There is no doubt that the African bush has a magical quality that, once it has crept into your soul, never leaves again. Each visit beguiles one more and the yearning to return time after time drives a search for undiscovered places and new experiences. kwaZulu-Natal has only a smattering of destinations to explore and the most desirable of these is Phinda Game Reserve. A destination much vaunted for its Black Rhino, Cheetah and Lions this reserve has to be high on the agenda of the bush junkie. So it is that I find myself heading east towards the Indian Ocean.
On our first sortie the familiar feel of the wind whipping through my hair is a welcome one while the discomfort of the bench on the back of the safari vehicle allows me to savour the moment of being back in the bush. We head for the open plains (referred to as the Marsh Area) to look for a lion pride that has been seen in the area.
Without too much searching we find our target. A sizable pride consisting of two dark maned males, three lionesses and eight cubs are lying indolently in a small clearing. The cubs are about three months old, four from each of two of the lionesses. And as cubs are, they are constantly on the move. They either wrestle with each other or see if they can get one of the adults to play.
The staccato of shutters keeps breaking the silence of the afternoon and we stay with the pride until nightfall. Once the sun has set we try our hand at night photography.
On the third day of our stay we come across the pride again. During the night they have been on the hunt and the dregs of the feast are lying in the long grass. Each member has a clearly distended mid-section and sleep has overtaken almost all. One little cub is valiantly tackling the stripped ribcage of the Wildebeest gnawing away on his own. We leave them still sleeping off their grand meal.
That night the pride is still camped out in the same clearing and we return to try the night photography gig again. The images this time are more successful as we are entertained by huge yawns from the adults and the curiosity of cubs as they play with a hapless grasshopper whose efforts at escape are thwarted at every turn.
On the evening of day four of our stay the Lion Pride once again presents itself in the right place at the right time for good photography. Hardly believing our luck we set up for night shots again and countless times we are able to set the shutters alight as we stare into the throat of the king of the beasts.
Day five dawns misty and cold. It is the end of the safari. We head towards the marshes yet again but this time in search of the elusive Black Rhino. As we head East we unbelievably stumble across the Lion Pride yet again. And again, they are lying in a perfect little clearing making photography a cinch. The light however is challenging but the opportunities countless. As the sun rises and its rays start gently lighting up the landscape the fur of the lions take on a rich golden hue. Many visits to the bush have presented either the lions at the right time and the light does not appear or the light is there sans the lions. Here, we have both. Photography magic is made. We move around from side to side to get different and better angles.
Then, it happens. One of our vehicles gets stuck in the mud only 20 metres away from the Lion Pride. Once before on a trip to Zimbabwe our vehicle broke down in the bush. While all the other guests on the vehicle were supremely bored I spent the most amazing hour and a half photographing a troop of Chacma Baboons that had settled down a few metres from the vehicle. Here was my chance. With a vehicle stuck and everyone concerned about how to extricate it from the clutches of the dark, oozing, sticky earth I kept my camera pointed towards the Lions.
However, the unusual activity unsettled the Lions and they moved off. In a rather mercenary move we followed leaving our unfortunate friends to fend for themselves. The morning ended with coffee and rusks next to a small dam. A feeling of deep satisfaction permeated my soul as I took in the perfectly created day. The African bush has once again proved that it can always provide special moments for those seeking them.
Interesting facts about Phinda.
Phinda is a Zulu word meaning 'the return', which signifies that Phinda Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal was the location of one of the biggest reintroductions of game in Africa. The area was restocked with lion, rhinoceros, buffalo, elephant, leopard, giraffe and other big game in Operation Phinda Izilwane, meaning 'return of the wild animals'.