South Africa

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Why photographers should visit South Africa

South Africa is an exceptional country to visit. Outstanding lodges, fine game reserves, balmy beaches, spectacular mountains, winelands and a history revealed through exceptional rock art and fascinating Cape Dutch architecture has contributed to its epithet, “a world in one country”. Photographers can expect exceptional opportunities. This is a great place for first time safari-goers who can expect to see fantastic wildlife in a short period of time. And, with a modern infrastructure and great roads (for the most part), it’s a very good destination for self-drive safaris, which offer visitors the freedom to explore South Africa’s unique attractions at their own pace. First time visitors should visit the Greater Kruger National Park and Cape Town, and return visitors will find plenty of fantastic opportunities off the beaten path.

Greater Kruger National Park, which includes Kruger National Park and a series of private game reserves, mostly along the Park’s western, unfenced boundary, is an ideal first-time safari destination. Kruger itself covers nearly 20 000 square kilometres (an area the size of Belgium). It’s probably the most accessible and organized self-drive game destination in Africa, with a well-developed network of public rest camps and roads to explore. The most exclusive game viewing occurs within the Sabi Sands (exceptional cats) and Timbavati (less predictable but very good game viewing) as well as in private concessions within Kruger itself. Sightings can never be guaranteed, but with close communications between vehicles by radio, most visitors to the Sabi Sands manage to see all of the big five within 24 hours. The animals are easiest to see during the dry season from June through to November. The summer months offer more birds, greener colours and wonderful landscapes.

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It’s a two-hour flight from Kruger to Cape Town – and the “mother city” is a fine place to start or end a safari. Dominated by Table Mountain and fringed by two very different oceans, you can expect fantastic scenery and also world-class restaurants. Take two full days to explore the winding roads of the Cape Peninsula, and make sure you see and photograph Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, the Constantia Winelands, the penguins at Boulders Beach, Table Mountain, the Company Gardens and Bo Kaap. On your third day, visit Stellenbosch Winelands, and perhaps take the coastal road via Kogelberg to Hermanus. The summer months from November to April offer sunny weather conditions. Winters, from May to October, bring cold fronts and rainy weather, but it’s also a great time to visit as the landscape is green and the Cape Floral Kingdom is at its best.

  • The Cape Fold Mountains create spectacular landscapes—where else on earth do you see such magnificent mountains that plunge into the sea? This is also the core area of the world famous Cape Floral Kingdom (smallest and most diverse of the six floral kingdoms), with nearly 10 000 fynbos (fine bush) species that occur nowhere else. The biome includes proteas, restios (tall, reed-like grasses) and ericas, and it is said Table Mountain contains more species than the entire British Isles or New Zealand.
  • The Cape Floral Kingdom Unesco World Heritage Site has eight core areas: Table Mountain, De Hoop Nature Reserve, the Boland mountain complex, the Groot Winterhoek wilderness area, the Swartberg mountains, the Boosmansbos wilderness area, the Cederberg wilderness area and Baviaanskloof, which straddles the Western and Eastern Cape boundary.

Each of these areas has wonderful private opportunities for photographers. De Hoop Nature Reserve is a not only a great place to view the coastal Fynbos, but is a hotspot for southern right whales, which breed in the quiet waters during winters. Nearby Gansbaai is a great destination from which to view great white sharks.

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Those with time on their hands can also head north from the Cape. The winter cold fronts that sweep in from the west also give rise to the largest concentrations of succulent plants found anywhere in the world. It’s the Succulent Karoo—a botanical treasure with 7000 species of plants, many of which occur nowhere else. From the tiniest mesembs to the largest kokerbooms, photographers will be impressed by the diversity and peculiar shapes that these hardy plants have evolved to sustain themselves through the dry summer months. The greatest moment, for photographers anyway, is the annual spring flowers. The exact timing of this natural flower extravaganza, which mostly involves daisies and vygies, is dependent upon rainfall patterns. They may arrive early (July) or late (September) and typically move in a colourful wave from north to south and from west to east. As one area fades away, another reaches its full glory. So it’s a moving target. The best strategy to catch this natural spectacle is to plan your itinerary, and then expect to cover some distance to find the flowers. There are also hotspots for flowers such as Kamieskroon, Springbok and Nieuwoudtville (bulb capital of the world), which are pretty consistent. While in the West Coast, also consider a visit to Lambert’s Bay, which has large colonies of gannets. If you are a hiking type, then the Cederberg and Groot Winterhoek mountains offer spectacular landscapes.

