Marataba Through The Eyes Of A Wildlife Photographer

My work as a wildlife photographer takes me around the world, but rarely am I as happy as when I am standing with all of Africa stretching out in front of me, coffee in hand, as the sun breaks above the horizon. This is exactly how I found myself on the first morning at Marataba, and I knew we are in for a treat over the coming days.

This trip was unusual for me, rather than being alone in the wild with just a camera, or perhaps a guide to keep me company, I took the opportunity to travel with some of my nearest and dearest. For a number of them, this will be their first taste of Africa. This continent has a habit of getting under one’s skin, but I wanted this to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip for them, so when the opportunity came to work with Marataba I knew this would be exactly that.

From the moment we arrived in the reserve the omens were good – within minutes we caught our first glimpse of a rhino. In other parts of Africa, these can be very hard to come by, so I was slightly surprised when the driver smiled and continued along the dusty path. But over the coming days, we were treated to the largest number of sightings I have had in any location in Africa. The density of these gentle giants is a testament to the work the rangers and staff do on a daily basis and speaks volumes about the health of the surrounding lands.

With rhino being checked off the list early, I sat a little lighter in my seat, the hallowed big 5 looked very achievable, something I know first-timers always worry about. But Marataba did what all great game parks do – take visitors beyond these iconic animals. There are so many beautiful creatures in this part of the world, that fly completely under the radar beneath their more famous counterparts.

When, on our first drive from the lodge, we stumbled across a leopard tortoise sitting in the middle of the game track, I was thrilled. Not endowed with the elephant’s imposing size, or the lion’s fierce reputation, this animal is a perfect example of the unsung animals, with a stunningly intricate shell.

Its shy nature means it is not often seen and it was to the delight of the group that we were able to spend a little time watching him go about his life. Over the course of our three days, we had fantastic viewings of all of the big 5 and could not fault the quality of wildlife that calls this part of the world home.

Successful safaris live and die on their ability to provide consistent, quality game viewing, and Marataba does this in spades. But the truly great safaris are made when you return to the lodge and this, I am glad to say, Marataba has very few competitors. Each night we were treated to a fine dining experience under the stars, topped with a traditional boma dinner on the last night – the perfect setting to recount the days’ excitements over a glass of South African wine as the bush chimes with the evening chorus.
Not content with this, Marataba Mountain Lodge offers some of the best rooms I have had the pleasure of visiting, with huge glass windows that offer sweeping views of the bushveld below while maintaining an air of complete seclusion and privacy. When a porcupine (often elusive animals) lead us to our rooms on the second night I was hardly surprised, after all, we were in safari heaven.
Visually I found Marataba exciting and unique. East and Southern Africa are of course, in many places, blessed with an enormous bio-diversity, but often the terrain is flat and uninteresting. Rolling savannahs that impress the mind’s eye but not the camera. Not here. Towering ranges of rock, making up a part of the Waterburg, climb almost vertically from the bushveldt. This adds a dramatic edge to safari viewing and stunning backdrops to frame the numerous subjects we found along our daily route.

Of course, I had known about these before our visit, and while they still blew me away, what I hadn’t bartered for was that they contain a high iron content. What this means is, when the storms roll in (and they certainly do) lightning strikes are incredibly frequent. When others pray for sun, I pray for rain and on our last day the clouds rolled in – the lightning, transforming a dark day into a stunning light show. Huge purple bolts illuminated the sky, creating an unworldly atmosphere quite unlike any other safari experience, one I will treasure for the rest of my career.

Words and photos by: Harry Skeggs

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