Grumeti Serengeti Tented Camp

All’s well that ends well…

My time at Grumeti started off with a few frustrations and disappointments, but it all came right in the end…!

The main problem was that the Great Migration was late, so there were very few animals around. There were some resident zebra and wildebeest, but not enough to provide me with any chance to see a kill. I made things worse for myself by deciding not to go on one of the afternoon game drives. Admittedly, one of the South African guests had told me that there ‘probably’ wouldn’t be one as they needed to be up early in the morning, and I was a bit stressed about getting behind on editing my pictures, but it was laziness, really. By the time I found out they were going out, I’d already changed and was happily working on my laptop. I only realised my mistake when someone showed me his pictures of a pride of lions with a double rainbow in the background! Aaaarrrrgggghhh…!

That wasn’t my only disappointment. I stayed at Grumeti from 8-28 May, and the first few days were very frustrating.

  • I came back from a couple of game drives early as there was so little to see, and I didn’t take a single picture for two game drives in a row!

  • When I did have a good day, I had so many pictures that I wasn’t able to edit them all before my next game drive, which stressed me out no end. I just didn’t have enough hours in the day. I was on game drives from 0600-1200 and again from 1600-1900, and for every hour of picture-taking I needed at least an hour of editing time, so I ended up working 18-hour days! I even had to set my alarm for 0330 a couple of times just so that I had a chance to get up-to-date, but that still left me with almost no time to relax and watch a movie or something. The only time I had to read the paper or catch up on some sleep was on game drives! It wasn’t really ‘work’, of course, and I enjoyed processing the pictures, but everyone needs a little time off every now and again…!

  • I only had one bottle of hand wash, but I needed one for the sink and one for the outdoor shower, and I had to ask for another one three times before it finally arrived…by accident! When I’d told my butler I needed ‘another’ bottle, he’d thought I meant a different bottle rather than a second one. The mind boggles…!

  • I also lost my USB stick, which drove me absolutely crazy! Where could it have got to? I knew I would’ve put it in the outside pocket of my camera bag, but it just wasn’t there. I looked everywhere for it, but I couldn’t find it.

  • I managed to rip my toenail off just standing too close to my bed. It started emitting some nasty pus, so I took some antibiotics, and Doctor Vicky came to dress the wound every night. (That’s all she did for me, by the way…!)

  • We had yet a puncture on one game drive only 100 yards from a lioness, so it was a bit difficult for Shaban to fix!

  • We saw an elephant in must that threatened to charge us. It was a great sighting, but Shaban got spooked and drove off too quickly, so I missed the money shot.

  • On a game drive with Yona, we just missed seeing a couple of lionesses fighting off a male that was trying to steal their kill. The guests who were there for the whole show said it was the greatest thing they’d ever seen in their lives. Aaaarrrrgggghhh…again!

  • I came home from one game drive to find bat droppings on my laptop!

  • I came home early from a game drive, only to find I was supposed to be having a ‘bush dinner’ with the rest of the guests. It was going to be a surprise - but my driver didn’t even know about it! They managed to rustle up something for me to eat, but I felt very disappointed about missing the guests’ final dinner and guilty about putting the staff to extra trouble. ‘Surprises’ are all very well, but they have to be better planned. It reminded me of a ‘surprise’ lunch at Klein’s when our guide told us that there had been a leopard sighting. He kept telling us that it was just up ahead, and I got very excited…only to find out that it was all a ruse when I saw lunch laid out in a clearing. It was very nicely done, with all the food laid out on a wooden swing and rugs and comfy chairs spread out on the grass, but I was massively disappointed. A leopard sighting beats lunch any day of the week.

  • My D850 with the 800mm lens fell on the floor of the truck…twice!

Having said that, the problems were only minor, and they were made up for by a few highlights: 

  • My driver Shaban and I had a good leopard sighting. I thought I’d lost the opportunity when my camera malfunctioned, which was incredibly frustrating (!), but we followed him across the savannah until he eventually sat and posed nicely for us by the side of the road.

  • We got lucky when we went down to the Nyasirori man-made pool to get silhouette shots and immediately saw a lioness on the bank! This was the result:

  • I was given a cake and a tribal dance on my birthday - although I have a very low threshold of embarrassment, so I had to grit my teeth through it all…!

  • The food was very good, and one day I was given chilled apple and ginger soup. It was the best soup I’ve ever had in my life - so good that I actually asked for the recipe! 

  • The guests were also great - as they have been throughout this trip. There was a big group of South Africans working for Spar who were good fun, and I got on particularly well with another couple called Jay and Margarita.

All that was very enjoyable, but during the last 10 days of my stay things really started picking up in a big way, and I had some really great sightings.

On the 18th of May, we saw a cheetah with two cubs in the morning and found her again in the evening. The word ‘cute’ doesn’t even describe the cubs. I took hundreds of pictures, and, just before we finally had to drive home, I even had a chance to watch the sunset reflected in the cheetah’s eyes! As Bill Murray said in Groundhog Day, “Now that was a pretty good day…”

On the 22nd, Waziri and I spent nearly two hours following a lioness and her cub that had been cut off from the rest of the pride. Waziri was about to give up, but I persuaded him to carry on, and we eventually saw the reunion. The other lions were very happy to see them! We had breakfast in the truck surrounded by the whole pride of around 20 lions!

On the 23rd, we saw two lionesses and seven cubs up a tree!

On the 24th, we saw 17 lions all line up to drink at the water hole with Holly and Marieke. All credit to Waziri. He saw the lions walking towards the pool, and he worked out that they’d stop to drink there, so he positioned us in the perfect spot to shoot from. He was the head ranger with years of bush experience, but it was still uncanny how his predictions always seemed to come true!

On the 27th, I decided to do an all-day game drive to try and spend some time with one of the cats, and it paid off when we saw a leopard that posed beautifully in a tree and then the cheetah with the two cubs, which proceeded to take up some fantastic positions on one termite mound after another. I took 3,000 shots that day! 

On my last day, the 28th, I was thinking about going straight to the airport, but I’d learned my lesson from the last time I missed a game drive, so I asked Waziri to take me down to the Nyasirori pool again. Lo and behold, the lions were there again! I managed to take a few silhouette shots of the female, but the male was too skittish and walked away. However, I did get some good shots of the ‘Flehmen’ response, which is when a male lion bares his teeth to expose a gland that’s sensitive to the scent of females on heat. I was on such a high that I even found myself whistling a song at one point!

Oh, and I found my USB stick…just where it was supposed to be!

All’s well that ends well…

Here are a few of my favourite shots from my stay at Grumeti Serengeti Tented Camp:

 

Butcher's bill

1 x big toenail

1 x USB memory stick (before I found it later…!)

Species list:

This is a cumulative list of species I’ve seen at Klein’s Camp, Serengeti Under Canvas and Grumeti Serengeti Tented Camp.

