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Self Drive Kruger - A Photography Tour

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Self Drive Kruger - A Photography Tour

Unread post by lecter » Tue Nov 27, 2007 10:03 am

I often get asked to describe a day in Kruger and what I take with me as essentials.

Here is part one (Kruger Specific) of the series.

Self Driving in Africa
Probably the most common way to shoot wildlife is from a Vehicle. Wandering around in the velt is fine, with guards (armed or not, that’s another story or three) but it’s slow and the key to success in the African Savannah is covering lots of territory. Animals wandering the tundra (how many clichés can I pack into one paragraph) are the ultimate nomads and constantly patrol their “patches” for food and to detect / repel intruders.


For many, the preferred photographic stability method is a bean bag. This works well in Safari vehicles as you are relatively mobile (unless you’re in one with no “high sides” - per se) in the vehicle. Now I say relatively, as many Safari Operators fill their vehicles up with people. In this case your ability to take really good pictures is going to be inhibited severely. Our preferred method is to self drive. A secondary option is to take a Safari with a known operator like Andy Biggs ( – unpaid plug) who organized the vehicles in a way more suited to photography i.e we all get one row of a vehicle apiece.

This series will be split into parts:-
Part One: Self Drive - Kruger Park
Part Two: Self Drive Botswana
Part Three: Photography on the Savanna
Part Four: A Photographic Safari – Organised.
Part Five: The Safari life
Part One: Self Drive - Kruger National Park.

Essential Equipment

For a self drive there are some essential pieces of equipment.

    Kirk Window Mount. I have used the same one on 4 Safaris. Great unit. No issues, and have seen no reason to upgrade at all. I also use it when shooting birds from the car in Thailand. For the driver this is an essential tool. No way to lug big lenses from the passenger seat to the window in time to spot a leopard or cheetah. For the back seat, this is actually a hindrance, as the back “seater” has the premium spot and can dive from one side to the other. Beware trees, branches and mud ponds. My 600/4 did get a mud path courtesy of the Okavango Delta when we crossed a “small” stream that was a foot deeper and muddier than anticipated. Remember to keep checking everything for tightness. Bumpy roads loosen everything..... Flashes drop off, window mounts fail......
    Wimberley Head - this device attaches to the Window mount for the driver. Some can use a ballhead/sidekick option, a kirk cobra (I sold mine, found it tough to mount big glass on) or just a ballhead which all attach to the window mount easily.
    Backup bodies and lenses. This is essential. A hard lesson learned from the days when we carried one body each and a Leopard decided to stand next to the car. With a 600/4 and 400/2.8 on each camera, and one mounted in the Kirk, it took valuable seconds to release and change the lenses. Opportunity lost. If one’s ever spent 9 precious days in the heat and dust of Botswana and then missed the ONE opportunity to shoot a Leopard, one can understand the frustration. Our current modus is to now carry 1Ds3 and 1D3 on the 500/4’s (600 and 400 long sold), a 5D carrying a 100-400 and a 1D2 carrying a 70-200/2.8 IS.
    Bean Bags. These are still key. Mrs prefers a blanket (we have a couple of nice Masai ones) but these are less protective and I believe might be less stable than a devent bag. The kinesis ones are excellent (We got a couple free on one tour we did.. thanks Andy!)
    Blankets. At least two decent blankets to cover your gear. The dust is mad! It doesn’t keep it all off, but it helps. Also keeps flashes and flash extenders out of the sun.
    In Car Power Inverter. These are freely available these days. In the days of ordinary battery performance (1D and 1Ds Mark 1’s) it was essential to be able to rotate your batteries. Taking something like a Phase One Back will also mena you have to go to the charger more often.
    Visible Dust brushes. Do the sensors each night. Have not tested the efficiency of the new sensor cleaning technology in the 1D3, but it will certainly get a workout in Botswana 2008. For the older cameras without this feature, get the brushes.
    Esky / Chilli Bin / Portable Fridge – you’ll be out for hours on end. Make sure you’re able to Hydrate and eat. No use being all shaky with hunger when photographing a honey eater.
    Starbucks Coffee Thermos. We have varying types of these, the most successful so far are two portable cups we got in Starbucks. In the early AM of Africa, it is a little cool. A Nice cup of Tea (or coffee) with some nice plain biscuits is a wonderful way to hit the nearest gate at 5:45 AM
    GPS. These little beauties have helped us find our way more than once. Plus they enable you to mark kills for a second look another day. A kill can have many different types of game on it over a two day period, especially if it is large like a giraffe or buffalo.
    Two Way Radios – such an awesome way of staying in touch. Also with a few vehicles you have more eyes spotting. On more than one occasion, as one car drives off, the other spots a lion or cheetah. Never go self driving without them!
    A Cook. Make sure someone can cook.
    Data Storage: NextoCF. 160GB of data. For every one I take, I take a mirror. Always have two copies.
    Spare batteries. Always have a minimum of two for every device
    Flash extender – some may not like them. But when the raptor is in the tree, up high in the shade. Newer higher ISO cameras can make these sort of obsolete. But we always take one each with us.
    Flashes. Take them. One never knows. Plus good at night chatting around the fire.

