Downright joyous. But Kruger wasn’t done with me yet. The road that leads away from Orpen borders Timbavati Game Reserve. With the fading light, came one last leopard sighting. And while I didn’t actually spot the leopard (I never do), I did see a game drive vehicle in the sighting from Ngala Lodge in Timbavati. That hit home. If a crow was to fly (why do we say that??)… Nevermind, if a White Headed Vulture was to fly from that point, the vulture would be home in a very short time indeed.  Especially because cultures fly really, really fast. But I’m not a vulture and a quick check of Google Maps told me that to get home from Orpen Gate would take 2 hours and more than 100 kilometers. No way!

And that changed everything.

I wasn’t ready to let it all go just yet.

Me: What if I stayed out, just one more day?

Brain: You can’t. School holidays. Remember? There’s nowhere to stay. And you can’t justify staying somewhere that’s so close to home. So close to your bed that you don’t have to pay for.

Me: Hmmm… Where to stay?

Brain: Go home!

Me: I wonder if there’s space at that nice little backpackers by Blyde River Canyon?

Brain: There isn’t! It’s school holidays.

Me: Let’s just try…

I won.

I headed out from Orpen Gate to Mariepskop View Lodge, a place I’ve stayed before and really loved.

This is what it looks like the morning after a glorious sleep that contrasted in every way to the terrible place I’d stayed at the three nights previously.

Yeah, it’s like really really pretty…

This is a place I wholeheartedly recommend. The ‘backpackers’ accomodation is actually a handful of beautiful little cottages – basic, but beautiful – that cost backpacker prices. You can also camp or stay in one of the more fancy cottages. It’s clean and charming and beautiful nestled up next to Mariepskop Mountain. Love it…

So I’d like to write a little about what to do with those ‘free days’ you get on holiday and in between safaris, in the ultimate place to spend ‘free days’ – Blyde River Canyon. Just beyond Kruger’s boundary. Just beyond the wall. I’m reading a lot of Game of Thrones again.
Getting there is easy enough. Exit Kruger from Orpen Gate and boom. You’re there. Pretty much.

Safaris are wonderful and wild and yummy but it’s also nice to see what else is out there. And that’s how I ended up spending the day as a tourist in my own little backyard.

That morning, started by looking at the travel advice literally plastered to the back of my door at the backpackers lodge for inspiration.

‘Have breakfast next door at Anne’s Cafe and then go to **** ***** ****** ****** before spending the afternoon at Blyde River Canyon.’

Nice advice.

**** ***** **** ***** isn’t the actual name of this particular tourist destination place thingy. But a few years ago I had the misfortune of working in said unsaid place and I won’t even repeat the name here. Let’s rather not get into trouble too. But If I can’t bear to even type the name of the place, you can bet I wasn’t prepared to spend my morning there (and you shouldn’t too), so I skipped that one, and everything to do with it…

And headed to Anne’s Cotton Club Cafe for breakfast. What I didn’t expect was for it to be nestled in amongst a crazy awesome collection of boutique craft shops and spas and motorcycle showrooms. It was very random. In the best possible way. The place is called ’24 South.’ Go there! It’s super cute. And it was super empty that morning which was depressing. A place like this deserves to be PACKED!

When it came to Anne’s Cafe (which has got amazing reviews for its food), I was impressed by my delicious breakfast and probably ate the best chicken mayo sandwich I’ve ever had and I’ve had a lot of chicken mayo sandwiches. The place was let down by very sad service and a women who kept barking orders at two upset looking waitresses. Why do that in front of customers? Actually why do that at all? Kindness. The way forward. And unfortunately it kind of put a little raincloud over the experience. I don’t know if I’d go back now which is sad because the food – wow – so good.

But 24 South as a whole was lovely. And it’s totally in the middle of nowhere, which is the biggest surprise. If you’re looking for crafts and goodies, the offerings at this hidden market are actually better than those in Hoedspruit, the nearest town.

From 24 South I headed to the area’s biggest draw – the Blyde River Canyon. I figured I needed to see it once in my life, at least. And I see those mountains every day – why not touch them?