Animals (58)

African civet

African hare

African bush elephant

African wild cat

Banded mongoose

Bat-eared fox

Black-backed jackal

Black-backed/silver-backed jackal

Blue wildebeest

Bohor reedbuck

Bushbuck

Cape buffalo

Chameleon

Cheetah

Coke’s hartebeest

Colobus monkey 

Common warthog

Common/golden jackal

Defassa waterbuck

Dung beetle

Dwarf mongoose

Eland

Field mouse

Grant’s gazelle

Green turtle

Hippo

Impala

Kirk’s dik-dik

Klipspringer

Leopard

Leopard tortoise

Lesser bush baby

Lion

Little antelope

Masai giraffe

Millipede

Monitor lizard 

Mwanza flat-headed rock agama/Spider-Man agama

Nile crocodile

Olive baboon

Oribi

Plains zebra

Rock hyrax

Rock python

Scrub hare 

Serval

Slender mongoose

Spitting cobra

Spotted hyena

Steenbok

Terrapin

Thomson’s gazelle

Topi

Tree hyrax

Tree lizard

Vervet monkey

White-tailed mongoose

Wild dog/painted wolf

Birds (205)

Abdim’s stork

African crowned eagle

African cuckoo

African fish eagle

African golden weaver

African green-pigeon

African grey flycatcher 

African grey hornbill

African harrier-hawk

African hawk-eagle

African hoopoe

African moustached warbler

African open-billed stork

African paradise flycatcher 

African pied wagtail 

African wattled lapwing

African white-backed vulture

Arrow-marked babbler

Augur buzzard

Bare-faced go-away-bird

Barn swallow 

Bateleur eagle

Bearded woodpecker

Black crake

Black stork

Black-and-white cuckoo

Black-bellied bustard 

Black-chested snake-eagle

Black-headed gonolek 

Black-headed heron

Black-lored babbler

Black-shouldered kite

Black-winged red bishop 

Black-winged stilt

Blacksmith plover

Blue-capped cordon-bleu 

Blue-naped mousebird

Bronze mannikin 

Brown parrot

Brown snake-eagle 

Burchell’s starling

Cape wheatear

Cardinal quelea

Cardinal woodpecker 

Cattle egret

Chestnut sparrow

Cinnamon-breasted rock bunting

Common buzzard

Common kestrel

Common ostrich

Common sandpiper oooobrm

Coqui francolin

Croaking cisticola

Crowned plover

Dark chanting-goshawk

Diederik cuckoo

Eagle owl

Eastern chanting-goshawk

Eastern grey plantain-eater

Eastern paradise whydah

Egyptian goose

European bee-eater

European roller

European swallow

Fischer’s lovebird

Fischer’s sparrow-lark

Flappet lark

Fork-tailed drongo

Gabor goshawk

Goliath heron

Grassland pipit

Great spotted cuckoo

Greater blue-eared starling

Greater flamingo

Greater painted-snipe

Greater striped swallow

Green wood-hoopoe

Grey-breasted spurfowl

Grey-capped social weaver

Grey crowned crane

Grey heron

Grey kestrel

Grey-backed fiscal

Grey-breasted spurfowl

Grey-crested helmetshrike

Hadada ibis

Hammerkop 

Harlequin quail

Helmeted guineafowl

Hooded vulture

Isabelline wheatear

Kittlitz’s plover

Klaas’s cuckoo

Knob-billed duck

Kori bustard

Lappet-faced vulture

Lesser flamingo

Lesser kestrel

Lesser masked weaver

Lesser striped swallow

Lilac-breasted roller

Little bee-eater

Little sparrowhawk

Little green bee-eater

Long-crested eagle

Long-tailed cisticola

Magpie shrike

Marigold sunbird

Marsh eagle

Martial eagle

Montagu’s harrier

Mountain buzzard

Northern anteater chat

Northern wheatear

Northern white-crowned shrike

Pale spotted owlet

Pallid harrier

Pied kingfisher 

Pin-tailed whydah

Plain-backed pipit 

Purple grenadier

Purple-crested turaco

Pygmy falcon

Pygmy kingfisher 

Rattling cisticola 

Red-backed shrike

Red-billed buffalo-weaver

Red-billed quelea

Red-cheeked cordon-bleu 

Red-fronted barbet

Red-headed weaver

Red-necked spurfowl

Red-rumped swallow

Red-winged starling

Ring-necked dove

Rosy-breasted longclaw 

Ruff

Rufous-naped lark

Rufous-tailed weaver

Ruppell’s griffon vulture

Ruppell’s long-tailed starling

Saddle-billed stork

Sand grouse

Sand martin 

Scarlet-chested sunbird

Secretary bird

Senegal lapwing

Silverbird

Sooty falcon

Southern red bishop 

Speckle-fronted weaver

Speckled mousebird

Speckled pigeon

Spot-flanked barbet

Spotted thick-knee

Spur-winged goose

Spur-winged lapwing

Steel-blue whydah

Steppe eagle

Straw-tailed whydah 

Striated heron

Striped kingfisher

Sunbird

Superb starling

Swamp nightjar

Taita fiscal

Tawny eagle

Tawny-flanked prinia 

Temminck’s courser

Three-banded plover

Two-banded courser

Two-banded plover

Usambiro barbet

Variable sunbird

Verreaux’s (or black) eagle

Verreaux’s eagle-owl

Village indigobird

Von Der Decken’s hornbill

Water thick-knee

Wattled starling

Western banded snake-eagle

White stork

White-bellied bustard

White-bellied tit

White-browed coucal

White-browed robin-chat

White-browed scrub-robin

White-crowned shrike

White-faced whistling-duck

White-headed buffalo-weaver

White-headed saw-wing

White-headed vulture

White-winged widowbird

Wire-tailed swallow 

Wood dove

Wood sandpiper 

Woodland kingfisher 

Woolly-necked stork

Yellow-billed oxpecker

Yellow-billed stork

Yellow-fronted canary

Yellow-throated longclaw

Yellow-throated sandgrouse 

Yellow-vented bulbul

Zitting cisticola   

Klein's Camp: Part 2

“Rules are made to be broken…”

The most exciting thing you’ll ever see with a camera in your hand…

The most exciting thing you’ll ever see with a camera in your hand…

“There’s a lion fighting with a buffalo!” cried our driver, holding his binoculars and looking round in my direction.

“Okay, let’s go!”

He tore off into the Serengeti, bouncing around like crazy as we headed towards the action - ignoring the park rules by going off-road! He was driving so fast that my bean bag flew up into the air. Thank goodness I was holding on to my cameras, or they both might’ve lost them both! I couldn’t see what was going on, but our driver kept up a running commentary until we eventually got close. He asked me where he should position the car, but it didn’t matter as we could plainly see a lion grabbing the haunches of a buffalo only 10 yards away! My heart racing, I immediately started taking pictures. I took so many, in fact, that my camera couldn’t cope and started to slow down! I had to stop every now and then to allow it to write the files to the memory card. I was with a couple of guests, Patrick and Yvonne, and I suggested to Yvonne that she take a video.

Thanks, Yvonne…!

For five or 10 minutes, the lion hung on with its claws and teeth as the buffalo desperately tried to escape. Eventually, two more male lions arrived to help out and managed to take down their prey, but the buffalo somehow managed to get to its feet again, and the struggle continued. We drove around a bit to get the best view until, finally, one more lion joined in, and the buffalo sank to the ground for the last time. One of the lions clamped his jaws around the animal’s neck and then its mouth to suffocate it, and all four began to feed on their kill. We were in the prime position, with the sun at our backs and all four lions lined up behind the carcase. What a sight!