For those with more time, you can follow the road north to the dramatic Augrabies Falls National Park, which is a wonderful scenic attraction, and then even further to the Kalahari. This sea of sand, which is up to two kilometres deep, extends all the way from the Northern Cape in South Africa into Botswana, Namibia and Angola. This is the Kalahari—a massive, 2.5 million square kilometre basin covering almost a third of the subcontinent. It has summer rainfall and its own particular set of trees, which includes camel thorns with deep roots that can extend up to 20 metres in all directions. When it rains in the Kalahari during summer, migrant birds, especially raptors, flock to the area. It also becomes spectacular with bushman grass that flourishes. This is an area with more than 260 different bird species. The oryx is one of the most successful and iconic species in this habitat, but the Kalahari is also known for its large, black-maned lion, cheetah, jackal, springbok, eland and brown hyena. Ground squirrels forage and sociable suricates (or meerkats) may be seen. The Kalahari Gemsbok National Park is one of the best places to experience the Kalahari, and there are also smaller wonderful private reserves.

 

 

East of the Cape is the Garden Route, notable for its dramatic mountains, strings of large fresh water lakes, beaches, estuaries and the forests, which give the area its name. The region gets summer and winter rainfall and has six biomes covering semi-desert, succulent Karoo, thicket, forest, fynbos and coastal areas. The thicket biome is special here—it’s a place of tangled creepers, spiny euphorbias, aloes as well as many of species that are also found in the Cape Floral Kingdom.

  • Don’t miss the Tsitsikamma National Park where you will find true forests featuring fantastic yellowwood trees towering in the canopy, draped with old man’s beard. The forests echo with the call of the spectacular red winged Knysna turaco. Elephants also occur here, but they are very rare.
  • The Greater Addo Game Reserve, which is run by the National Parks Board, and the smaller parks of the Eastern Cape are part of a conservation success story that has seen the proliferation of wild areas and game reserves over the past 10 or 15 years. You can expect the sorts of activities that you will find in other very good game reserves. As the reserves are fenced, it’s often easier to find game, but you will not get quite the same wilderness feeling as you can expect in a larger game reserve. It’s a fascinating area full of reminders—some good and some not so good—of the area’s English-settler history and the infamous Xhosa wars, which went on for decades.
  • For those wanting to go right into the heart of tribal South Africa and the birthplace of Nelson Mandela, the area called the Wild Coast which lies to the east and is reached by extremely bumpy dirt roads, remains one of the most fascinating areas to visit from a scenic and cultural point of view. Talk to us about the waterfalls of Mboyti and the spectacular land and seascapes found in this area. We know these areas intimately.

 

The true heart of Southern Africa is the Great Karoo—a semi-desert area with fascinating archaeology, wide arid plains, craggy mountains and small villages (usually dominated by tall churches). It is in these towns, such as Graaff-Reinet, where the likes of Chris Barnard and many famous South African artists and writers were born. It’s a wide and open palette for creativity and imagination that will inspire all photographers interested in people and interesting places. There are national parks and excellent private game reserves to be explored as well as many excellent owner-run guesthouses.

