Continued from my Swaziland trip report
As we were coming from Swaziland, we had yet another border crossing to do. despite using the busiest border post, at Oshoek/Ngwenya, we were still through in under 15 minutes.
From the border, we stuck to the main roads and tolls just to cover the ground, and a few hours later we pulled into Bakgatla, our first camp in the Pilanesberg.
Located next to the Bakgatla gate, this camp offers a range of fairly low budget accommodation, we opted for a chalet. It was clean, comfortable and of a good size. Food was good, and well priced. The resort is reminiscent of a holiday camp, but we were there for the animals.
Whilst guided drives can be arranged, we did self drive. It’s easy to do, everywhere is well signposted, and the maps are good. I feel that finding animals yourself tends to mean a bit more than just having them pointed out to you, although it is naturally harder work.
We were at the gates for 0600 every morning, and would come back to camp around 0930 for breakfast. The early starts were essential, as the animals are most active when it is cool, and by 1100 the sun is seriously strong so the vast majority of animals disappear into the shade, apart from a group of male elephants who would go for a swim at midday everyday!
Our afternoon drive was from 1500 through to 1830 when the gates closed, as the cooler conditions do lead to more wildlife making an appearance.
We had some very nice sightings, including a stunning male lion all to ourselves, groups of up to 7 rhino, herds of elephant, and literally thousands of plains game.
Being only a few hours North of Johannesburg, the park gets busy at weekends, which if there is a good sighting can lead to carnage. Picture the scene, if you will;
It was a road block with cars everywhere. Rather than pull off the road a touch, they were stopped 4 abreast totally blocking the road. It took 30 minutes to fight our way through the traffic. We made up for it on the Monday morning, they were at work and we were viewing a lion with no other cars in sight.
As we were there at the end of the wet season, the grass was still very long, so it did make finding game quite difficult, as they rarely visited the waterholes, as there was water everywhere. It does however provide a nice backdrop to a photo than a dusty wasteland as can happen in the dry season.
I enjoyed my 4 nights in the camp, and self-driving around the park, seeing many of the animals I wanted to see, but did notice there seemed to be a lot less variety than some other parks I have gone to. The bird life was also quite sparse, which was surprising.
For our final 3 nights of the trip, we went for a little bit of luxury, and booked into this lodge, which is situated in the Black Rhino Private Reserve. This is a private concession that forms part of the Pilanesberg National Park. There is no fence between the 2, so animals have free rein to roam, but the access to this side is restricted to a handful of private lodges.
No self driving here, it was all guided drives, and the guides are all in contact with one another so do tend to share sightings. We were the only guests during our time there, so we had a game vehicle to ourselves. Our guide, Warwick, was also a photographer, so he understood what I wanted, and the fact that I would prefer a good subject in great light, to a great subject in poor light.
Light was an issue however, as the drives were at sunrise, and sunset, and as always happens the darker it got the better the sightings were. I ended up shooting in light so low that I was at 1/13s at ISO 6400. They’ll never be gallery quality images, but I still have images I am more than happy with. The fantastic high ISO performance of the Nikon D7100, and the Vibration Reduction (VR) of the Nikon 80-400mm AFS went a long way to helping get reasonable images in very challenging conditions, as did having an empty game vehicle.
Pilanesberg is a small park of 572 sq km, compared to the Kruger which is 19485 sq km. I enjoyed the smaller size of the park, as repeatedly visiting the same areas gives you a feel for what animals you are going to find, and where. I learned this with my diving, and much prefer to visit one site multiple times, than to try and visit as many different sites as possible.
The ease of access from Johannesburg means it is very popular, and rightly so. This does of course mean it can be very busy, but if you visit mid-week, when it’s not school holidays, then it is nice and quiet.
All in all it was another good trip, quite successful photographically, and with no major issues or failures. All that is left to do now is to plan the next one!