Sadly, we couldn’t stay long as our driver was worried we’d be spotted by a park ranger, but that was definitely the highlight of my stay at Klein’s Camp. And it was all down to our driver and his ability to spot the action from all of 300 yards away…and break the rules! You’re not supposed to go off-road in the Serengeti National Park, and you run the risk of being fined or even banned from the park if you do, but rules are made to be broken - especially in Africa! I generally adopted a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy: I didn’t ask if we were breaking any rules, and I certainly didn’t tell any of the park rangers about it!

Seeing a kill is what it’s all about when it comes to wildlife photography. I realise some people might be a little squeamish about it, but there really is nothing to match the excitement. The guests and I were on a high after the lion kill, and we kept replaying it over and over in our minds and talking about it for the rest of the day. The only other time I saw a ‘proper’ kill from start to finish was in the Klein’s Camp concession. We were looking for cheetah all morning out towards the old airstrip, and we finally saw a pair of brothers walking across a broad, grassy plain. It was ideal cheetah country, and there were quite a few blue wildebeest for them to choose from. We drove along, trying to keep ahead of the cheetah but level with their prey to give us the best chance of spotting the action. I saw five cheetah kills in as many days at Kicheche Bush Camp last year, so I know just how fast the action can take place and how far they can run! In this case, there were a couple of false starts as one or other of the cheetah lay down in the shade of a tree, but one of the brothers was clearly in the lead and ready to hunt. Finally, he started trotting towards a group of wildebeest with his head down in that very typical way they have that shows they’re about to chase down their prey. He ran at full speed for about 100 yards as I took pictures until finally catching a wildebeest. He didn’t manage to take it down first time, though, and it took the help of his brother to wrestle the animal to the ground. We were a bit far behind by that stage, but I switched to my 800mm lens and managed to get a few shots.

One of the cheetah clamped his jaws around the wildebeest’s neck and suffocated him while the other lay next to him, holding it down with his paws. Once it was dead, they started feeding on the carcase, scanning the horizon every few seconds to check for other predators that might steal their prey. After a few minutes’ feasting on the carcase, one of the cheetah walked over and lay down in the shade of a tree, and the other dragged the kill over to him. They both continued eating greedily as one or two vultures arrived to join the party. This carried on for about half an hour, and I took pictures of the cheetah feeding and the vultures landing one after another. By the time we left, I counted 82 white-backed vultures standing in a neat line - just like they were waiting for the bus!

Apart from those kills, I had a few other good days in the bush. I remember following three cheetah on another day with a guest called Martina, and it was a pretty long wait for any action, but we finally got our reward when they climbed a tree and started posing for us.

Eventually, the cheetah jumped down from the tree, and I managed to capture him in the act…

On another occasion, I managed to find a spot where I could take shots of animals silhouetted against the sunset. Normally, that’s not possible at Klein’s due to the Kuka hills that run north-south between the concession and the Serengeti National Park, blocking the sunset in the west. However, there’s a little gully in one of the broad plains near the old airstrip that allowed me to capture this wildebeest against a gloriously fiery sky.

The other real highlights were leopard sightings. A guest called Martina wanted a few photography lessons while she was at Klein’s, and we went out on every game drive with a guide called Seleu, who managed to spot three leopards in as many days! One of them was even in the concession, which was a very rare event. I’d seen a leopard with Seleu in my first week at Klein’s, but that was the only other time I’d seen one. When our tracker Leboo spotted the animal sitting in a tree, Seleu got very excited - almost as excited as when he’d shouted, “Snake! Snake! Snake! Snake! Snake!” when a spitting cobra slither across the road! - and we were treated to a good half an hour of posing before it eventually climbed down and slunk off into a drainage gully. The second sighting was only a few yards away from the ranger post at the entrance to the park. Seleu saw a kill lying on the bank of the river, and he then managed to spot the leopard nearby. Unfortunately, it was very shy, and it was also very dark, so we only got off a few shots before it disappeared into the undergrowth. The third and final leopard was by far the best. We were on our way back from a long game drive in the Serengeti when Leboo spotted it sitting by the river on an open plain. We reversed to the nearest junction and took a different road that led right to the spot. By this stage, the animal had moved away from the river and sat down in the grass, but we still had an excellent view. The light was also excellent as it was getting towards the ‘golden hour’ just before sunset, and Martina and I were able to take some great portraits.

As you can see from the pictures I’ve chosen, going on safari is really all about the big cats: lion, leopard and cheetah. I didn’t see many leopard or cheetah at Klein’s, but the five male lion were a constant presence. When they arrived in November last year, they killed all the cubs they could find from the previous dominant males, and that forced all the lionesses into oestrus. My time here coincided with a frenzy of intercourse, and I must have seen more than 25 matings in the last two months. I also went down to Serengeti Under Canvas for a few days when there weren’t any guests at Klein’s, and I had some good sightings there, too.

When I finally left Klein’s Camp, I walked out of my door and stood on the porch, looking for one last time at the view up the valley towards Kenya. I had tears in my eyes. It’s been a great two months or so, and I hope to be back at some stage in the future. I’ve had some great sightings, taken some great pictures and met some great people, both among the staff and among the guests. I hope I’ve helped the guests learn more about photography. I’ve had some nice feedback on Tripadvisor, and one guest even started calling me ‘Master’ - i felt like Mr Miyagi in The Karate Kid: “Lens cap on, lens cap off.” All in all, I have to thank Claire Evans at &Beyond and everyone else involved for giving me such a great opportunity and making my stay so enjoyable. Let’s hope it’s the start of a beautiful friendship!

 

Butcher's bill

1 x Nikon 1.25 teleconverter - the screws kept falling out, and the lug that located it in the mount eventually froze in place…

Species list:

