Chobe-Zimanga Wildlife Photographic Safari 2018

A ten night, two centre safari

Photograph from custom-built boats on the Chobe River in northern Botswana/Namibia, then in state-of-the art hides in Zimanga private game reserve, South Africa’s only reserve designed specifically for photographers.

One date in 2018

  • May 25 – June 4, 2018
  • One space available (male, sharing)

Competitively priced

Only £4,150 per person sharing. Single room supplement £1,150. Flights not included.

Fully escorted, small group

Maximum of six guests per safari, escorted by two professional wildlife photographers offering advice and help.

African elephant crossing Chobe river

Special features

  • Custom-built photo boats on the Chobe river
  • Cutting edge hides in Zimanga
  • Experience Zimanga’s nocturnal  big game hide
  • Stalk African wild dogs on foot

10 Night African Wildlife Photo Safari


Join us for an amazing two centre photo safari taking in the Chobe River in northern Botswana/Namibia, one of Africa’s premier wildlife photographic destinations, and Zimanga, a ‘Big Five’ private game reserve dedicated to photography in South Africa’s game-rich Zululand region.

Capture images of iconic big game and bird species up close from the water on specially-adapted photo boats on the Chobe. Then photograph from low-level, state-of-the-art photo hides, designed by multi award-winning BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Bence Máté, in South Africa’s exciting new Zimanga reserve.

The Chobe river, which marks the border between Botswana and Namibia, is one of Africa’s premier photographic destinations with an abundance of big game and birds, great light, and unparalleled opportunities to approach animals closely either on land or by specially-designed photographic boat.

Zimanga is Africa’s first private game reserve designed specifically for wildlife photographers, with purpose-built hides offering superb bird photography, and game drives in pursuit of lion, African wild dog, cheetah, elephant, rhino and more.

African fish eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer), Chobe National Park, Botswana, Africa, October 2014

Our accommodation

If you’re looking for a five star luxury lodge experience, with chocolates on your pillow and champagne sundowners, then this probably isn’t for you. But we certainly won’t be roughing it. We’ve selected comfortable 4-star accommodation, perfectly placed for the various photographic activities, so we won’t have to waste valuable time and good light getting to our shooting locations.

Pangolin Chobe Lodge is a brand new lodge, currently being built in Kasane by Pangolin, our Botswana partners.  It will hopefully be completed in time for our safari, but if not we’ll stay at Chobe Safari Lodge,  a 4-star lodge set right on the riverbank, with magnificent views across the water. There’s a pool and large public areas with a bar and restaurant. It’s a busy place and feels more like a hotel than a safari lodge, but is very comfortable and well-located.

En route to Zimanga, we’ll break our journey at the Highveld Splendour Boutique Hotel – a fancy name for a comfortable, modern and peaceful small hotel. It’s well equipped and has a pool, gym, and full-sized snooker table.

Our accommodation in KwaZulu-Natal is Doornhoek homestead, set right in the heart of Zimanga. It’s recently renovated in a luxurious modern style, and is very comfortable, with great beds, free WiFi, and plenty of work station space. We’ll have exclusive use of the lodge, with our own dedicated driver/guide. Being on the reserve gives us maximum flexibility to exploit the wonderful hides and superb game viewing, according to the prevailing conditions and opportunities.

Cape buffalo swimming across Chobe

Our action-packed itinerary

The ten night trip includes five nights photographing on the Chobe (seven boat trips in a custom-designed photo boat and three Unimog drives in the game park) and four nights in Kwazulu Natal (eight hide/game drive activities in Zimanga, including the overnight hide if you wish).

May 25: Guests arriving at Kasane airport on the lunchtime flight from Johannesburg will be met by ourselves and transfered to Pangolin Chobe Lodge or Chobe Safari Lodge for a five night stay. From here we’ll have three game drives into Chobe National Park, looking for subjects that aren’t so easily spotted from the river, and seven trips on the specially designed photo boat.

May 30: After our morning activity we’ll check out of the lodge and be transferred to Kasane airport for the early afternoon flight to Johannesburg. At Jo’burg we’ll pick up a minibus and drive a couple of hours to the Highveld Splendour Boutique Hotel, for an overnight stop en route to KwaZulu-Natal.

May 31: After breakfast we’ll drive down to Zimanga in KwaZulu-Natal, a drive of three or four hours, arriving in time for a quick bite to eat then straight into our first activity

During our four nights at Zimanga we’ll have eight activities, including the overnight hide (which counts as two, but includes afternoon and morning light photography as well as the nocturnal part).  If you don’t wish to experience the nocturnal hide, you can choose to do other hides/game drives.

June 4: After our final morning activity, and breakfast, we’ll depart Zimanga for the three hour drive to Durban airport. We’ll arrive at Durban late afternoon, in time for  connecting flights to Johannesburg for late night international departures.

African elephant (Loxodonta africana) at dust bath, Chobe National Park, Botswana, June 2016
Blackwinged stilt from Zimanga photo hide

Is this for you?