 

The range of mountains that dominates central Southern Africa is the Drakensberg, and its tallest snow-capped peaks of more than 3 400 metres are the highest south of Kilimanjaro. The basalt topped mountains, which change in mood and colour with the passing seasons, are a huge inspiration for photography. The easiest area to explore is the eastern side of the mountains, which is managed by KZN Wildlife. The northern area centres on a feature called the Amphitheatre, a particularly dramatic cliff that is nearly 1000 metres high and several kilometres wide. In the Central Berg, at places like Ndedema and Giant’s Castle, the landscapes are sublime, and in the Southern Berg, where bands of sandstone run through the rolling green hills, there are caves with panels of outstanding rock art revealing much of the Bushman (San) people’s gentle ways of life. Like the Cape Floral Kingdom, this is a Unesco World Heritage Site on account of the significance of this art. This is a wonderful country, and as you walk or drive through the folds of hills you will see wonderful mountain views, rivers and if you are lucky, large herds of eland. A highlight is the Lammergeyer Hide at Giant’s Castle, which can be visited from May to September for stunning photo opportunities. Of course, there are more intimate accommodation options in wonderful guesthouses and lodges, but none can match the location of the ones run by KZN Wildlife, the provincial parks board.

It is possible to drive to the top of the Drakensberg, via Sani Pass, into Lesotho. It’s a difficult road for 4x4s only. I can also suggest a visit to the Eastern Free State where the Maluti Mountains border western Lesotho. This is wonderland for photographers, especially in April, when there are blooms of cosmos and May, after the first frost when the poplars turn golden brown. Many artists make their homes in places like Clarens on account of the wonderful landscapes there. The Golden Gate Highlands National Park is the only one in South Africa proclaimed on account of landscapes, and it’s glorious, especially at sunset.

 

This subtropical northeastern region of South Africa offers coral reefs, great beaches, estuaries and also some fine game reserves with an interesting diversity of bushveld habitats. At its core are the extremely well-run national parks managed by KZN wildlife, which include a clutch of reserves now included in the Greater iSimangaliso Wetland Park. This is a fantastic wetland system, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with the most southerly coral reefs in Africa. Turtles lay their eggs on the beaches here in the summer months, and it’s an immensely beautiful place. Once again, there are camps run by KZN Wildlife as well as some excellent private reserves including Phinda. In this area, don’t miss the Hlhuhluwe-Umfolozi Park, the oldest wildlife area in Southern Africa—it was here that rhino were brought back from the brink of extinction in the 60s and 70s by the legendary conservationist, Ian Player. Birders will find the small reserves of Ndumo and Mkuze to be among the most productive areas in South Africa. We can highly recommend this area for photographers, especially if they choose an itinerary that combines some of the privately operated wildlife areas with the provincial parks.

The northwestern part of South Africa includes a fantastic park called Madikwe. This reserve in South Africa borders on Botswana and is unusual as it straddles the Kalahari and Highveld biomes. It has a fantastic diversity of species from both biomes including both springbok and impala. It’s hard to believe that before 1992, this was farmland as the land has been completely rehabilitated. The game viewing in the reserve is very good, and Madikwe is particularly known for its wild dog and lion populations. Rhino sightings are also possible. The park is an easy short charter flight or four hour drive from Johannesburg. It is also in a malaria-free area, which is an added attraction. No private game driving is permitted in this park, and, as with Sabi Sands and other private reserves, it has a wealth of excellent private game lodges, some of which are really ideal for photographers.

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Geography

Situated at the southern edge of the African continent, South Africa is bounded by the Atlantic and Indian Oceans on three sides, with Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Swaziland as its neighbours and Lesotho nestled in its centre.

Full name: Republic of South Africa
Capital: Pretoria (administrative capital)
Population: 54 million (2014)
Geographic coordinates: 29 00 S, 24 00 E
Area: 1 219 912 sq. km / 471 010 sq. mi.
Time: +2 hours GMT

VISAS AND PASSPORTS

Visitors to South Africa must have a passport that is valid for at least 6 months beyond your intended departure date, together with onward travel documents, proof of accommodation and sufficient funds for the duration of your stay. Please also ensure that you have sufficient blank visa pages (not endorsement pages) in your passport, with at least 2 consecutive/side-by-side blank pages. Our recommendation is 3 pages (or even 4 if you are travelling through more than one country on your journey). Please confirm with your local embassy whether there are any visa requirements or by contacting us.