Animals

African civet

African hare

African bush elephant

African wild cat

Banded mongoose

Bat-eared fox

Black-backed jackal

Black-backed/silver-backed jackal

Blue wildebeest

Bohor reedbuck

Bushbuck

Cape buffalo

Chameleon

Cheetah

Coke’s hartebeest

Common warthog

Common/golden jackal

Defassa waterbuck

Dung beetle

Dwarf mongoose

Eland

Grant’s gazelle

Green turtle

Hippopotamus

Impala

Kirk’s dik-dik

Klipspringer

Leopard

Leopard tortoise

Lesser bush baby

Lion

Little antelope

Masai giraffe

Millipede

Monitor lizard 

Mwanza flat-headed rock agama/Spider-Man agama

Nile crocodile

Olive baboon

Oribi

Plains zebra

Rock hyrax

Rock python

Scrub hare 

Serval

Slender mongoose

Spitting cobra

Spotted hyena

Steenbok

Terrapin

Thomson’s gazelle

Topi

Tree hyrax

Tree lizard

Vervet monkey

White-tailed mongoose

Wild dog/painted wolf

Birds

Abdim’s stork

African crowned eagle

African cuckoo

African fish eagle

African golden weaver

African green-pigeon

African grey flycatcher 

African grey hornbill

African hawk-eagle

African hoopoe

African paradise flycatcher 

African pied wagtail 

African wattled lapwing

African white-backed vulture

Arrow-marked babbler

Augur buzzard

Bare-faced go-away-bird

Bateleur eagle

Bearded woodpecker

Black stork

Black-bellied bustard 

Black-chested snake-eagle

Black-headed heron

Black-lored babbler

Black-shouldered kite

Black-winged stilt

Blacksmith plover

Blue-naped mousebird

Bronze mannikin 

Brown parrot

Brown snake-eagle 

Burchell’s starling

Cape wheatear

Cardinal woodpecker 

Cattle egret

Cinnamon-breasted rock bunting

Common buzzard

Common kestrel

Common ostrich

Common sandpiper oooobrm

Coqui francolin

Croaking cisticola

Crowned plover

Dark chanting-goshawk

Eagle owl

Eastern chanting-goshawk

Egyptian goose

European bee-eater

European roller

European swallow

Fischer’s lovebird

Flappet lark

Fork-tailed drongo

Goliath heron

Grassland pipit

Great spotted cuckoo

Greater blue-eared starling

Greater flamingo

Greater striped swallow

Green wood-hoopoe

Grey crowned crane

Grey heron

Grey kestrel

Grey-backed fiscal

Grey-breasted spurfowl

Grey-crested helmetshrike

Hadada ibis

Hammerkop 

Helmeted guineafowl

Hooded vulture

Klaas’s cuckoo

Kori bustard

Lappet-faced vulture

Lesser flamingo

Lesser kestrel

Lesser masked weaver

Lesser striped swallow

Lilac-breasted roller

Little bee-eater

Little green bee-eater

Long-crested eagle

Long-tailed cisticola

Magpie shrike

Marigold sunbird

Marsh eagle

Martial eagle

Montagu’s harrier

Mountain buzzard

Northern anteater chat

Northern wheatear

Northern white-crowned shrike

Pale spotted owlet

Pallid harrier

Pin-tailed whydah

Plain-backed pipit 

Purple grenadier

Pygmy falcon

Pygmy kingfisher 

Rattling cisticola 

Red-backed shrike

Red-cheeked cordon-bleu 

Red-fronted barbet

Red-headed weaver

Red-necked spurfowl

Red-rumped swallow

Red-winged starling

Ring-necked dove

Ruff

Rufous-naped lark

Rufous-tailed weaver

Ruppell’s griffon vulture

Ruppell’s long-tailed starling

Saddle-billed stork

Sand grouse

Scarlet-chested sunbird

Secretary bird

Senegal lapwing

Silverbird

Sooty falcon

Southern red bishop 

Speckle-fronted weaver

Speckled mousebird

Speckled pigeon

Spot-flanked barbet

Spotted thick-knee

Steppe eagle

Striped kingfisher

Sunbird

Superb starling

Swamp nightjar

Taita fiscal

Tawny eagle

Tawny-flanked prinia 

Temminck’s courser

Three-banded plover

Two-banded courser

Two-banded plover

Usambiro barbet

Variable sunbird

Verreaux’s (or black) eagle

Verreaux’s eagle-owl

Von Der Decken’s hornbill

Wattled starling

White stork

White-bellied bustard

White-bellied tit

White-browed coucal

White-browed robin-chat

White-browed scrub-robin

White-crowned shrike

White-headed buffalo weaver

White-headed saw-wing

White-headed vulture

White-winged widowbird

Wire-tailed swallow 

Woodland kingfisher 

Woolly-necked stork

Yellow-billed oxpecker

Yellow-billed stork

Yellow-fronted canary

Yellow-throated longclaw

Yellow-vented bulbul

Zitting cisticola  

Klein's Camp

“Africa is so, well, African…!”

The calm before the storm…

The calm before the storm…

If I told you I had to ask a guy with a spear to walk me home every night for the last month, you’d probably ask where on Earth I was staying. The answer is Klein’s Camp in the Serengeti in Tanzania. There’s no fence around the property, so guests and staff need protection after dark. I’m here for a couple of months teaching photography for &Beyond and taking pictures for use on social media. I’ll then be spending a month at the Grumeti Serengeti Tented Camp and another month at Cottar’s 1920s Safari Camp in the Masai Mara in Kenya.

It’s a great opportunity for me, and it all started in August 2018 when I came across an online article about a photographer who had managed to get himself 365 nights of accommodation in Africa in exchange for the pictures he took. I thought I could have a go at that myself, so I simply Googled ‘safari lodges in Kenya and Tanzania’, sent out around 50 emails and waited for the replies. In just a couple of weeks, I had 17 offers, including one from &Beyond! That was a good start, but then, a couple of weeks later, it got even better when Claire Evans got in touch from &Beyond, asking if I’d be interested in being the ‘resident photographer’ from March to May, teaching guests as well as taking wildlife shots for the company. Karen Darnborough from Cottar’s also asked me to do the same in June,

The last few safaris I’ve been on in Africa have cost me £5-6,000 for a week, so they’ve been a very expensive way for me to take pictures. As a result, I thought that my plan to teach over there would save me a lot of money. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way! First of all, &Beyond didn’t get the park fee waiver they applied for, and then Lenses For Hire told me I couldn’t rent an 800mm lens for more than three months without flying back to London half way through. The only way round it was to buy a brand new lens - for £15,545. Including my flights, park fees and the new lens, the combined cost of the trip had now soared to more than £25,000! For a few days, I thought about all the different options, but I’m a bit ‘penny wise and pound foolish’, so I eventually decided the opportunity was too good to miss. After a couple of 20-minute conversations with my bank, the money was in my account, and I was all set to go…

And so, after six months of non-stop emails about work permits, park fee waivers and other logistical questions (plus nearly 40 hours of travel!), I travelled to Africa to spend four months teaching photography. I flew from London Heathrow via Doha to Kilimanjaro, treating myself to a business class seat on the second leg. From there, &Beyond picked me up and took me to their offices in Arusha, where I met a few of the staff. They also provided me with a hotel room and the following morning arranged a free flight to Lobo Airstrip and a truck to Klein’s Camp.

There, I met the lodge manager Tawanda. He gave me a brief orientation and put me up in one of the guest cottages, which was very luxurious. (You can see for yourself here.) The views from there and from the bar were spectacular, looking down the valley towards the Kenyan border. The only problem came when they started burning the long grass to encourage new growth. The smoke clouded the view, and the burnt areas looked more like the plains of Mordor!

My usual routine was to go out on morning and evening game drives from 0600-1200 and from 1600-1900 (or later for a night drive). If guests wanted my company, I’d ride with them. Otherwise, I went on my own with just a driver/guide. Meals were pretty flexible. Breakfast was usually prepared for us on the game drive, and I generally took lunch and dinner in my room unless the guests invited me to eat with them. The only choice I had to make was whether to go into the Serengeti National Park. Staying in the Klein’s ‘concession’ was free, but the Serengeti entrance fee was around $71, so I didn’t want to go there every single day if I could help it. Having said that, the Serengeti was a lot bigger, and my chances of seeing game increased dramatically, so I didn’t mind too much. The birds and animals in the concession were also a lot shyer and more skittish than anywhere else I’ve been in Africa. Getting to know the minimum safe distance took some time, and I couldn’t get nearer than 40 yards to the Thomson’s gazelle!

The first few guests were two lovely American couples, Bob and Sue and Monica and Kurt. We spent most of our days together, going on game drives and having dinner in the bar/restaurant. I didn’t do much teaching, but it was nice to have such good company. If you’re looking for wealthy, successful, intelligent, well-educated and interesting people, a safari is a good place to start!

After a few days, the camp had no more guests, so from 11-15 March they sent me down to Serengeti Under Canvas, which is a mobile camp they set up for a few weeks at various different locations in order to follow the Great Migration of zebra and wildebeest. At the time, it was at Lake Ndutu in the Southern Serengeti, so I was driven down there with my cameras and a bag full of clothes and toiletries. It was a long drive of around six hours with a stop at Naabi Hill, but at least I had a chance to take some pictures on the way.

