Zimanga has earned its reputation as a photographers reserve over the past few years. I was interested to research it for Photos and Africa and went there with a group of friends from Cape Town on a last minute trip to see what it was all about. Read our formal Zimanga hide review here.

We flew up from Cape Town to Durban, and in a little less than two hours, we were at the Ghost Mountain Inn, which is a 50-roomed lodge. It’s well run and the staff were extremely friendly. The next morning we were up before dawn and drove 5 km to Zimanga gate where we were met by our guide Dean Wraith. He was previously from Mala Mala and an excellent guide.

We set off to see the wild dogs which were denning on the property. The pack were out hunting and even with the aid of telemetry could not be located, so Dean took us on a drive to the newly competed overnight hide where we met Charl Senekal who is the reserve manager.

“Take your shoes off please,” he told us as we stepped inside. This is a hide with a difference. The floors are laminated, there are swivel chairs, and tripods with gimbal heads. There is a kitchen, microwave, toilet and even Wi-Fi. It’s equipped with 4 beds and there is a set of lights for night photography.

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We were only doing a recce of the hide as we planned to return later that evening, but as luck would have it, a group of rhinos rambled into the water. It was a bit frustrating because some of the group had left their gear in the vehicle and had to capture the amazing scenes using their mobile phones. These hides have special one way glass which allows amazingly close up views of the animals.

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Over coffee, Charl told me about his relationship with Hungarian BBC wildlife photographer of the year Bence Mate. He has been building hides since he was 13 and since making contact with Charl some years ago, has been to the camp many times and helped him design a total of six hides. Each one of them is carefully placed for different activities. The reflection hides are outstanding for small birds. There is also a new vulture feeding station and a hide for white-fronted bee-eaters. Charl and his team have tested each one of them perfectly so that the backgrounds are precise.

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We have had the run of the entire property with access to all of the hides as we wished. We have spent time in the excellent lagoon hide which has a stunning backdrop and also one of the reflection hides which is perfect for photographing the small and colourful seed-eaters. We stayed in the overnight hide on the last night until 10 pm and came back with the spotlight seeing aardvark and porcupine.

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Sometimes I felt as if the photos that I was taking were not mine as they have been inspired by Bence with his incredible artistry and nothing was left to chance. The situations are perfectly staged — for example fish are in the small pools to attract birds. Now and then food will also be left out to bring in the crocodiles. But it’s a wild setting and a wonderful opportunity to learn and also experiment.

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There are plans to build a villa in the next few months that will be for private groups, and later, the plans for the family home are to open another lodge.

The reserve also offers game drives and it’s possible to photograph the big five. Its all about photography here and photographing wild dogs and cheetah on foot is a highlight for getting low and unusual angles.

Zimanga has also offered the clients usage of the exceptional Sigma 120 – 300 mm 2,8 lenses (they have ones with the Canon and Nikon mounts) and also has converters. It’s a very generous company with wonderful staff and owners. The owners of the place are extremely hospitable and have all taken the time to come and say hello to our group.

I think it almost deserves a special star rating — an exceptional place. It might have been different if the camp was fuller and it definitely means that it’s best to book out the entire facility for groups of 4 to 6. The maximum really is 4 to a hide.

As you can see I am excited… If there was a gold award from Photos and Africa, they would get it.

We do plan to run trips here in future. But the guides were so good that private groups are also sure to have an exceptional time. If you do go to Zimanga — and you did hear about it through Photos and Africa — please book through us and give Zimanga some feedback. As independent agents our work, research, blogs and families are financed by referrals and commissions.

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