I paid the modest R20 entry fee (I expected much, much more – like how much does it cost to visit the Grand Canyon? Probably not a dollar and fifty cents…), and carried on up to the derelict visitor center. It was only here as I took photos, that I realized I’ve been here before! When, how and with who, I don’t know. But I’d definitely stood in that place before. My memory (the crazy lack of it) scares me.

It doesn’t actually matter though because you can go here 300 times and it’ll never get old. Looky!

From the dam, I went back down to a place marked ‘waterfall trail.’ Sounds good…

And yep, I had a great time on this trail. The forest vegetation is WILD! Totally unlike anything nearby. And when I reached the waterfall, I was overwhelmed by the urge to just strip off and dive in. This is despite it being winter and freezing. I just wanted to be there. So much so that I stood in the water up to my knees debating with myself for about forty five minutes whether I should get naked or not. If I do, surely someone will come down the path right away? If I don’t, surely I will regret it forever. And I super-want to swim. But people will come. But I’ll regret not doing it. But I could have done it by now and been dressed and halfway back to the car. But…

Yeah, that’s how my brain works. 

On the way back to the car, I went into ‘birding mode.’ Never easy in any forest, where you really have to hear the birds because you’re so unlikely to see them up in such a dense canopy.

My luck wasn’t great. Actually, I saw nothing. I heard something that sounded like a woodpecker who’d inhaled some helium, but I was stumped.

Towards the end of the trail, a branch rustled above me and I looked up. Straight into the backside of a Narina Trogon! Wait, that’s not enough exclamation marks. A Narina Trogon!!!!!!!!! Better.

Over the years I’ve seen these rare birds just four times and all in Kwa Zulu Natal, never here in the Lowveld. And for that to be the only bird I saw during my entire Blyde River Canyon trip? Not bad y’all. It’s the pangolin of the bird world. And pangolins are the platypuses of Africa and platypuses are straight up awesome. So are Narina Trogons.

See the red blotch? Trogon bum.

High on the vibe you can only get from special birds, I decided that next, I was going to visit Jessica the Hippo.

Jessica. The hippo.

I didnt know much about Jessica. Still don’t. I do know that over the years, my work as a safari guide has brought me countless guests who rave about Jessica the Hippo. I googled Jessica and found out I could visit her at 2:30. Sweet. That left me some time to kill. At the giant Baobab!

I have a guidebook that tells me there’s a baobab tree just south of Hoedspruit, so big that there’s a pub – INSIDE THE BAOBAB! I needed to drink an ice cold savanna. IN A BAOBAB.

“Anna, so where’d you have lunch today?”

“Oh you know, just inside a tree.”

Epic. It had to be done.

GPS took me to a big, open field with an average sized baobab standing in the middle. Even an average sized baobab is mind blowingly awesome, but this one clearly didn’t have a pub inside it. The mangled remains of a baobab on the other side of the field probably had a pub in it. About 15 years ago. Seriously, guide book?

What I did find was a family friendly restaurant next to the sad tree ruins with nothing but pancakes on the menu which is totally my kind of restaurant.

I ordered a cinnamon sugar pancake and asked for a spare lemon wedge instead of syrup – seriously, syrup on a sugar pancake is too much, even for me. I tried to order wine, even pointing to it in the menu for the waitress to see, but she acted like she’d never heard of the stuff, so I did a Savanna instead.

I ended up with two whole lemons squashed up at the bottom of my Savanna glass and a pancake with syrup, and no lemon. Thanks to this happy accident, I’ll never be able to drink Savanna again without at least one whole lemon shredded up inside it. And syrup on sugar pancakes is actually awesome. Why not throw some ice cream and sprinkles on it too? Winning.

When I saw the above wifi note in my favorite cafe in Hluhluwe, I thought it was cute and original. This illusion is now shattered. Like this baobab:

This one is still okay, but it’ll be about 800 more years until it’s big enough to host a pub:

Then finally, on to Jessica the Hippo. A sign at the start of the dusty, corrugated track she lives down told me that it would be a very ‘worthwhile 8 kilometers.’ 

At the end of the road, I passed through a gate and joined about 40 other people – couples, families, tiny children, tour guides with guests – all milling around a small enclosure with a small hippo in it. The only staff member seemed to be a confused gardener who tried to explain in broken Afrikaans that the ‘boss is missing’ and he knows he had a ‘hippo show’ to do at 2:30.