Once I got there, the assistant manager Ben gave me another orientation, and I was immediately asked to go on a game drive with two American couples, Scott and Amie and Chris and Amy. The following day, I went with another couple called Xavier and Genevieve, and, in each case, we all got on very well together. And more to the point, there was lots of game to see. It was low season at Klein’s, and it was quite difficult to find any animals at times, although we were quite lucky with the local Kuka pride of lions. They were almost constantly mating, so I got a few good shots of that.

One can only imagine what these lions are shouting at each other…!

“No means no!”

“No means no!”

Klein’s was good for lion, elephant and buffalo, but Under Canvas had 700,000 zebra and 2,000,000 wildebeest - plus all the usual predators! Unsurprisingly, I took as many pictures in five days at Under Canvas as I had in 10 days at Klein’s, and I was lucky in being able to see eight lion cubs putting on an almost daily show!

“Bundle…!”

“Bundle…!”

When I went back to Klein’s, I went on one game drive with an international couple called Boris and Watanan with their 17-year-old son Nico followed by a few on my own with a local driver called Patita. After that, there was another lull in bookings, so I went back to Under Canvas again for a couple of nights. I went on one game drive on my own with a chap called Moses and then a long one with three more Americans called Margy, Kath and Michael. Finally, I returned to Klein’s, where a party of 12 Americans arrived on 25 March. They didn’t need my services, though, so we simply had a few drinks at the bar together, and I did my game drives on my own again with a driver called Alpha. He’s the camp’s star soccer player, so he was a bit disappointed when Klein’s got beaten on goal difference by the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge in the &Beyond championships! I’ve since been on game drives with Desray and Trevor and Jim.

Overall, it’s been a very good experience so far, and I’m very grateful to Claire and &Beyond for giving me the chance to do what I love. I had a lot of logistical problems to deal with before I flew out, so it was a relief to arrive safely. Both the guests and the staff have been great. I’ve met some lovely people, and nothing is too much trouble for the local staff - does the word ‘no’ even exist in Masai or Swahili?! I’ve been a bit disappointed not to be able to take more action shots, including slow pans, and, of course, not to see more kills, but I have witnessed a huge range of animal life, including 54 different animals and 111 different birds (see full list below). There haven’t been any truly great moments or any truly appalling disasters, but, if you asked me what my ‘highs and lows’ have been, this would be my list:

Highs

  • Taking any 5* shot (see pictures in this article)

  • Two lion kills (although I didn’t see the actual hunt)

  • Three lionesses hunting a warthog (unsuccessfully)

  • A newborn impala only 20 minutes old try to get to its feet

  • A brown snake-eagle - for its amazing yellow eyes!

  • Wildebeest and zebra crossing a lake in the ‘Hidden Valley’

  • Tawanda’s leaving do, in which hundreds of his friends and colleagues danced and sang and presented him with gifts, including a whole bed!

  • Telling myself, “I’m in Africa”, which always makes me smile…!

Lows

  • Dropping both cameras - it happened both times on a downhill slope, so I must be more careful…

  • Four punctures! As Oscar Wilde once said, “To lose one tire may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose four looks like carelessness.”

  • Getting stuck in the black cotton soil and having to be towed out. Not a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours…

  • Almost getting eaten alive by tsetse flies - there aren’t any at Klein’s, but the Serengeti was so dreadful on a couple of days that I had to tuck my trousers into two pairs of socks and wear a long-sleeved shirt and jacket, a snood and a hat just to try and stop the flies biting me…

  • Getting electrocuted by the lamp switch in the shower - no wonder they have rules about that in England!

And finally, here are a few more of my favourite images. (You can see the complete collection on Facebook.) Let’s hope I get a lot more over the next few months…!

Simba, aka a male lion

European bee-eater

Morning glory

Morning glory

Guess what time I took this…

Sad eyes…

Sad eyes…

Brown snake-eagle: look at those eyes!

How a leopard got its spots…

Kirk’s dik-dik

Kirk’s dik-dik

Kirk’s dik-dik

LBR

LBR

Secretary bird

Secretary bird

 

African crowned eagle

African crowned eagle

Butcher's bill

1 x dental retainer (I flushed the cleaning solution down the toilet, not realising the retainer was still in the glass!)

Species list:

Animals

African civet

African elephant

African wild cat

Banded mongoose

Bat-eared fox

Black-backed jackal

Black-backed/silver-backed jackal

Blue wildebeest

Bohor reedbuck

Bush baby

Bushbuck

Bushbuck

Cape buffalo

Chameleon

Cheetah

Coke’s hartebeest

Common warthog

Common/golden jackal

Defassa waterbuck

Dwarf mongoose

Eland

Eland

Grant’s gazelle

Green turtle

Hippo

Impala

Kirk’s dik-dik

Klipspringer

Leopard

Leopard tortoise

Lion

Little antelope

Masai giraffe

Millipede

Monitor lizard 

Mwanza flat-headed rock agama/Spider-Man agama

Nile crocodile

Olive baboon

Oribi

Plains zebra

Rock hyrax

Rock python

Serval

Slender mongoose

Spotted hyena

Steenbok

Thomson’s gazelle

Topi

Vervet monkey

Vervet monkey

White-tailed mongoose

White-tailed mongoose

Wild dog/painted wolf

Spitting cobra

Birds

Abdim’s stork

African crowned eagle

African cuckoo

African fish eagle

African green-pigeon

African grey hornbill

African hawk-eagle

African hoopoe

African wattled lapwing

African white-backed vulture

Augur buzzard

Bare-faced go-away bird

Bateleur eagle

Black stork

Black-bellied bustard 

Black-chested snake-eagle

Black-headed heron

Black-lored babbler

Black-shouldered kite

Blacksmith plover

Blue-naped mousebird

Brown snake-eagle

Burchell’s starling

Cape wheatear

Chestnut?

Common buzzard

Common kestrel

Common ostrich

Common sandpiper

Coqui francolin

Crowned plover

Dark chanting-goshawk

Eagle owl

Eastern chanting-goshawk

Egyptian goose

European bee-eater

European roller

European swallow

Fischer’s lovebird

Fork-tailed drongo

Goliath heron

Great spotted cuckoo

Greater blue-eared starling

Greater striped swallow

Green wood-hoopoe

Grey crowned crane

Grey kestrel

Grey-backed fiscal

Grey-breasted spurfowl

Grey-crested helmetshrike

Hammerkop 

Helmeted guineafowl

Hooded vulture

Kori bustard

Lappet-faced vulture

Lesser kestrel

Lesser masked weaver

Lesser striped swallow

Lilac-breasted roller

Little bee-eater

Little green bee-eater

Magpie shrike

Marsh eagle

Martial eagle

Montagu’s harrier

Mountain buzzard

Northern anteater chat

Northern wheatear

Northern white-crowned shrike

Pale spotted owlet

Pallid harrier

Pin-tailed whydah

Pygmy falcon

Red-backed shrike

Red-necked spurfowl

Red-winged starling

Ring-necked dove

Rufous-naped lark

Rufous-tailed weaver

Ruppell’s griffon vulture

Ruppell’s long-tailed starling

Saddle-billed stork

Sand grouse

Secretary bird

Senegal lapwing

Southern red bishop 

Steppe eagle

Sunbird

Superb starling

Swamp nightjar

Tawny eagle

Tawny-flanked prinia 

Three-banded plover

Two-banded courser

Two-banded plover

Usambiro barbet

Verreaux’s (or black) eagle

Verreaux’s eagle-owl

Von Der Decken’s hornbill

Wattled starling

White stork

White-bellied bustard

White-browed coucal

White-crowned shrike

White-headed buffalo weaver

White-headed saw-wing

White-headed vulture

White-winged widowbird

Wire-tailed swallow 

Yellow-billed oxpecker

Yellow-throated longclaw

 

The ones that got away

I get nervous before I go on photography trips. Part of that is just worrying about travel arrangements, visas and packing everything I need, but another part of it is worrying that I won't get the shots I want. Here are a few examples of 'the ones that got away'.