Kruger Park – South Africa

Self Driving in a place like Kruger Park, South Africa gives you “base camps” for each day. There are more restrictions around gate openings, but typically that’s not a huge issue. 6am – 6pm typically covers all the best times of day for viewing. Most camps have ice, firewood (no self collection) and some essential items for the brie (barbeque) that is mandatory each evening!! The accommodations range from adequate to excellent. We had one issue only when my Sister and Husband were badgered by bats all night. Isolated incident.
A typical day in Kruger consists of a 5:00 wakeup. Quick Shower, pack the Land rovers (or whatever you’re driving. I like to be higher up for game viewing, so a land rover is a good choice, albeit more expensive to rent), make a good cup of tea and head to the gate. Choose your route the night before. We typically like to drive together. In a larger contingent, there will typically be more fluidity (and personality) so the groups will tend to split. I believe the optimum is two vehicles. Three is doable, but four is better as you can cruise in pairs. This is also a lot safer.
The gates are typically opened at 6am, and the exodus begins. Only the true photographers and adventurers are at the gate this early, so it’s never exactly a traffic jam (although if there are five cars there it seems busy!!) Game viewing is at its best from 6am – 9am and again 3pm-6pm so you’re on alert as soon as you get out the door. There can be a kill literally on the doorstep of the camp.

We’ll cruise our allotted routes and look for signs of game. We’re after the big five always, but the myriad of wildlife including birds, insects, primates and smaller mammals keeps the shutter busy. We look for middens from the local Rhino, Circling Vultures and other signs of predator life. We slow under trees looking for sleep owls or feeding raptors. It’s a slow cruise, sipping at our tea, munching a biscuit and hoping beyond hope that around the next bend……
ImageAt around 9am we’ll start heading for the breakfast ground. A predetermined spot where we cook up a feed of bacon, eggs and sausages. With some toast and another good cuppa. We are fortunate our safari buddies are great cooks. We are great dish washers.

After breakfast, we then head back to camp for a rest, to have a look at the mornings photos, or to head to the next camp. There are still many photographic opportunities (maybe a hippo pool or two) so we drive slowly. This is also a great time to check out good places for a morning drive. Kruger has many loops and hoops. Drive down them all. Never be in a hurry. That one extra loop could see you on a pack of wild dogs getting ready for an evenings hunt.

Lunch in Kruger is usually some sort of snack. With the Bacon and Egg extravaganza still commuting through your system, there’s little appetite. The park has various mid day features, but that can be seen on the web site. At this point we head to a “sightings” board to have a look at what everyone else has seen. With our own maps in hand (I recommend the Kruger book. We have them with our notes and sightings / dates. Fun to look back on later) we plot our afternoon. Remember the nomad theory, and don’t head to exactly the spots of previous sightings (unless they are confirmed as large kills), scout around them and see if you can pick up the trail.