This safari is aimed at keen wildlife photographers who will relish spending lots of time with great subjects and exploiting the unique photographic opportunities afforded by the custom-designed boats and hides. Whether you’re an old Africa hand or a first time safari-goer, you’ll enjoy superb opportunities for great images and memorable wildlife encounters. To ensure the best possible photography, we’re strictly limiting numbers to six guests.

If you’ve a partner who loves wildlife, but isn’t so keen on photography, they’re welcome to come along and enjoy the magnificent wildlife-viewing, but please understand this is a specialist photo safari. We will not be hurtling round to tick off as many species as possible before rushing back to a luxury lodge for brunch. When we find a good subject we’ll spend time with it, which may be frustrating for non-photographers.

We’ll be getting up before dawn each day to ensure we’re in place for the best light, and spending a lot of time photographing, which can be tiring, so you’ll need a degree of stamina. But there’s no significant walking involved, so you don’t need to be super-fit, just able to climb into and out of a boat, hide or vehicle.

We will be working with an experienced and very effective ground crew. But this is Africa, so we’re looking for guests who can take small hiccups in their stride – and understand that wildlife is anything but predictable! We’re a small group so a good sense of humour, a relaxed attitude and boundless enthusiasm will ensure we have a great time and make lasting friends.


African elephant, from Chobe photo boat

Our two centre photo safari begins on the Chobe river. The Chobe, particularly in the dry season when we travel, is one of Africa’s premier photographic destinations with an abundance of big game and birds, great light, and unparalleled opportunities to approach animals closely either on land or by specially-designed photographic boat. We’ll be photographing mainly from these boats during our time in Botswana, but with an opportunity for game drives into the world-renowned Chobe National Park as well.

The river forms part of the border between Botswana and Namibia’s Caprivi Strip, and marks the northern boundary of the national park. The park, a vast 11,700 square kilometres of protected area, is famous for its huge herds of elephant. More than 120,000 are estimated to roam in Chobe and the surrounding area. But it’s also home to high densities of lion and leopard, specials such as cheetah and wild dog, and large herds of buffalo, zebra and antelope.

The greatest concentration of game is found along the Chobe river front, where we’ll be operating. Elephant, buffalo, hippo and huge crocodiles are all abundant. The bird life is impressive too (some 460 species have been recorded) and the river banks, low islands and shallows are alive with photogenic and colourful species such as herons, storks, kingfishers, waders and waterfowl. African skimmers nest on small islands mid-stream, and majestic African fish eagles perch on trees along the river bank. Chobe has arguably the highest density of these magnificent raptors on the continent.

May to September is peak photography season on the river. It’s dry season, so the animals are forced to move from the arid interior of the park to the river, in search of grazing and water. The weather is reliably fine, and while it can get hot in the afternoon, we’re assured of golden light around dawn and dusk, and a chance to photograph great wildlife subjects against the famous Chobe sunsets.

What sets this photo safari apart from typical land-based safaris is our use of custom-designed boats that allows us to get very close to the wildlife and shoot from a low viewpoint, just inches above water level.

These shallow-draught craft are equipped with fully rotational camera seats, each with a fully adjustable camera mounting, designed to support the largest of lenses. The camera mounting design is based on a lightweight machine-gun mounting used by the South African army, and gives complete control, even for the heaviest camera/lens combinations, and without the need for heavy lifting. All you need do is attach the supplied base plate to your lens collar. There’s plenty of floor space for extra kit.

We’ll have seven boat trips on the river, each lasting at least three hours. We’ll also do three game drives in the national park, using a specially adapted Unimog, equipped with padded mounts on which to rest lenses. While it’s the river trips that make Chobe so unique, our game drives will give us an increased chance of spotting apex predators like lion and leopard.


White rhino with calf on Zimanga

During the second part of our trip we’ll transfer to Zimanga, in South Africa’s game-rich KwaZulu-Natal province. This is the first reserve in Africa to be designed specifically for wildlife photographers. The private reserve’s 6,000 hectares of pristine bushveld, fever tree forest and rolling hills are home to more than 80 species of mammal, including lion, elephant, leopard, cheetah, buffalo, rhino, giraffe, zebra, hippo, wildebeest and the rare African wild dog. Zululand is also renowned for its incredible variety of birds, and more than 400 species have been recorded there.

There’s excellent traditional game viewing from open safari vehicles, but it’s the purpose-built hides that make this reserve exceptional. These state-of-the art water-level hides were built under the guidance and supervision of Bence Máté, the multi-award winning photographer who won the outright BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year award in 2010, and has more category wins (eight) in that competition than anyone else.

The utmost care and planning has gone into the construction and positioning of these hides to ensure the lighting, focal lengths and backgrounds can produce stunning images of drinking animals and birds. Special, high-quality, one-way glass ensures photographers are invisible to their subjects, with minimal loss of light allowing high shutter speeds where required. There’s solar-powered air-conditioning and comfortable executive-style chairs that can glide across the wood laminate flooring. The hides are equipped with high quality tripods with gimbal heads, and lens mounting plates are supplied. Photographers just need to ensure their lenses are equipped with tripod collars.