Taj Mahal

Before I went to the Taj Mahal, I was determined to get the classic 'Lady Diana' shot of the building from the end of the reflecting pools. That was the whole point of the trip, and I was really worried about it. I couldn't face the idea of screwing up what would probably be my only opportunity to visit the world's most famous building.

When I arrived in India on a G Adventures trip in November 2013, we went to the Taj Mahal early one morning, around 0530. We had to queue for a while and then go through security. At that point, I was about to rush off and take the shot I'd been dreaming about, but our tour leader then introduced us all to a local guide who was about to give us a 15-minute lecture about the building. What a nightmare! I knew that the whole place would be crawling with tourists if I didn't go and take the shot immediately, but it seemed a bit rude just to rush off without hearing the talk. In the end, I was too British about the whole thing and missed the shot of a lifetime. Too bad. On the plus side, I ended up with this image of the Taj Mahal.

'There once lived an exotic princess in a fairy tale castle...'

It's the very opposite of the 'Lady Diana' shot. One is all symmetry and clarity, the other is misty and mysterious. The higgledy-piggledy minarets and the blue haze make the building seem more like a fairy tale castle. I do like this shot, but I still regret being too polite to get the one I wanted...!

Jumping impala

Not quite sharp enough...

This would've been a great shot. It could've been a great shot. It should've been a great shot. But it wasn't. Why? Motion blur. If you look closely, you can see that the whole body is slightly out of focus, and that was simply because I didn't think to change my shutter speed. I was parked in a jeep in Botswana when a herd of impala came chasing across the road. They were galloping fast, but there were five or six of them, so I did have time to focus on each of them, one by one, as they crossed the road in turn. Unfortunately, I was using my default camera settings that were designed to capture animals that were standing still. I was using an 80-400mm lens, so I had my camera on 1/320 and f/8 with auto ISO. That would normally have worked, but not for a jumping impala! What I really needed was a shutter speed of at least 1/1000 of a second. I just didn't think...

Caracal

This is what it looks like on Wikipedia.

A few years ago, I went to a talk given by Paul Goldstein somewhere in London, and one of the slides he showed was a picture of a caracal. I'd never seen one at the time, but Paul was very proud of his shot, which showed a caracal from the side running through long grass. The image stayed in my mind, and I was very excited when I went to Tanzania in January 2018 and actually saw one for myself! It was quite a way away, but I had my 800mm lens with me, and I was just about to take a shot when the driver told me to wait. He was going to drive around and get closer. Well, funnily enough, the caracal disappeared, and I never got the shot I wanted...

Polar bear

The best of a bad bunch

In June 2014, I went on an Exodus trip with Paul Goldstein to Spitsbergen to see the polar bear. It was a last-minute booking, so I got a good deal on the price, and I was lucky enough to share a cabin with a nice French chap called Eric, but the real prize was getting some good shots of a polar bear. We had 13 or so sightings, but, sadly, they were all too far away for my 500mm lens. That was in the days before I got into the habit of renting the Nikon 800mm monster, and I really wish I'd had it then. Amongst other sightings, a mother and her two cubs put on a great show for us on the ice, but, when I got back to my cabin to review my shots, I found they were all too soft and too distant. Ah, well, at least I have an excuse to go again now...

The kill

I've been to Africa several times now, visiting Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia and Botswana, but I've never seen a kill. I've seen the chase, and I've seen the predator eating its prey, but I've never seen the crucial moment of the kill. Now, I know some people would be a little squeamish about seeing one animal kill another, but I don't think I'd feel that way. To me, it's the ultimate expression of 'the survival of the fittest', and I'd love to see a lion, leopard or cheetah kill something on the great plains of Africa.

I have many stories of 'the one that got away'. There was the time when I climbed Mount Kenya and arrived back at the camp, only to find that everyone that morning had spent an hour watching a pride of lions kill a wildebeest 50 yards away from the gate of the national park! Or there was the time on the same trip when I booked the wrong flight home and had the chance to spend an extra day on my very own personal game drive. We saw a cheetah 'timing' (or hunting) an impala, and it was the most exciting thing that's ever happened to me in Africa - but no kill. In Antarctica, I watched from a Zodiac as a leopard seal ripped apart a penguin, but I didn't quite see the initial attack. In the Brazilian Pantanal, I was watching a jaguar on the river bank from a small boat when the call came over the radio that lunch was ready. No sooner had we met up with the other boat than we had another call, this time to say that the very same jaguar had just killed a caiman! We rushed back and watched as the young jaguar made a mess of the whole thing. To begin with, he had hold of his prey by the throat rather than the back of the neck. This is fine if you're a lion, but jaguars prefer to kill caiman (or small crocodiles) by nipping them on the back of the neck. This jaguar was in a bit of a bind: he didn't want to kill the caiman the 'wrong' way, but he couldn't change his grip in case it got away. He spent 10 minutes humming and hawing before finally killing the caiman, but that was only the start of his problems. His next job was to find a safe place to store his prey, but the banks of the river were 8-10ft high and very steep, so he spent another 25 minutes trying to find a way up into the undergrowth, desperately trying to drag the 10ft crocodile with him. By this stage, around 20 boats had gathered to see the jaguar, and, when he eventually managed to scramble up the bank with his kill, everybody gave him a big round of applause!

I'd rather have seen the kill than stopped for lunch!

 

Conclusion

All this goes to show exactly how close I've come to the elusive kill, but no luck so far. However, I'm off to the Masai Mara in a couple of weeks, so maybe, just maybe I'll be able to bring back the shot I've been dying to get...

Fantastic beasts and where to find them

As Noël Coward never said, "Very flat, Tanzania."

You've heard of LBJ, right? Well, this is an LBR...

You've heard of LBJ, right? Well, this is an LBR...

When God painted Tanzania, he did so with a very limited palette of green and brown. There's not much variety in the landscape either, and some of the grassy plains are so flat you could lie on your back and see for a hundred miles! The only relief is the occasional kopje, or rock formation, but that's more like the artist's signature on a blank canvas. However, when He carved the Serengeti heat alive with wildlife, His imagination knew no limit. I saw a total of 38 animals and 85 birds during my Classic Tanzania Safari with Exodus Travels, including lion, leopard, elephant, Cape buffalo, rhinoceros, cheetah, zebra, giraffe and impala. We even saw the very rare caracal, which is a medium-sized cat similar to a lynx. There wasn't as much game as there is in the peak season from July to September, but we still saw thousands of wildebeest and zebra taking part in the Great Migration, and I took over a thousand pictures a day! In the end, I came back with 669 shots I thought were good enough to sell through stock agencies, and I even chose three prints to include in my next exhibition.

