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Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

This time in 2009, we were on our first visit to Africa. I fell in love, and – supplanting those relaxing tropical beaches – invigorating but restorative African safaris became my favourite thing to do. I loved the bush – it’s not lush and beautiful like the New Zealand bush, but I adored the wide spaces, the huge thorns, the stark leadwood trees, and of course, the animals. I have posted many photos from our visits to South Africa, but here is one you haven’t seen before. I took this exactly seven years ago today.

Impala looking back at us

 

 

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Today is World Wildlife Day. So I’m just going to leave you with some photos of just some of the animals I love. Sadly, they’re all under threat from … well … us.

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(Photo Blogging Day 31)

This last prompt is one of the hardest of the month. How do I determine which photograph of the thousands I’ve taken is the best? I’ve been taking photographs since I was 17. Technically, my photos are much better now. I know not to shoot into the light if possible. I don’t have my camera strap in my photos. I understand a little about shutter speed and aperture, and composition. Having a better camera helps, and of course, in that time digital photography has revolutionised how we take photos. Some would say it makes us lazier; we can just take a lot of photos and hope one of them will be okay, or we know that they can usually be improved in post-production. That is true of my approach sometimes. But other times, I know I can try out a whole range of techniques to find the one that works, learning so much more in the process. It only makes me a better photographer.

But wait. This is about my best photograph, not me as photographer. It’s also about my best photograph, not my favourite. I’ve already shown you many of my best and many of my favourites this month. But other favourites have come up in this search. It’s not the scene in the Ourika Valley in Morocco, though that is an absolute favourite, framed by the foothills of the High Atlas, women bending over their washing in a clear river. It’s not the Amsterdam canal in the early evening, with the only colour coming from the light in a window, and the green grass on top of a houseboat. It’s not the sandspit on an island in Australia, or the humbugs (fish) on the Barrier Reef. And it’s not a photo displaying the sheer beauty of New Zealand – perhaps the lupins in flower on the banks of Lake Tekapo, with the snowy Southern Alps in the background. I could go on, but I must stop. So how on earth am I going to choose? I decided to come up with criteria:

  • I eliminated all my pre-digital photos. The quality of a scanned photo to be used on a blog just wasn’t going to be good enough. So that means any photos under consideration are dated from 2004. My photo of the stunning La Roque Gageac village on the Dordogne River in France lost out for that reason.
  • There would be no photos of me, or other people who might not want their faces splashed over the internet. This eliminated the group of donkey-handlers, waiting for their next clients on the cobbled steps of Santorini, with cigarettes and suntanned grizzled faces.
  • No photo clichés, such as sunsets or the Eiffel Tower, or one of my first photos ever, of the Sydney Opera House. This eliminated another strong contender; the sun going down in Fiji, palm trees on a cliff in shadow, the sea a shimmering silver, and a yacht moored just off the shore.

So this is the one I came up with. It isn’t even my favourite leopard. But it’s just too good to ignore. It’s printed on canvas and hung on our wall. I see it every day. I hope you like it. best leopard

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(Photo Blogging Day 30)

My first ever safari was the Night Safari in Singapore about 15 years ago. Essentially a night zoo, my friend who was living there insisted my sister and I visit. We did so eagerly, as both of us had always wanted to go to Africa. It was magic – I’ll never forget the sight of the fishing cats standing by the stream, dipping their paws into the water in an attempt to catch some dinner, or particularly, of the giraffes in shadow. Africa was calling to me even then.

Of course I know now that the reason for a Night Safari is that so many animals are nocturnal. Still, when I finally got to Africa, I was surprised to find that every day we would spend about an hour on game drives in the dark. The tracker would sit on the front of the jeep, and scan the bush with his spotlight. It became mesmerising – we would all follow the movement of the spotlight, hoping to see something. Of course, we never did. Well, not until the tracker pointed it out to us.

Our first sighting was a leopard. The tracker signalled to the ranger (who drove the jeep) to stop the vehicle.