Some people left. Some hung around. Some just walked straight down the path the to water like they owned the place. They were determined to see Jessica. I sort of tagged along with them. I caught a brief glimpse of Jessica in the water and… that was it really. I wandered back up the stairs, told the mystery tiny hippo to break out of its enclosure – which could be easily done – and then I left.

I might have been inclined to return one day to see Jessica if it wasn’t for the mystery tiny hippo in the swimming pool. What is this hippo? There was no information anywhere and no one to explain anything. I didn’t know much about Jessica before going but had been assured she ‘lived wild’ and chose to stay in that place, otherwise I wouldn’t have gone. But tiny hippo? Nope, sorry. There’s actually no excuse for that. Break free little hippo!

The experience had been weird and confusing. Have any of you done the ‘Jessica thing’ before? If so, I’d really like to know what the deal is.

And with that, the day was done. A day of the wonderful and the wild and the slightly confusing. It did prove that it’s not impossible to spend a whole day doing cheap or free activities as an aside to your Kruger Park safari.

Here’s how the day ended… back in Kruger Park.

Now do it:

Mariepskop View Lodge can be found at Their lovely rondavels cost R800 for the night, with backpackers costing R200 and camping just R100.

**** **** **** **** costs R145 to enter, which is how much it would cost to go to Blyde River Canyon for 7 days straight at R20 a day. Way better value at the Canyon…

24 Degrees South is free to enter, which we love.

Anne’s Cotton Club Cafe isn’t cheap, but the food is delicious. Or you could consider doing lunch at the Upside Down Restaurant at the broken baobab. Great value and cute venue.

Jessica the Hippo is supposed to cost R50, but I wouldn’t know because there was no one there to pay.

Stuff I didn’t do, but really really wanted to do:

There’s also Kinyonga Reptile Center in the area but I missed out on it because it was too pricy at about R100, and this day was all about the super cheap things to do in the area.

I did try to get on a boat trip across the dam at Blyde River Canyon. Unfortunately on the day, it was fully booked, but I’ll definitely be trying this one out! It was only R150.

That’s all, y’all. Thoughts? Have you been to these places? Anything to add?

Love Safariosophy

Surviving Southern Kruger Part 2: Finding Those Quiet Beautiful Places

(I wrote this nearly a week ago and accidentally just saved it on my phone when I though I was publishing it!)

I think the only word I can remember from science classes at school is ‘diffusion’ – ‘the movement of particles from an area of high concentration to an area of low concentration.’ And that’s the word that comes to mind most when I think of Southern Kruger during school holidays. Diffusion.

The 400 people waiting to get in at the gate with you? Once they’re in the park, they will diffuse. That elephant sighting with 60 cars in it? 5 minutes later those cars will all be spread out again. This queue for burgers at Skukuza? People will get their food, take it away and all shall diffuse. Trust me.

This morning, the busyness was so busy that I didn’t even think I’d make it in to the park. Owing to staying in the WORST ACCOMODATION I HAVE EVER EXPERIENCED (but that’s a whole other story) I didn’t get up in time to make the gate. How could I when the raging party was only starting to die down as my 04:20 alarm went off? Stubbornly insisting on getting 3 hours of sleep, I woke again at 07:30. That’s a full hour and a half after the gates to Kruger open. For a change of scenery, I set off for Numbi Gate only to be turned away. They’d reached their ‘quota’ for the day. I phoned ahead to Phabeni Gate  and was met with a typically South African ‘this number does not exist.’ Another call to SANParks reservations and I found out that Phabeni too was closed for the day due to high volumes of traffic. And that’s probably why they’d disconnected their phones. *eye roll.* Kruger Gate it was. Another call to that gate and I found out that if I got there as ‘quick as possible’ I ‘might be able to get in.’ Another hour’s drive through Mordor and I arrived in Kruger. It’s been a mission.

But here I am, well into my third day in Kruger. All day, every day I’ve been in the park, and for 95% of my time here, I’ve been all alone and having the sort of tiny, beautiful experiences that most people assume you can’t have in a safari park this busy.

The bad stuff first. Yep, if you stop on a tar road for the briefest of moments to find the phone you dropped behind the seat or need put on some sunscreen, you’ll create a colossal traffic jam as people pile up to look at whatever you’re supposed to be looking at. I’m looking at my phone charger y’all.