The spectacular and exciting variety of animals in places like Tanzania is the reason I keep going back to Africa, and, for me, the highlights of any trip are usually connected with the pictures I manage to take. After all, I count myself a professional photographer these days, so I never just go on 'holiday' any more! We didn't see a kill - which is the crowning glory of any safari - but we did see a cheetah just after it had killed a hartebeest. It spent around half an hour gorging itself right in front of us - only five or ten yards away - while a marabou stork and over a dozen vultures waited patiently for their share of the spoils. On the horizon, the hartebeest's mother kept up a solo vigil the whole time. Very sad...

Cheetah

Cheetah

The same cheetah

The same cheetah

Another highlight was seeing so many lions. One day, we were driving through a meadow with very tall grass, and I told our driver Julius that we were in 'lion country' now. Within a couple of hours, we'd seen around 14 lions in two separate prides, one lounging on a termite mound and another sleeping beside a tree! I love the excitement of predators, so it was great to be able to get such good sightings.

Feline graffiti

Feline graffiti

Lion

Lion

Lion

Lion

The other highlight was the birds we saw. Tanzania has a huge bird population, with more than 1,100 species, and we saw some spectacular specimens, including a red-cheeked cordon-bleu and a red-and-yellow barbet that I never even knew existed! When it comes to individual shots, my favourite was the one of the lilac-breasted roller at the top of the page. It's a beautiful bird anyway, but I was particularly lucky when it fluttered its wings unexpectedly without taking off. That gave me the chance to get a rare 'action shot'. I prefer action shots to portraits, but there wasn't much action to see on this trip, apart from a couple of buffalo fighting in the distance and two elephants 'fighting' like punched-out heavyweights in the 12th round of a fight, so we had to make the most of what we were given.

There were nine guests on the Exodus trip, which ran from 12-21 January 2018, plus an excellent guide called Jackson and a couple of drivers - Alex and Julius - for the four-wheel drive Toyota Land Cruisers we were using. One of the guests put a message on the Exodus community website before the trip, so I ended up meeting her at Heathrow and travelling with her all the way to Kilimanjaro, where we joined with the rest of the group. The actual 'travelling' is the only bit of travelling I don't like, so it was nice to have some company on such a long journey (and in the jeep later). Getting to Africa is never straightforward, and it took me over 38 hours to go from my flat in Putney to the front seat of the Land Cruiser on our first game drive!

I love close-up shots, so I followed my usual habit of renting a Nikon 800mm lens from Lenses For Hire for our trip. I have two Nikon camera bodies, a D810 and a D850, and I usually fit my Nikon 80-400mm lens to one and the 800mm lens to the other. I end up taking roughly half my shots with each camera. The only other things I take with me are my SpiderPro belt (just to help me carry everything to the jeep!), a lens cloth and a spare battery. You generally spend most of the day in the safari truck, so you don't need to worry about bringing hiking boots. I just put on trainers, cargo pants (with plenty of pockets!), a long-sleeved shirt (or merino base layer if it's cold) and a proper sun hat with a chin strap (not a baseball cap, as the brim gets in the way, and it might blow off!). The sun is usually very hot, and I always use a Nivea stick on my nose, but I avoid having to put on too much sun cream by covering up my arms and legs. If you're a photographer, you don't go on safari to get a sun tan!

Game drives are the whole point of going on safari, and you soon get into a routine. Whether you're staying at lodges or permanent tented camps or even in tents you have to put up yourselves, you always end up doing pretty much the same thing - and this trip was no exception. You generally wake up to an early breakfast - either at dawn or even earlier - and go out in your safari trucks for a few hours before returning for lunch or eating a packed lunch somewhere along the way. After another game drive in the afternoon, you head back to camp for a shower, drinks, dinner and a relatively early night. When I get back to camp, I like to edit all the pictures I've taken during the day, so that usually means hunching over my laptop for a few hours here and there. I wake up early at the best of times, so that means I can do a few hours' work before breakfast or, if I can't sleep, in the middle of the night! 

Most safaris take place in a few different places, so the routine will also often include a journey to the next stop. Apart from a quick visit to the Oldupai Gorge to hear about the Leakeys' paleontological discoveries, we visited four main locations on our trip: Lake Manyara, Serengeti National Park, the Ngorongoro Crater and Tarangire National Park, and they were all very different.

Lake Manyara

Lake Manyara National Park is not the most famous safari destination, but it does have a reputation for its 'tree-climbing lions'. In fact, all lions can climb trees, but the lions that climb trees at Lake Manyara (which we actually saw) get the extra benefit of cool breezes on the slopes of the surrounding hills. Inside the park, you'll find Lake Manyara itself and a flat, marshy plain around it, but also the heavily wooded hills that form the walls of the Great Rift Valley. This was formed by plate tectonics and is a vast corridor that runs the length of Africa, all the way from Jordan to Mozambique. It splits into eastern and western spurs, but they're both so wide that you can never see the hills on both sides. Instead, you find the enormous flat plains known as the African savanna(h), which are the home to all the 'traditional' game animals, including the Big Five (rhino, elephant, lion, leopard and Cape buffalo). When you enter Lake Manyara National Park, the first things you notice are the trees and the hills that form the walls of the Rift Valley. The lack of open ground means that game is tricky to spot initially - apart from a few vervet and blue monkeys in the trees - but it gets easier once you drive out to the lake. Sadly, there was an unusually large amount of overnight rain during the course of our trip, so the lake and other water holes we passed were not the 'game magnets' that they normally are during the dry season. However, if the quantity of sightings was low, the quality was high, so that kept us happy.

Serengeti

The Serengeti plains are the stereotypical African safari destination. There is a good quantity of game all year round, and the landscape is ideal for spotting them as there are so few trees. Apparently, all the volcanic activity in the area has left a layer of tough igneous deposits a few feet below the surface that prevent trees from getting the nourishment they need to grow. Whatever the reason, it means that you are able to see those iconic, unbroken vistas that remind you of the etymology of 'Serengeti', which means 'endless plain'.

Vervet monkey

Vervet monkey

Male impala

Male impala

Black-headed heron in black and white

Black-headed heron in black and white

Ngorongoro Crater

The Ngorongoro is named after the sound a Masai cowbell makes. It is surprisingly small, and you can see the walls of both sides of the caldera from wherever you are on the central plain. There is also a strange optical illusion at work. The crater is 600 metres deep, and it looks like a very long way from the viewpoint up on the rim at 2,400 metres above sea level, but, when you look back up from the crater floor, the hills don't look that high at all. Strange... Anyway, the Ngorongoro has a justly deserved reputation as a safari destination and contains all the animals you'd expect to see - with the exception of the giraffe, which can't get down the steep slope from the crater rim because its legs are too long! On our trip, we had a couple of good sightings of lions here, particularly on the kopjes, where they choose to lie high up on the rocks to get a better view, and we came across a family group of elephants on either side of the road that gave us a great chance to get up close and personal.

African elephant

African elephant

Tarangire

In terms of the landscape, Tarangire National Park is a kind of cross between Lake Manyara and the Serengeti. It boasts the hills and water of the first, but with the open savannah of the second. It also has quite a few of the distinctive baobab trees.


Did you know?

Baobab trees can be up to 2,000 years old, but there are few young ones as they get eaten by elephants, which eat the bark of the tree in the dry season as it contains large amounts of water.