“He thought he saw a leopard,” said Dylan, the ranger, to us. The tracker, Fani, was disgusted with him.

“Oh, okay,” said Dylan. “He did see a leopard.”

We looked out into the darkness, trying to follow the spotlight. Fani managed to pinpoint the leopard, and slowly our inexperienced eyes could make out the two glowing lights of the leopard’s eyes. It seemed impossible that Fani had seen it as he scanned the landscape, catching it for just a split second. But he had.

Over those days we discovered what extraordinary eyesight Fani and the other African trackers have. A few nights later the car stopped quickly. Fani had found us a bush baby. A rare and very special sighting, and one that we couldn’t photograph; any flash would have hurt its eyes, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. I do have evidence of a wildcat though, but in general much of what we saw at night was for our eyes only.

A day or two later, my husband turned 50, and it seemed we were driving a long way for our evening drinks that night. We saw some lights in the distant, and as we got closer, we found that a staff member from the lodge had set up a table under a marula tree, encircled by lanterns (to keep animals away), and was cooking up some goodies to go with our champagne. There was of course a cake too. The sky was clear, and our ranger used the spotlight to point out the major constellations. The Milky Way was spectacular that evening, and I fell in love with the night sky in a way I never had before. It was a birthday neither of us will forget.

A week or so later at another game reserve, we took a wild ride as Stuart came across a porcupine one night. The porcupine turned and raced off up the track. Stuart was screeching delightedly as the jeep bounced after it,

“Two years I’ve been here, and I’ve never seen one before!”

It took off into the bush, and Stuart chased it, but it was soon lost in the undergrowth.

Other sightings on our safaris include a chameleon, elephants, leopards, the occasional hippopotamus caught out of the water, and a lioness, its fur stained red around its mouth, finishing off some dinner.

The highlight though was the night we were treated with a dinner in the bush, next to Ulusaba’s observatory. Lanterns and lamps were placed around the barbecue and the outdoor furniture that had been set up for us and our jeep-mates. Stuart periodically climbed up to the highest part of the jeep to scan the surroundings with the spotlight. A herd of buffalo were resting only a hundred metres or so away, but they couldn’t see us and were mostly asleep, so the danger was limited. A clan of hyenas waited nearby, patiently hoping they’d get some of the barbecue leftovers. We were served champagne, and peered through the telescope at various constellations, including the Jewel Box cluster, and Saturn’s rings.

Nightlife. It means what you want it to mean.

Dinner at the bush observatory

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(Photo Blogging Day 28)

When I first got my new camera, in preparation for our first trip to South Africa, I tried to learn how to take a panned shot. I had immodest ambitions of catching a classic shot of a cheetah chasing its prey, with the landscape blurred behind it. By the time I got there, I hoped simply to catch a non-blurry photo of a leaping impala. I soon realised how impossible that might be for me, a rank amateur, as impalas tended to leap past us just when I had turned my camera off. This is the closest shot to leaping impala we have. I didn’t even take it, my husband did. Three and a half years later. Sigh.

impala

This though is my favourite action shot, blurry as it is. It wasn’t even in the wild, but at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens in Cape Town. That little guinea fowl was really moving!

guinea fowl running

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(Photo Blogging Day 25)

I think being outside is one of the reasons I love travelling. I’m not sure why I don’t spend as much time outdoors in New Zealand. We have beautiful lush green bush (forest), no dangerous snakes or creepy-crawlies, and stunning scenery. Somehow though, I let life get in the way here.

I’m not sure I can talk about my love of nature in any more meaningful way than in the post I wrote six years ago about Getting back to Nature. I’ve reproduced it below:

Growing up on the farm, I was always out in the fresh air, following my dad around the paddocks, working with the dogs and sheep, keeping a safe distance from the cattle, jumping in icy puddles in the early morning, lying in the long grass in midsummer.

