In two days I will be back in Africa!
As you read this I am doing a happy dance. A very creative, bursting with energy, on the verge of performance art, happy dance. It’s going to be a wild ride and I can’t wait to share it with you.
Below I put together an overview of the trip so you can get a sense of what you’ll be seeing down the road, the mechanics of how it’s all going down, the gear I’m taking and some thoughts on what’s to come…
My journey will begin in Namibia in the remote region of the Skeleton Coast located in the upper northwest sector of the country near the Atlantic ocean. Harsh and unforgiving, the Skeleton coast is also immensely beautiful and ever-changing as the sands shift in the desert wind. I can’t wait to explore terrain so completely different from what I’ve experienced on safari in the past.
I’ve been invited to visit three very special camps: Desert Rhino, Hoanib Skeleton Coast and Serra Cafema. Each promise a wealth of unique experiences and dazzling perspectives of this vastly untamed region. I’m looking forward to flights above the dunes, spending time with the extraordinary Himba tribe, rhino tracking, 14 wonderful sunrises and sunsets, and every hour in-between.
Landscape photography will be a huge part of this adventure. While there are many desert-adapted species of wildlife including rhino, elephant and lion, the desert’s already parched sand is being hit by a drought, and there’s a good chance that we’ll have minimal wildlife sightings.
That being said, I will cross my fingers about the animals and in the interim look forward to stretching different photographic muscles with my wild-angle lens. If the weather allows, I’m going to try to shoot some star trails or milky way images along the way too. I had loads of fun photographing the stars in Timbavati last June and I’ve been dying to try it again every since. The Skeleton Coast with its negligible light pollution couldn’t be a more perfect setting.
After Namibia I’ll fly to South Africa where, initially, I’ll be a guest at the Molori Safari Lodge in the Madikwe Game Reserve near the Botswana border. While I’ve been on safari in the Manyeleti Game Reserve, Kruger National Park (years ago), and Timbavati (last year), Madikwe is an area I’ve heard about from several wildlife photographers as being one of their favorites, but I haven’t been myself. It’s the fifth largest game reserve in the country but lesser known, and I always gravitate to the “lesser known” because when it comes to the bush I’m selfish and I’d prefer not to share. (That doesn’t make me horrible, does it?)
I’m told in addition to the Big 5 (buffalo, elephant, lion, leopard and rhino), Madikwe is known for its wild dogs and I hope that I am able to capture some in action.
Cape Town will be the cherry on top of my wonderful adventure. I’ll trade in my safari garb for urban casual and explore a destination that has been on my mind since I first saw it over a decade ago. Like any city I am sure it’s changed considerably, but it was the combination of beauty, culture and nature that captivated me then and I doubt it will be any less compelling this time around.
My schedule is packed with an array of excursions that should give me a great cross-section of what the area has to offer. I’m staying at the Portswood Hotel at the Waterfront, and while normally I don’t like to hang out in touristy areas, I wanted the proximity to the marina for early morning and night photography. And honestly, though atypical for me, I’ve always loved the frenetic energy of a marina.
On my first night, I am arranging a blogger meet-up with some of the wonderful people who’ve been incredibly generous with their time and information about Cape Town and have helped me figure out my whirl-wind itinerary. The rest of the time I’ll be on a mad dash to see as much as possible balanced with my desire to capture photos worth sharing.
My schedule to date includes Kloof Street, the Bo-Kaap area, Table Mountain, Kalk Bay, Simon’s Town, Constantia’s wineries, Kirstenbosh Botanical Garden and the Two Oceans Aquarium, which I’ve seen before but it would be a must-see on my list even if it was my 100th visit.
I am a nut about aquariums. If I’m in a city where there is a half-decent aquarium I have to go. Aquariums ignite a crazy wonder and an endless fascination (with equal parts apprehension) about what goes on under the glassy surface of our world’s oceans. And while I’ve been to a few aquariums over the years, I’ve never been as bewitched as when I was at Two Oceans. I can’t wait to return.
