Published: 29 April 2019 by: Rhonda Bannister, images by Dan Bannister
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Buffaloes at sunset

There’s only one way to capture the drama and majesty of Botswana’s precious wildlife: with a camera. Rhonda Bannister discovers the magic of spotting Africa's wildlife on a once-in-a-lifetime photo safari...

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Mother and baby hippo

Our morning photo drive is over, and we’re heading back to the lodge for breakfast when our driver gets a message that two lionesses have been seen dragging the body of a young buffalo away from the river.

We’d left the hotel before sunrise, hopeful of spotting a lion or leopard on the prowl but no luck, so the news sets our hearts racing almost as fast as the Land Cruiser’s speed as we race back toward the river. Our guide finds the hideout under thick vegetation, and I’m thankful the only thing visible is the top of two massive heads, realising I don’t need to see the harsh reality of big cats ripping into their breakfast. Alas, no photo!

Crocodile stalking dinner

It’s the second day of our Pangolin Photo Safari in Botswana’s Chobe National Park, and we’re thrilled with what we’ve already photographed. Earlier that morning we came upon a family of baboons playing by the roadside and swinging through the trees; a mother cuddling her baby to her breast and another baby riding his mother around like a horse.

Then we stopped to watch a clan of spotted hyenas scavenging the leftovers of a kill while a large hippo wallowed in the river, observed keenly by a green-eyed crocodile. When a herd of elephants materialised around the next corner, our ever-helpful guide/driver Keeme positioned the car for the best viewpoint. It was a mesmerising 20 minutes as two cows stood guard over half a dozen babies playing in a mud hole, slipping and sliding while squealing with delight — goosebump material!

Pangolin's photo boats allow you to take the perfect shot

The day before, we’d enjoyed a late afternoon run up the Chobe River in one of Pangolin’s custom ‘photo boats’ which have eight seats that rotate 360 degrees with a camera mount attached to each. So, no matter where the wildlife is, you have a chance to snap it.

A Pangolin Safari is very different to others. Founders Toby and ‘Guts’ (love that nickname) believe the Chobe is Africa’s best year-round wildlife photography destination. They pride themselves on catering to photographers of all levels of experience and ability and there’s always a photo guide on hand to help you achieve a top shot. I’m given a Canon DSLR camera and zoom telephoto lens, with a quick lesson from Guts on how to use it — way different to my iPhone!

Elephants playing in the mud

I’ll never forget the sense of amazement I felt on that first day; witnessing my maiden wildlife show. We’d pulled up next to the bank to watch a herd of around 100 elephants, including a dozen or more babies, grazing by the river. One was so close I could count his eyelashes — breathtaking!

The silence of the wilderness was only broken by the sound of eight cameras click click clicking when Guts said; “Put your cameras down and be in the moment. Look around you, let your senses absorb the beauty and wonder surrounding us. Breathe it in”.  And then, in a swirl of dust from on top of the hill, came hundreds and hundreds of buffalo to join the elephants. It was a truly magical moment, akin to watching National Geographic come to life! 

The vibrant sunsets are an unforgettable sight

On day three we’re transported to the Pangolin Voyager Houseboat on the Namibian side of the river — and being the only guests, we have the boat to ourselves together with the crew and our hosts, Tjaart and Alda. Cruising along the river, comfortably perched on the top viewing deck with a glass of chilled Chardonnay, we watch as the sunset weaves its golden magic on the vastness of the African sky.

The land spreads away into the distance; the green punctuated by the blue waters of the river as it snakes its way between Namibia and Botswana. We pass many herds of impalas, a troop of baboons, nine giraffes loping home on their stilt-like legs, a family of hippos, and several crocs waiting patiently on the river bank for dinner to come their way. And then the sky explodes into shades of orange, purple and pink. A fitting finale to so many extraordinary moments in three short days.

Giraffes heading homeBeing part of a Pangolin Photo Safari in Chobe National Park was an exceptional experience that will stay with us for a lifetime.

They say Africa changes you and I now know this to be true, having gained a new respect for the wildlife and people of this fascinating continent which inspires me to return every time I look at my photos.

Pangolin Chobe HotelAbout Pangolin Chobe Hotel

Forget about sleeping in a tent, this new hotel is designed for photographers who want to be one of the first visitors to the Chobe National Park every morning and the last to leave at sunset. Situated on a hill overlooking the Chobe River and just five minutes from the town of Kasane, entering the hotel is like walking into a modern art gallery, with massive sculptural pieces and framed wildlife photographs filling the large void.

At the end of the gallery is the editing suite for post-production of your images. The 14, industrial-style, air-conditioned rooms with en-suites have private balconies offering a spectacular view of the Chobe floodplains and the fabulous sunset. Find more information on Pangolin's Photo Safari packages here.

Related article: Up in the air in Africa

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