But then I learned to read. (Apparently). Reading and music and schoolwork and sport kept me inside more as I grew, but my younger sister and I still spent a lot of time helping out my dad when we could. In the winter on weekends and during our school holidays I would help my dad deliver hay to the animals in the mornings and evenings, on the crisp, frosty ground. In the late winter it was time for lambing, and that meant all hands on deck. Summer brought a relaxation, but it was a good time to get on my bike and deliver my dad’s morning or afternoon tea if he was working a long way from the house. Sitting next to him with a cup of tea and biscuit, propped up against a fencepost, on a summer day, is a happy memory.

At 17 I left for Bangkok, a city then of 6 million, and I never really lived in the country again. I was introduced to malls, and hanging out at Dunkin’ Donuts with Cee. The country was somewhere I rarely visited, especially once my parents retired and sold the farm. Still, now when I make the occasional trip over the hill into the rural Wairarapa (where some of our best pinot noirs and sauvignon blancs are grown and made), I take a deep breath. My heart rate slows, my head feels clearer, I have this urge to walk and run, and not to go home to the city, as much as I love it here. But the yearning fades and life goes on in the city and I forget the peace that comes to me in the countryside.

So I didn’t realise how much I would love being out in the African bush. The skies are big, and the land bigger. Being out at sunrise and sunset, two of my favourite times of day, was a treat, and I didn’t begrudge the 5 am wakeup calls (despite not being a morning person at all), or the freezing temperatures on the morning drives. On average we spent about six (often more) hours a day out in the bush. We hunted animals (only with my Panasonic Lumix of course) in our landrover, but took time to look at the trees, the insects, the birds and the small animals and even the stars as well as the Big Five or Super Seven. There was no shopping. Dress etiquette (especially at our first lodge) consisted of being warm, practical and comfortable. No matter who we were at home, we all took “bush breaks” – or sometimes “termite mound breaks” – when nature called. Life was very simple.

Usually on a holiday, it takes me a few days to wind down. Work issues whir through my head, and it can take a while to relax. But being out in the bush saw me switch off completely, and almost immediately. We met a lovely Belgian lady, who had done the “safari thing” a number of times before, who said that only in the African bush did she feel that her spirit was fully restored. We learned that she had cancer and maybe not a lot of time left. I met her again in the airline lounge as we were leaving, and said to her that I think now I understand what she means. She beamed delightedly. She was right.

There’s no way you can think about work, or never-ending and costly house maintenance, when nature is all around, hippos are mating in front of you, or lions are fighting over the remains of a wildebeest, or a rhino is only a metre from your vehicle, or an elephant is flapping its ears and running at you, or you’ve almost driven over a dung beetle and his huge pile of dung, or you almost drive into a flock of francolin, or when the sun is setting and the sky turns that African orange. All you can do is breathe in, and out again. Slowly. Calmly. Deeply. Happily.

The great outdoors in Africa

The great outdoors in Africa – morning tea on the Ngala Game Reserve

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(Photo Blogging Day 17)

It was the evening of our first ever game drive, on safari in South Africa. We had flown to the Ngala Game Reserve on a small plane from Johannesburg. The flight  had taken well over an hour, and we had crossed from the Highveld across the Great Escarpment or Drakensburg (Dragon’s Mountains), the land falling away below us into the Lowveld and the vast plains of Kruger National Park. Within a few hours, we were on a jeep, marvelling at elephants and lions wild in the African bush, and only a few metres away from us.

As the sun began to sink behind the Drakensburg mountains, our jeep pulled up to a spot overlooking a waterhole full of hippos. (A day or two later, we watched the hippos copulate there; loudly.)  Dylan, our ranger, and Fani, our tracker, set up a cocktail bar, complete with tablecloth, ice, wine bottles and spirits. The sky glowed red and then darkened as we stood with new friends, drinking our G&Ts in the seemingly endless African bush with new friends. A tree full of vultures watched us. It was one of the most surreal moments of my life.

Click on the panorama of the waterhole to see it in more detail – and to find the elephant in the shot.

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