IMPORTANT NOTE FOR PARENTS TRAVELLING WITH CHILDREN

South Africa has somewhat contraversial legislation designed to prevent child trafficking.

NOTE: All passengers under 18 years of age will need to present an unabridged birth certificate as well as a valid passport when entering, departing or transiting South Africa and Botswana. A sworn translation (certified/authenticated) in English should accompany all documentation that is in a language other than English. For single parents, or those travelling alone with their children, the following must be provided:

  • An affidavit (no more than 3 months old on the date of travel) in which the absent parent gives consent for the child to travel, or
  • A court order granting full responsibilities or legal guardianship of the child, or
  • The death certificate of the absent parent.

Please speak to your Africa specialist to ensure that you have any appropriate travel documentation before departing on safari.

BANKS AND FOREIGN EXCHANGE

The currency unit is the Rand (ZAR), denoted by the symbol R, with 100 cents making up R1 (one Rand). Foreign currency can be exchanged at local banks and Bureaux de Change. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted. You can draw local currency everywhere through local ATMs. The exchange rate is currently $1 : R13,5.

LANGUAGES

There are 11 officially recognised languages, most of them indigenous to South Africa. English is one of these, and everywhere you go, you can expect to find people who speak and understand it. English is the language of the cities, of commerce and banking, of government and official documents. Road signs and official forms are in English. The President makes his speeches in English, and at any hotel the service staff will speak English. Afrikaans is also widely spoken by all groups.

FREEDOM

South Africa is a stable democracy. People are extremely friendly. But be aware that there is a large gap between rich and poor (probably more so than many countries), and there are criminal elements in certain areas. You should be careful when travelling not to be an obvious target. Keep a close eye on your possessions and lock your valuables away. Be careful not to venture into unknown urban areas, especially at night. If in any doubt ask your hotel, but use your common sense and you will be more than fine.

MALARIA

Visitors to Kruger National Park area, Sabi Sands and KwaZulu Natal are strongly advised to take anti-malaria precautions. Much of the rest of the country including Cape Town, the Eastern Cape and the Interior and far Northern and Western areas are malaria free. Please make sure that you consult your doctor in advance and take necessary precautions.  Yellow fever vaccination is only required if entering from a yellow fever zone. Consult your nearest travel clinic for up to date information. It is also advisable to know your blood group in case of an emergency.

WEATHER

South Africa is generally a dry country. It enjoys a high number of clear, sunny days and despite regional differences, its climate is generally mild throughout the year. It is a relatively dry country with a mean annual rainfall of 502mm (19 in). The weather in South Africa is generally pleasant throughout the year – warm to hot days and cool to warm nights. During our winter months however (May to September), it can get very cold at night and in the early morning, particularly when on safari. Summer in South Africa lasts from October until March; it is warm to hot, with rainfall in the interior of the country. The rainfall is generally in afternoon thunderstorms which are usually shortlived. The Western Cape, including Cape Town, experiences frontal rainfall between April to October and this can set in at times.

INSURANCES

Please ensure that you have medical insurance cover while you are on safari. It is also recommended to have cancellation and curtailment insurance as David Rogers Photographic or agents cannot be held responsible for unforseen events such as delays in international flights or health issues. We ask that full insurance is put in place at point of confirmation. Please give us the details as above. We expect that every guest has insurance that covers the following as a minimum:

  • Cancellation and curtailment
  • Medical costs (including full hospital costs should it be needed)
  • Personal accident or death
  • Emergency evacuation from the point of evacuation to the nearest best hospital and then back to the guest’s hometown. Family or traveling partner should also be covered for accompanying an evacuation.

We cannot emphasize how important it is to be fully covered. Private hospitals in Africa will not accept a patient until full medical insurance has been established.

WHAT TO BRING

You should always travel with soft bags, not hard suitcases (not only for the smaller aircraft but also to fit into vehicles). Weight restrictions on internal flights is usually between 20 and 25 kg per person with one carry on bag that is usually limited to 7 kg per person. Photographers need not be overly concerned about these limits. The airlines do not allow valuable items to be checked into the hold and will allow cameras to be taken on board as long as the cumulative weight is adhered to. We recommend that you travel with anything essential (medication in particular, spare glasses, batteries) and, if possible, a change of clothes.

