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.
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.
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