The mechanics of it all
On the mechanics-side of this trip, I’ve been in discussions and preparing for months now. In the last two weeks, however, I’ve done most of the final prep work (you can see some of my pre-trip prep tips here), finalizing transfers, creating shot lists, getting things set at home (holding mail, downloading apps, hiring a cat sitter, paying bills in advance, etc.), putting together story ideas, doing research and asking a lot of questions.
Getting there [meaning all of the “there’s” on the trip]
Let’s just say “getting there” is going to involve a lot of planes…16 in total once I’m done.
There are four international flights on South African Airlines (SAA) including round trips from the States to Johannesburg, South Africa, and Johannesburg to Windhoek, Nambia, plus one, round trip domestic flight to Cape Town and back. (Full disclosure: As my carrier of choice when flying to African destinations, I approached SAA to assist me with these flights and they kindly agreed.)
Then I have 8 small plane flights that include short layovers on tiny airstrips along the way to get from camp to camp along the Skeleton Coast.
But that’s not all, I have another round puddle-jumper plane flight between Madikwe and Johannesburg.
Phew… I’m exhausted already.
That’s the reality of adventure travel to remote locations. Getting there is hard work, often involving multiple layovers, and for three points along the way on this trip, overnight stays at hotels waiting for my flight the following day.
The truth is, I’ve gotten used to the 20+ hour international journeys because I’ve established a routine: I know how to stay comfy on a long coach flight, and I’ve figured out a way to beat jet lag, it’s the many tiny plane flights that I’m afraid will be the end of me (and no, I don’t mean that literally). But no pain no gain, right?
I’m taking more gear on this trip than I have before because of my varied destinations and shots I wish to take. I’m bringing two camera bodies (Canon 5D Mark 3 and a loaner Canon 1DX) so that on safari I can switch quickly if need be. I typically walk around with one body if I am in an urban setting. For wildlife, I’ll take my 70-200mm f2.8 (plus a 1.4 extender, just in case) and a lens I haven’t tried before but heard much about, the Canon 500mm f4.
For landscape and night photography I’m packing my 16-35mm f2.8. For closer than usual wildlife, urban street photography and Cape Town sightseeing, my 24-105 f2.8. I’ve even rented a Go-Pro, which I’ve never used before. (I know. I know.. I’m the last person on the planet not to have one.) I thought it might be fun to capture a little video that didn’t come from my iPhone.
Oh, and let’s not forget my monopod AND tripod.. I’ll need the monopod to manage the 500mm in the jeep and the tripod for landscapes and night shooting. All of this (sans the pods) goes into my new Gura Gear Bataflae 32L camera bag, the other bag that I’ve used for a few years now (Gura Gear Kiboko 22L), is a tad too small to get the big lens in and everything else I want to bring. In total, it weighs 24 lbs. More than half of the total weight I am allowed…
FYI– Interior flights throughout Africa (a.k.a puddle jumpers that are used to take guests into the bush) have very rigid luggage restrictions. Weight limits are in the 15-20 kg range. (That’s 33 to 44 lbs in total—That’s for all your bags including camera gear—depending on your destination.) The small planes insist on soft bags so they can smush easily in the tiny storage compartments, meaning no wheels attached to anything. So that my back wouldn’t break, I bought a cheap, folding hand cart that travels easily and barely weighs 2 lbs.
For the first part of my trip I will be off the grid but when I do get time online I’ll post via my Facebook and Instagram accounts which are easier to manage in remote situations. If you don’t follow me on those channels, please do. I hope to have some time to post here when I hit Cape Town.
When I return at the end of the month I’ll have scores of tips, new images, and stories to tell.
P.S. If you have any questions about the trip or places/things to do I should consider while in Cape Town, please don’t hesitate to post in the comments below.
Disclaimer: Wilderness Safaris, SAA, Molori Safari Lodge, Portswood Hotel, Canon and Gura Gear are the companies with which I am working to make this trip possible. While discussion of my experiences in AFrica are expected, influence over how and what I write are not conditions of the relationship.