WHAT TO PACK

Please see our website for a full description of what to pack, photo gear suggestions, rental and also safari clothing. When packing, consider the following:

Always carry a hat, sunglasses, high-strength sunscreen, moisturizer, lip salve, strong insect repellent, anti-histamine cream and tablets. Bring binoculars, a torch (flashlight) and if you wear prescription glasses, bring a spare.

Clothes – all properties have a daily laundry service, so do not bring too many. Here is a good guide:

  • For safari,
    • 3 sets bush coloured safari outfits (long/shorts/shirts) i.e. green/brown/dark khaki (not white, cream or bright colours – especially for walking).
    • 2 set casual evening clothes (long trousers & shirts and socks to reduce insect bites).
    • 1 lightweight sweat Warm jacket in winter (June/July/early Aug).
    • Light rain gear for the wet months (November – April). Lodges do provide ponchos.
    • Open shoes or sandal type shoes for warmer day A pair of closed walking shoes – need not bring boots.
  • In cities and some of the more upmarket camps, the dress code is generally very informal, but you may wish to bring along a non-safari shirt with a collar – even if it’s a golf shirt.
  • A number of camps do have pools, so bring swimwear with you.

STAYING IN TOUCH

There is mobile and internet reception through South Africa and also at the camps that you will be visiting. It is likely to be slow internet compared to your home country. Also remember that browsing through local internet service providers is very expensive. We suggest you connect via wireless networks to avoid returning home to a big bill.

POWER AND ADAPTORS

Please note that the plug points are three-round pins (220 volt). Most hotels and lodges have adaptors for the commonly used, round two-pin plugs.

DIETARY REQUIREMENTS

Please let us know any food allergies or any other special dietary requirements well in advance so the camp /lodge can accommodate you.

RECOMMENDED READING

We recommend the following books specific to the South African region:

  • Wild About Cape Town – Duncan Butchart
  • Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela
  • Mandela, The End of an Era – Charlene Smith
  • Scramble for Africa – Thomas Pakenham
  • Complete Book of Southern African Mammals – Gus Mills
  • Creatures of Habit, African Animal Behaviour – Peter Apps
  • Safari Companion – Richard D. Estes
  • Sasol Birds of Southern Africa – Phil Hockey, Ian Sinclair and Warwick Tarboton
  • Behaviour Guide to African Mammals – Richard Estes
  • Kingdon Pocket Guide to African Mammals – Jonathan Kingdon
  • A Guide to the Reptiles of Southern Africa – Johan Marais, Graham Alexander
  • South Africa – The Bradt Travel Guide
  • Field Guide to Butterflies of South Africa – Steve Woodhall
  • Travellers’ Wildlife Guide: Southern Africa – Warwick Tarboton, Chris & Tilde Stuart
  • Dragonflies of South Africa – Warwick and Michele Tarboton
  • Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Africa – Chris & Tilde Stuart

E-BOOKS

Sasol ebirds of South Africa is on the iStore

Londolozi – Cathedral of the Wild by Boyd Varty

SOME GREAT MUSIC ARTISTS FROM SOUTH AFRICA

Hugh Masakela – jazz
Ladysmith Black Mambazo – played with Paul Simon
Yvonne Chaka Chaka
Johnny Clegg and Savuka
Miriam Makeba
Brenda Fassie

WILD ANIMALS

Africa’s wild animals are unpredictable and potentially dangerous. Photographic safari activities and staying in any safari camp place visitors in close proximity to wild animals. It is therefore an inherent risk. Whilst every care is taken by personnel to minimise exposure to risk, our company and its suppliers bear no responsibility whatsoever for any loss, injury, illness, death, delays, cancellation of flights or change of itinerary and retain the right to alter, amend or cancel any part of a safari with just reason.