Zimanga Private Game Reserve
At 4:30 a.m. the most welcome sights (and scents) are those of home made cookies and fresh coffee. And so it was that my mornings began.
Calvin generally arrived about 5a.m. and we had a quick chat about the day, before heading off into whatever adventure lie ahead of us.
This morning, Day 2, the three of us were going to the Scavenger Hide. I'll confess a photography hide is not my natural home, I'm an outdoor, breathe the air, move around with my camera type of photographer. However, I also know that hide photography allows observation at close proximity, without disturbing the animal in any way, and in a way which is often quite impossible in other circumstances.
So off we set and as we drove through the mist of the awakening landscape Calvin talked about the types of birds and animals we could expect to see at the hide. He also spoke of the rare visits of a "blue eyed" Hyena.
Barely dawn and a misty morning
The Scavenger hide is set on a red earthed plateau with a panoramic window overlooking the distant mountains and contrary to all my expectations, I immediately enjoyed the prospect of being at one with this landscape and anticipating what the next three hours would reveal.
Calvin departed and the three of us made our equipment ready, relaxed and simply took in the view and enjoyed the friendly chat, which we likeminded companions had fallen into.
We'd been sat only a short while when slowly, ever so slowly over the ridge, appeared the Hyena. It was a heart stopping moment. She was utterly magnificent in the landscape. We could observe her closely, her skin bore multiple scars from wounds inflicted upon her body, blind in one eye with a big scar above it and a huge scar circumnavigating her neck, a clear sign that at some time she had been caught in a snare. She was clearly a survivor of many battles. I found her mesmerising. She stayed with us for just under 15 minutes, in that 15 minutes, every second in her presence was a precious second, and so it seemed to us, that she was with us for hours. We observed her movement, her wary, alert eyes, her graceful gait. I'd wanted this, I'd wanted so much to see a Hyena, but to see her like this, so close, was an experience which went beyond anything I could have imagined. I sat in silence, as we all did, we could not take our eyes away from her.
As she left us, we each looked to the other and smiled, words were really not possible, the emotions overwhelming.
We sat quietly for a while, looking through and sharing our images from the backs of our cameras and intermittently looking at the view, wondering if she'd return. She did not, but in a very short time along came this gorgeous looking chap and his Oxpeckers.
He brought his family with him and they stayed to feast on the grass and rub against the tree stumps and it felt like a lovely light moment after the intensity of what had gone before. Perfectly orchestrated by perfect nature.
Other images from the morning:
AND, we'd not had breakfast yet!!!
When we left the hide, the sun was shining in the sky and the warmth of it washed my skin. We headed home, breakfasted and whilst some rested in their rooms after the early morning start; I found my rejuvenation in the sunshine and the view and in watching the ever present Warthog families.
The rythmn of my days at Zimanga had begun.
Early afternoon, there was lunch for all who desired it (and we all desired it), it was a stunning array of dishes. Appetite satisfied, we climbed aboard our jeep for our afternoon drive.
The lions had not been seen for a couple of days and so Calvin asked if we'd like to go and try to find them and without a second's hesitation, of course we would.
We were mostly off road and so rarely saw another person. I'd really not anticipated falling in love with the land as I did.
Our search for the lions took us to the Mkuze river, it was the first time I'd seen it, shallow and clear, shimmering and winding it's way through the valley. To reach it, we had to transcend the most vertiginous, narrow, angled slope imaginable, it was one of those - "oh my goodness, we're not going down there are we?" moments. But yes, indeed, we were going down there and we did, holding on and laughing as we landed at the bottom onto the sandy banks of the river.
We crossed the river and quickly moved into verdant grassland. It is here that the scent of wild basil fills the air especially in the late afternoon as the sun is beginning to lower itself onto the horizon.
In our quest to find the lions, we drove for countless miles and crossed the river several times but we had not found them.... and then.... there came a radio report that one of the other rangers had seen them at the river. Although the light was fading fast, we made our way back to the banks of the Mkuze and there was my first sighting of the lions.
Seven of them, three males, four females. And it is here with them and later in my holiday that I spent the most memorable, peaceful, wonderful hours in the company of this family of lions. For family they are, there is no mistake.
As the sun sank further behind the mountains and as the water began to glow orange, then deepest, darkest red, the lions began to stir and one by one, each following the other, walked to the water's edge and across the river and into the night.
The moments with the lion family, those just experienced and those yet to come, will remain lustrous and vivid in my memory forever. And even if there were not a million reasons to return to Zimanga, the lions alone, would draw me back.
And then we headed for home, but first we had to get back up that slope and it was now dark ....and therein lies another tale...
.... but needless to say, we lived to see another day and what a day Day 3 turned out to be ..... we knew there was a lion cub somewhere, but where ....
All photographs are mine © Cleo Bolt Photography. www.cleobolt.com. Follow me on facebook at Cleo Bolt Photography and on Instagram at lovemycamera1.