At around 2:30-3:00 you head back into the park. It’s still really hot and seems kind of pointless. This keeps the lesser folks out of the park, and leaves the prime times to the keener folk. The internal clocks of the animals are never wrong and they are stirring, thinking about the night ahead. Activity has begun for sure. Waterholes are a good prospect at this time. As the sunset gets closer, the opportunities for great landscapes start kicking in. (this applies to the morning sunrise too). At all times one is looking for “the light”. Keep an eye on your watch, as you have to start heading back to the gate to get in before it is closed at 6pm. Some planning is always wise. We’ve had many a close call. Elephants like roads, and they dislike you using them, so they can block them for fun.


6pm and you’re turning into the gate. It’s time to get the CF/SD cards into the readers and uploaded to the NextoCF’s. Wood on the Brie and a beer out of the fridge. By 7:30, food is eaten, a beer or two done, and at around 8:30 everyone is exhausted and heading for bed……

Another day in

Kruger National Park.
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Unread post by Bush Baptist » Tue Nov 27, 2007 12:48 pm

Nice Day in Kruger, lecter. Nice to see it from a non SA point of view. Just a few pointers.
Tundra is a polar vegetation area, I think you might mean savannah instead.
'Brie' is spelt braai, and is short for braaivleis, which means 'cook meat'. you would pronounce it like Fry with a B.
The big 5 is a very successful 'hype' milked by tour operators and advertisers. Apart from leopard, they are not difficult to spot in Southern Kruger, where tour operators are in radio contact with their peers. Wild dog, cheetah, honey badger, serval, caracal and African wildcat are much more prized sightings to seasoned Kruger visitors, apart from leopard, which have universal appeal. There are at least 10 types of eagle to spot also. Sadly overseas visitors are often disappointed if they cannot tick off all of the 'big 5' but saw cheetah or wild dog.
You have got it spot on regarding the best times to look for game, and our most treasured sightings have been during those times, although the animals occasionally 'break the rules'.
Last edited by Bush Baptist on Tue Nov 27, 2007 1:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Unread post by lecter » Tue Nov 27, 2007 1:01 pm

Braai.... arrgh!! I knew that.. hehe

I totally agree about the Big 5 comment. They are typically easier to get pictures of. Leopards are the tough ones.

Wild dogs (I've not seen them in Kruger) are a special item.

Cheers, thanks for the addenda.


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Unread post by DuQues » Fri Nov 30, 2007 2:36 pm

Kirk window mount.....

Have you heard about the Camsteady mount by Ron McKechnie? The cost of a bracket is R 620.00 plus R 80.00 postage & packaging (within SA). Which is considerably less than the ± US$ 250,00 the Kirk costs.
Not posting much here anymore, but the photo's you can follow here There is plenty there.

Feel free to use any of these additional letters to correct the spelling of words found in the above post: a-e-t-n-d-i-o-s-m-l-u-y-h-c

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Unread post by Ludwig » Thu Jan 31, 2008 11:57 am

A very good and useful report. Even if I’m not an inexperienced one I still picked up some ideas.
Thank you lecter for this very good report and supporting us. :D

You describe everything so clear and close to reality and following your recommendations I would have avoided many problems by being not ready and dusty equipment.

But I can’t agree with the heading for the Big 5. To be serious for me a Leopard is a highlight every day and welcome. But if you want to get the real feeling you must let come in another rhythm, the rhythm of the African savannah and just wait what it will offer you.
When writing my Kruger story it became so clear to me (and many of the readers expressed the same) the small things are also beautiful and very often the highlights of the day.
Not to get the Big 5 during a Kruger visit doesn’t mean you missed the highlights. It just means you have to come back and let them come to you next time.
The worst day during my last Kruger journey was the last day. Yes, partly because I had to leave. But when I wrote regarding this day I had to learn: I ruined this beautiful day after seeing a Leopard just by heading for "completing the Big 5".
Sorry, but this is not a critic on your report. It’s just something I had to learn myself and I only can recommend to others.

Hope we will see the other announced parts soon. And thank you again for the lot of work you have done to present it to us. :thumbs_up:

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