Unfortunately, we didn't see much game there when we went. Normally, it's an important source of water for the animals, but the unseasonal rains meant that there was enough water for them to range far and wide without being tied to the Tarangire River. That meant they could 'save' that water source for when they really needed it in the dry season. We spent most of our time in Tarangire driving around looking for game, and the only good shot I got was the one of the lilac-breasted roller. On the other hand, the views were spectacular, and we spent our last night at a wonderful place called the Tarangire Safari Lodge, which gets a star rating in Lonely Planet. It had a long row of tents for all the guests, each with solar-powered lights and showers and a veranda with chairs and a table out front. There was a lookout point on the cliffs a few yards away that offered a spectacular panorama of the hills and river below, and the main building incorporated an enormous circular banda, with a vast roof above the dining area.

The food was a cut above the usual fare, and our dinner there consisted of pumpkin and ginger soup, mango and green pepper salad, bean and vegetable salad and then beef stew with rice or potatoes, followed by passion fruit mousse and plum tart with custard. The only problem was all the bugs flying around - even indoors. They managed to bite me even through my shirt, leaving four angry red spots on my back. It was horrendous, and it was the first time on the entire trip that I threatened to lose my sense of humour. Trying to edit my pictures on my laptop at the bar after dinner was almost impossible. The staff didn't do anything about all the creepy-crawlies and flying insects - apart from clearing away the dead bugs with a broom! - and it got even worse when I got back to my tent. It was crawling with insects, but there was no bug spray, and the bed didn't even have a mosquito net. When I couldn’t find the light switch as it wasn’t in the bathroom...well, I lost it and started sweating my head off! I hope my neighbours didn’t hear me! In the end, I had to squash all the bugs with a laminated menu card from the welcome pack. What a way to ruin - and I mean absolutely ruin! - what should’ve been a great experience to end the trip. 

This Is Africa

That brings me on to a final point about going on safari. You have to take the rough with the smooth. 'This Is Africa', as they say, so you should expect a few minor problems and even one or two dramas, but you have to take it in good part. "Hakuna matata," as they say, or "No worries." If you were to write a list of pros and cons for going on safari, it would look something like this:

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Long journey to get there
  • Long hours in the jeep
  • No electricity during the night (if at all!)
  • No hot water during the night (if at all!)
  • Patchy mobile coverage
  • Patchy or non-existent wi-fi
  • Broken equipment, eg in-car radio transceivers
  • Mosquitoes carrying a risk of malaria (and therefore having to take Malarone pills every day)
  • Tsetse flies (with a very sharp bite!) carrying a risk of sleeping sickness
  • All kinds of other insects and bugs, dropping on you wherever you are and making a home in the bathroom
  • Not being able to drink the water
  • Poor quality food and lack of alternative options
  • Constant worry about losing something or having it stolen (particularly bad in my case when staying in a tent without a lock on it with £30,000-worth of camera equipment in my bag!)
  • Daily risk of food poisoning (particularly from ice in drinks and/or washed vegetables such as green peppers - which directly caused me to make five unscheduled trips to the bathroom in Tarangire!)
  • Having to share a room/tent with someone who is not necessarily your favourite person in the world (unless you pay hundreds of pounds to sleep on your own!)
  • Vehicles often breaking down or getting stuck
  • Animals trying to get into your tent at night
  • Having to be escorted around the camp after dark in case of animal attack
  • Etc, etc, etc...

Pros

  • Wildlife
  • Er, that's it...

Yes, I know it's a very long list of cons and a very short list of pros. In fact, it was worse than that on our trip as a bridge was washed away by the flooding, and we had to find a way to ford the river in our Land Cruiser. So many jeeps got stuck in the mud trying to do the same thing that it looked a bit like the elephants' graveyard, but we eventually found a way across. Our problems didn't end there, though, as some enterprising locals had decided to pile rocks on the way up from the makeshift river crossing and were demanding money to let us through! We eventually had to have a whip-round and gave them a few Tanzanian shillings. Even then, we got stuck in the mud on the way back to the main road, and it was only when all the passengers climbed out of the jeep that Julius was able to make it to safety. We all thought he'd done a great job - until we found out that Alex had managed drive the other jeep across without any problems at all!

And yet, and yet...we did see fantastic wildlife. It may not sound like much compared to having to get up at five in the morning and go without hot water, electricity and wi-fi most of the time, but the fact I keep going back speaks for itself. When you sit down with your grandchildren on your knee, and they ask what you did during your lifetime, are you going to tell them you had eight hours' sleep every night and a hot shower every morning and never let a day go by without checking social media, or are you going to tell them you saw the best of God's creation in Africa...?

 

 

 

Butcher's bill

1 x tube of sun cream (confiscated at Heathrow)
1 x tube of shower gel (confiscated at Heathrow)
£60 fine for exceeding hand luggage weight limit (confiscated at Heathrow)

Species list:

Animals

Agama lizard
Banded mongoose
Bat-eared fox
Black rhinoceros
Blue monkey
Bohor reedbuck
Bushbuck
Cape (or African) buffalo
Caracal
Cheetah
Common (or plains) zebra
Dwarf mongoose
Eland
Elephant
Goff’s mongoose
Golden jackal
Grant’s gazelle
Hartebeest
Hippo
Impala
Kirk’s dikdik
Leopard
Lion
Masai giraffe
Mongoose
Monitor lizard
Mouse
Nile crocodile
Olive baboon
Rock hyrax
Silver-backed jackal
Spotted hyena
Thomson’s gazelle
Topi
Vervet monkey
Warthog
Waterbuck
White-tailed mongoose

Birds

Abdim’s storkAfrican fish eagle
African hoopoe
African jacana
African spoonbill
Ashy starling
Augur buzzard
Bateleur
Black kite
Black-bellied bustard
Black-headed heron
Black-headed weaver
Black-necked sand goose
Black-shouldered kite
Blacksmith plover
Blue starling
Brown snake eagle
Common house martin
Crested guineafowl
Crow
Crowned plover
D'Arnaud's barbet
Eagle owl
Eastern chanting goshawk
Egyptian goose
Eurasian roller
Fiscal shrike
Flamingo
Francolin
Giant heron
Greater kestrel
Green pigeon
Grey crowned crane
Grey flycatcher
Grey heron
Grey hornbill
Grey-headed heron
Hadada ibis
Hammerkop
Knob-billed duck
Kori bustard
Lappet-faced vulture
Lilac-breasted roller
Little bee-eater
Little egret
Long-crested eagle
Madagascan bee-eater
Magpie shrike
Marabou stork
Martial eagle
Mosque swallow
Ostrich
Pelican
Pin-tailed whydah
Red-and-yellow barbet
Red-billed hornbill
Red-billed oxpecker
Red-billed weaver
Red-cheeked cordon-bleu
Sacred ibis
Secretary bird
Silver bird
Silver-cheeked hornbill
Somali bee-eater
Southern ground hornbill
Speckled mousebird
Striated heron
Superb starling
Tailed rufous weaver
Tawny eagle
Violet wood-hoopoe
Von der Decken’s hornbill
Ward’s starling
Watt starling
White stork
White-backed vulture
White-browed coucal
White-browed cuckoo
White-capped shrike
White-faced whistling duck
White-headed buffalo weaver
White-ringed dove
Yellow-collared lovebird
Yellow-necked superfowl