The Mkhombe and Bhejane hides (named after the isiZulu words for white and black rhinos) are bird bath hides, offering us the chance to photograph a variety of small, colourful birds, including the sought-after pink-throated twinspot, kingfishers, oxpeckers, barbets, mousebirds and more. They are also regularly visited by small mammals, including warthog, banded mongoose and monkeys, and there’s always the outside chance of a leopard!  The Lagoon hide offers remarkable water-level views of waterbirds feeding, including storks, egrets, herons, thick-knees, kingfishers and more, in gorgeous light. Zimanga’s new scavenger hide offer the chance to see dozens of vultures at close range, with the occasional visit by jackal, hyena and possibly even lion or wild dog.

The jewel in the crown of Zimanga’s hides is the exciting new Umgodi overnight hide, offering the chance to capture some truly spectacular images of large mammals under the starry African sky.  This air-conditioned hide has to be seen to be believed – the animals come so close you’ll need a wide angle lens to fit them in, and the hide itself is equipped with bunk beds, toilet, kitchenette, even WiFi! Photographers enter the hide in the afternoon and photograph through the backlit afternoon session, then after sunset make use of the LED floodlights installed at water level to beautifully illuminate subjects that approach the water’s edge (you don’t use flash).  Motion sensors alert photographers when animals are approaching, so you can relax and read a book (there’s a small library of books!) or surf the web, without having to keep a constant look-out. The following morning the sun rises behind the hide, bathing the drinking edge in golden light. The overnight hide is entirely optional, so if you don’t fancy a night in a hide, you can substitute it for other activities, but it’s a great opportunity for some unique images.

We’ll have eight sessions at Zimanga, choosing the hides and game drive options that best suit the conditions – but definitely including the nocturnal hide and the lagoon hide.

On game drives each photographer will have a full bench seat with constant access to both sides of the open safari vehicle. Although nothing is ever guaranteed in nature, we’ve an extremely good chance of photographing the charismatic African wild dog, as Zimanga is one of the few places to have a breeding pack of this extremely rare predator. If conditions permit (and they usually do) we will even be able to dismount our vehicle and follow the wild dogs on foot, allowing for unique low angle shots. As well as the wild dogs, lion, cheetah, elephant and rhino are all but guaranteed.

Our experienced guides are all accomplished photographers in their own right and understand how to position the vehicle for the light and anticipate action. We will be able to spend as much time as we like at a promising sighting and the low number of vehicles on the property means we’ll never have to abandon a sighting to make way for another vehicle. Game viewing vehicles are also allowed to go off-road to get into the perfect shooting position – vital when following a hunting predator. And we won’t be stopping for sundowners until the very last of the photographic light has gone!

Per person sharing: £4,150

The £4,150 cost includes:

  • Five nights Pangolin Chobe Lodge or Chobe Safari Lodge, DBB

  • All Chobe game activities, with refreshments

  • Transfers between Kasane airport and accommodation.

  • Transfer between Johannesburg airport and Zimanga

  • One night Highveld Splendour Boutique Hotel, DBB

  • Four nights Doornhoek homestead, Zimanga, fully catered

  • Transfer between Zimanga and Durban
  • All Zimanga game activities

  • All park entrance fees

The cost excludes:

  • International flights

  • Connecting flights between Johannesburg and Kasane

  • Visas (not required by British nationals or many other nationalities)

  • Lunches, except where specified above

  • Drinks, except for refreshments on boat/game drives

  • Laundry

  • Items of a personal nature

  • Gratuities

We haven’t included most lunches at lodges, to avoid charging you for meals you may not wish to take. Because we will be taking breakfast when we return from our morning activity, and then going back out in the early or mid-afternoon, many people skip lunch. If you do want something to eat before the afternoon activity, inexpensive light meals and snacks are readily available at Chobe Safari Lodge. Lunch is included in Zimanga.

Gratuities are optional, and while our drivers and guides will welcome a tip, they are not taken for granted, and certainly not at the level of some high end African safari lodges, where gratuities for game drive guides etc can cost you £50 a day. We are happy to give guidance on tipping, but you needn’t anticipate more than £50 per person for the entire trip. We (Ann and Steve) do not expect a tip!

We’ve not included any flights in the basic cost. This is because some guests may wish to fly in to Kasane from other airports than Johannesburg, and may wish to stay in Durban or fly to other destinations at the end of the trip.  The daily Airlink flight leaves JHB late morning, arriving Kasane at lunchtime (we’ll meet you at Kasane airport). We’ll send you details when you book your safari. For most people, it makes sense to fly into Johannesburg the evening before the safari commences, stay at a hotel on the airport, and be rested and ready to catch the Kasane flight next morning.

At the end of the safari, we’ll arrive back at Durban King Shaka airport in the late afternoon, with plenty of time to catch a connecting flight to Jo’burg for late night international departures.

We’ll provide all the info you need about hotels, flights, etc, when you book.