It’s worse if you stop to birdwatch. I can’t resist a good bird party and will always pause to see if anything interesting has tagged along. Inevitably, someone (or twenty someones) will pull alongside and ask, ‘Wat seen jy?’ Or something like that because my Afrikaans is not amazing. Twenty bonus points if you get a basic greeting. When you tell them it’s ‘just birds’ even though birds are NEVER ‘just birds,’ they usually shake their heads and storm off without a word because in their eyes, you’ve just wasted their time.

But that’s the tar roads. Tar roads do that to people. They’re seen (whether consciously or not) as a pathway to food or to big cats, and nothing else. That’s not saying these roads are to be avoided, because they DO lead to food and great cat sightings, but they probably aren’t going to let you have a real sweet ‘nature experience.’

Now for the good stuff! Leave that busy road. Escape down any one of the dusty back roads in Kruger and within moments, you’ll be somewhere WILD and special where you really can just switch off the engine, bask in the silence, and enjoy a side of Kruger that not many people actually get to go to. On this trip, there have been many occasions where I’ve been able to experience THAT quiet. You know the kind I mean – where the world goes so still that you worry you’ve lost your hearing. It’s very unnerving until you settle into it. The fact that there’s nothing stopping an elephant from just strolling over during your wild little meditation is like the chunky chocolate chips in your cookie which was already good enough to begin with.

What about when you can sit alone in the shadow of a massive koppie and watch the cliff chats hop from rock to rock?

Or when you can listen to the wind rustle the leaves on an Apple Leaf Trees. 

I don’t know what else to say. This trip has been about those moments for me. I can’t explain how I’m feeling right now and I can’t hope to try without getting really really obnoxious and waffly. Waffles. 

Maybe just go and find your own little quiet space somewhere, switch off and see what happens. I’m here to tell you it’s possible and it’s kudutastic.

Just look at all these wide open spaces! 


This is my happy place.

Surviving Southern Kruger: Part 1 (Why Did I Go To Kruger During School Holidays?)

About a week ago, I was trying to decide what I should do with these precious few days that I’m on leave and free to do anything. South Africa is my oyster. And all that. Actually, the world is my oyster. What does that saying even mean? Why an oyster? Whatever. My oyster is named Ollie Oyster and Ollie Oyster is the WORLD. What I’m trying to say, is that I had a choice. What to do with my ‘leave.’

I’m in Kruger and I’m the happiest bunny. #wine

And how shocked was I when I found myself on the impossibly complicated  SANParks booking system, looking for campsites in Kruger. What? Wait. I’m on safari IN KRUGER every day. OF MY LIFE. ‘Go to the beach!’ My conscious shouted. My hand continued to tap on links and buttons. ‘Dude! Seriously, you can go to Thailand. Go to Thailand!‘ And yet I kept clicking around on Kruger’s website. ‘Don’t you want to visit your mother in Europe, because you CAN,’ my brain asked one last time. Nope. Kruger. Why? Dunno.

Undecided about where in Kruger I wanted to go, I searched for accommodation by date. July 3. Go.

Nothing came up.

‘Shame Kruger, your booking system is down,’ I thought to myself as I refreshed the page. 

Oh wait! There’s a cottage available in a far flung camp for R7000 a night!

And that’s when I realized that every single space for a human to stay within Kruger Park has been taken. Every one. There are hundreds and hundreds of spaces to rest your head for the night in the two million square hectares that make up Southern Africa’s biggest and bestest game reserve and every one of them is gone.

What’s happening here? No worries, I’ll simply expand my range. I can go a day later…

Click on the next day. Even the R7000 cottage is gone.

This can’t actually be possible. The system is broken. I didn’t know at that point, but the system was broken. By school holidays. Ugh.

I never knew school holidays growing up. My parents didn’t do school holidays because they were smart enough to know that everyone else did school holidays. We did Disney World and Vegas and camping and England during term time. The school  prepared homework packages. Simple. That’s why today as an adult I cannot understand why people travel during school holidays. THOSE ARE THE BUSIEST TIMES!

I don’t know why my brain persisted when it was sent the clear message that there is nowhere to stay in Kruger Park. And it is school holidays. Do not go.

