• Cleo Bolt

Africa - Kwazulu Natal

Updated: May 21, 2020

Zimanga Private Game Reserve

May 2019

Arrival and my first game drive

Sunset from the Acacia trees, looking towards the Lebombo Mountains

It was my first visit to South Africa and absolutely nothing could have prepared me for the assault on my senses.

It was a given that I would fall in love with all of the animals but what I hadn't expected was to fall in love with the land, the scents, the sounds, the sunsets and the light at dawn.

I'd been travelling for over 24 hours and arrived at the beautiful wrought iron gates of Zimanga Game Reserve at 2p.m. I was tired but within minutes, I was greeted by the sight of this Mum and Baby, (i-phone image) and in that instant my journey was forgotten and I came alive and for the next 7 days, sleep was the last thing on my mind. From waking well before dawn to editing my photographs until late into the evening, and all of the hours in between, I was awed by this experience.

After a very short drive, I and my five fellow travellers arrived at the beautiful Homestead, this gorgeous building was to be home for the next 7 days. Standing alone with breathtaking views of the land stretching in front of us all the way to the Lebombo mountains, it felt like a dream to me.

(I-phone image of the view from the Homestead)

Here, we were introduced to a group of people who worked so seamlessly and tirelessly to make our stay memorable. We ate lunch and then after a quick change of clothing (unpacking could wait, and in fact, I never really got around to unpacking at all, my days were full with such wonder, I just didn't have the time!). I was off on my first game drive through this beautiful land.

I shared every game drive and every hide session with a lovely Australian couple and the three of us were guided by the head Ranger - Calvin Kotze. Calvin is an outstanding photographer who understood exactly what we three, as photographers, were looking for in our images. In our quest for photographs, we threaded our way off-road over seemingly impossible terrain filled with Camel Thorn trees, the spikes of which were lethal; we drove along the river valley and atop ridges and drove down slopes so steep I had to close my eyes and hang on, and then back again, this time vertically ascending those slopes. We trusted Calvin implicitly and it was fun and felt like a real adventure and ducking down in our seats as low hanging thorny branches, whizzed past our heads, became second nature.

We criss crossed the beautiful Mkuze river many times and it is something I would never tire of. One afternoon at dusk, Calvin drove us to the centre of the river, turned off the engine and we just sat and listened to the unmistakable thrum of the cicadas and we breathed in the scents of the wild basil as we watched the sun setting beyond the mountains turning the river the darkest, deepest red.

But I get ahead of myself and I must start at the very beginning:

Day 1, my first afternoon drive. Our little group of three and Calvin decided to just go with the flow and without purpose, let the land fill our senses for our first drive.

We drove past numerous Birds, Zebra, Warthogs, Giraffe, beautiful Impala and we paused for a while close by a lone bull Elephant whose bottom was perfectly lit for photographs but whose face was deep in the shade of a tree, which was seemingly afternoon tea! We were enthralled, but the best was yet to come...

In the light of the setting sun, we had our first sighting of two Cheetah lying in the long grass. With our open top jeep parked, very close, the Cheetah lazily gazed at us and then paid us no heed. Calvin told us we could get out of the jeep and kneel to take photographs. I felt immensely privileged that these beautiful beings allowed us so intimately within their space. Here I was, sitting so close to a Cheetah that I could see him breathing in and out and in and out. I could see every hair, every flicker of his ear and twitch of his eyes as he raised his head to look at me and then lie down to sleep. I don't have the words to describe the emotions that coursed through me.

We returned to our jeep and sat in silence, absorbing the stillness and the light, until the sun had set low over the horizon and then we headed for home in silence, each lost in our own thoughts of the wonder that we had just witnessed.

I didn't know it yet, but this was just the first of many times that I would feel speechless and breathless on this trip.

Back home, we were served another wonderful meal and afterwards as became my routine, I looked through my images from the day and then I slept, a deep, peaceful sleep ....

and woke on Day 2.... just before my alarm at 4:30 a.m. Little did I know that this would be a day that I'll remember for the rest of my life .....

All photographs are mine © Cleo Bolt Photography. Follow me on facebook at Cleo Bolt Photography and on Instagram at lovemycamera1.

#Africa #Lions #Cheetah #Giraffe #Impala #Hyena #Wildlife #Zimanga #Sunset #Rhino #Elephant #Gamdrive #Photography #Leopard #Sony #Mirrorless #wildeaerth #zimangaprivategamereserve

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©2017 by Cleo Bolt Photography.