Why why why?

But TripAdvisor was next.

‘Find me a place near Kruger!‘ I announced. ‘Somewhere cheapish that doesn’t discriminate against solo travelers. And isn’t right next to where I already live.’

I found the place. I booked. I paid. I was going to Kruger. During school holidays.

In the days leading up to my leave, I started to dread. What have I done? Why would you do this? Why, when you have the very best of Kruger right where you are? Y’all don’t need this. Thailand.

But why? Because Kruger has a draw. I can’t really explain it. Maybe it’s in the way that the landscape here is inscribed with memories and it hangs on to them until you’re hovering above that spot again years later. Maybe it’s the ‘Kruger Magic’ that a few friends got me beleiveing in all those years back. Maybe it goes back to my values – the value I hold that everyone on earth has the right to experience a safari and Kruger says ‘yes.’ I don’t know. I know that I love the place and it keeps sucking me back, no matter where life takes me in the meantime.

So here I am. I’m writing this in Kruger. At ‘Cattle Baron’ in Skukuza to be exact. There’s my wine and my binoculars as proof. 

And yes, it’s the height of school holidays. People are looking at me like, ‘why are you by yourself? You’re taking up a whole table‘ and I almost want to make up a story for them because some people will never know about what it means to live wild and free and independently and that makes me sad for the state of the world.

This trip isn’t what I expected. I don’t know what I expected. I’m having a blast. I expected to write an article about how awful Southern Kruger is. But I’ll sing it’s praises until the end of time. I’m wildly in love with every part of this place. Even the busy parts. With children. I’m in my happy place and my bird list is up to 93 JUST FROM TODAY even though it’s winter and I’m feeling so inspired it’s unreal and there will be plenty more to come from Kruger in the coming days. Maybe even some YouTube videos. But for now, it’s wine and birds and elephants and good food and I love the way that an entire restaurant can LOSE THIER MINDS when a giraffe comes to drink at the water. Isn’t that why I became a safari guide in the first place? My authentic self is here and it’s running wild…

Love. Big love.

Live from Kruger Park y’all!

OMG Impalas!

Are Trees The Worst Dads Ever?

Could my little Kruger garden look any more wintery?

Like, how windy has it been for the past three days?!

If you’re like me, and you’re here on safari in Kruger Park then you’ll have noticed that the wind’s been blasting everything relentlessly since Thursday. Tents in the campsites will be flying, dust is swirling, impalas are panicking and your hair doesn’t stand a chance. But what’s mattered the most is the trees. In one weekend, we’ve gone from summer to winter as nearly all of our trees have lost the last of their leaves. Shame, trees. Sending you all hugs. Tree hugs.

Me camping. Circa 2008. I’ve learned lessons.

They may look dead, but they’re just sleeping. Waiting for their time to shine.

But it’s good! Leaves have to come off to make way for their luscious new replacements that’ll bud in spring. And when leaves blow off, so do seed pods. This wind that’s blowing my curtains in as we speak, is also carrying LIFE to all of Kruger’s little corners. We need the wind now. Without it, seeds would just fall down next to their tree or their flower or their grass stem. And that wouldn’t work at all, because that just sticks them in direct competition with their own parents. Trees are terrible fathers. Happy Fathers Day, by the way.

Right now, combretum pods are flying in all directions, supported by their ‘wings.’ Soft, fluffy grass seeds are also being lifted across the savanna and with any luck, they’ll get caught up in an old tree that’s been pushed over by elephants. If they can wait there until the rains come, they’ll be the privileged ones, growing up in a lovely nitrogen-rich ‘micro-habitat’ where they’ll grow taller and greener than their less fortunate seedy siblings.

Pretty pretty Combretum.

Looking a little sparse…

Grass seeds that don’t find cushy new homes with the wind, will find other ways to move around this winter. How about these monsters, which are designed to stick to nyalas and leopards and flip flops? Whatever works for them. I don’t mind being used by a few seeds. Spread the seeds, spread the love.

Gotta find the brightside.

So it’s official, winter is here! Let’s all put on our beanies and windbreakers and pick the seeds out of our socks and stick it out until spring, when we’ll finally get to see why this wind was so great all along. X