The wildlife wonders of Klaserie

by
Willem Kruger
Friday, 23 February 2018

Every year, the Africa Geographic Photographer of the Year competition showcases a plethora of phenomenal photos from around Africa by professional and amateur photographers alike. The lucky winners are awarded incredible prizes that reflect their talent.

Wildlife photographer Willem Kruger won first place in the ‘travel’ category in 2017 and enjoyed a memorable trip to the luxurious Klaserie Sands River Camp in the Greater Kruger as his prize. The following is an account of his magnificent experience, in his own words.

Klaserie horseshoe

Klaserie’s vast landscape © Willem Kruger

Willem’s photographic adventure

As one of the winners in the annual Africa Geographic Photographer of the Year for 2017, I received as my prize a two-night stay at Klaserie. My wife and I decided to use the prize during our first available free time, which was at the end of September 2017. We contacted the lodge and Lee-Ann was very helpful and responded promptly to our request for a booking, and provided a detailed description of how to reach the lodge.

We arrived at the lodge to a very warm welcome, along with refreshing welcome drinks. After spending some time exploring the grounds we discovered that the lodge has room for 10 guests and Wi-Fi was available in the public areas like the lounge. The lodge looks out over a waterhole which was very active during the time that we were there, due to the fact that it was at the end of the dry season.

We were given an orientation of the camp after which we were shown to our chalet, to freshen up. Soon after we were ready for our first afternoon game drive with our guide, David.

Not long into the game drive we were alerted over the radio about a group of wild dogs about 20 minutes away. We reached the sighting just in time to find the puppies starting to play. Unfortunately it was a cloudy afternoon and the sun was already setting, but nevertheless we got some interesting photos of the young wild dog cubs playing while waiting for the adults to return from their hunt.

Wild dog pups playing 

Wild dog pups playing © Willem Kruger

Nikon D4 camera with Nikkor 600mm lens, 1/3200 sec, F4, Exposure = -0.67, ISO 6400, 21 metres from the wild dog pups

We spent the rest of the late afternoon with them, until the adults arrived. The puppies were very playful but ever so watchful for any signs of danger.

Unfortunately the adults were not successful during their afternoon hunt, so the puppies left with the adults to continue hunting. We tried to follow them but it was already dark and they disappeared into the thick vegetation. We decided then that it was the perfect time to enjoy the evening under the rising stars with sundowners, and soon after that found ourselves driving slowly back to camp, listening to the sounds of the nightlife of the veld. Arriving back at camp we had an excellent dinner thanks to Steven, the chef.

Two wild dog pups

Ever watchful wild dog pups © Willem Kruger

Nikon D4 camera with Nikkor 600mm lens, 1/800 sec, F4, Exposure = -0.67, ISO 2000, 25 meter from the wild dog pups

The leopard hunt

Before we knew it the morning had arrived and we were back on the game drive vehicle before sunrise, keen for some interesting sightings.

Once again, the game drive delivered great excitement as a male leopard had been sighted about 30 minutes away from our current position. The message was that it was “mobile”, so we had to rush to the sighting or else lose it to the thick vegetation. When we arrived we were thankful that he hadn’t moved off, and were pleasantly surprised to see he was in the process of stalking a steenbok – a first for us!

We stayed with the leopard and waited patiently, but not to get too close – in order not to interfere with the hunt.

Leopard peeking from behind a termite mound

The leopard peeking from behind a termite mound © Willem Kruger

Nikon D500 & Nikkor 300mmf2.8 lens, 1/3200 sec, f2.8, ISO320, Exposure = -0.33, white balance = sunlight, Aperture mode, 30 metres from the leopard

One of the advantages of the Klaserie Sand River Camp is that it is located in one of the more remote areas of the Klaserie, which is beneficial in the sense that we never experienced a congestion of vehicles at a sighting. This meant that we had the privilege of staying with this leopard without the pressure of making way for others.

It took the leopard about 30 minutes to get close to the steenbok – about 15 metres – but not close enough. The leopard suddenly made a go for the steenbok (perhaps more out of frustration) but unfortunately was unsuccessful in capturing it. The disappointed leopard stood in the same spot where the steenbok was a few seconds earlier – you could almost see the frustration in his body language.

Left to right: 1) The steenbok in question [Nikon D500 camera with Nikkor 300mm lens = 450mm, 1/6400 sec, F4, Exposure = -0.3, ISO 640, 30 metres from the steenbok]; 2) The leopard with its eye on the steenbok [Nikon D500 camera with Nikkor 300mm lens = 450mm, 1/6400 sec, F4, Exposure = -0.3, ISO 640, 30 metres from the leopard] Both photos © Willem Kruger

The leopard, having given up on any further attempts to hunt the steenbok, crossed over to the ‘forbidden land’ (a restricted area which we were not allowed to drive on), which signalled the ideal time for us to enjoy a cup of tea and coffee with rusks on a nearby termite mount – nice refreshments after a morning’s ‘hard’ work!

Afterwards we made our way back to camp, whilst enjoying the birdlife along the way, and were treated to a hearty breakfast on the deck overlooking the waterhole in front of the camp.

Clockwise from left: 1) The leopard looks back on a failed hunt [Nikon D500 camera with Nikkor 300mm lens = 450mm, 1/6400 sec, F2.8, Exposure = -0.3, ISO 320, 20 meter from animal]; 2) Breakfast on the deck [i-phone 6]; 3) Stopping for a tea break while out in the bush [i-phone 6] All photos © Willem Kruger

 

Of elephants and wild dogs…

After some down time at the camp (spent relaxing while downloading photos), we headed out for our final afternoon drive, which started with a fantastic sighting of a herd of elephants.

Elephant calf feeding

Elephant calf feeding © Willem Kruger

Nikon D4 camera with Nikkor 600mm lens, 1/1000 sec, F4, Exposure = -0.67, ISO 2000, 32 metres from the elephant calf

Afterwards, we were lucky enough to come across the same wild dog pack we saw the previous evening next to a dam. It was interesting to see how cautious they were and did not head straight to the water to drink – they probably had previous encounters with crocodiles.

This time the pups were not so playful as the pervious evening. The adults, however, were trying to encourage each other to start with the evening hunt. Shortly afterwards they took off as group to hunt before darkness caught up with them.

Two wild dogs licking each other

Two wild dogs greeting each other © Willem Kruger

Nikon D4 camera with Nikkor 600mm lens, 1/500 sec, F4, Exposure = -0.67, ISO 2000, 32 metres from the wild dogs

By this time it was overcast and already very late in the afternoon, so I tried to play around with a slow shutter speed to create a more interesting photo (one of the most difficult shots to capture in photography – a lot of luck involved and you cannot ask the dogs to run again and again until you get it right). Sometimes you only have one of two opportunities to capture the moment of wild dogs running by.

Wild dogs running

Wild dogs as they take off to hunt © Willem Kruger

Nikon D4 camera with Nikkor 600mm lens, 1/2500 sec, F4, Exposure = -0.67, ISO 6400, 40 metres from the wild dogs

We tried to follow them as they were hunting but it was just too difficult to keep up in some of the more bushy territory, and soon after gave up and continued with the drive back to camp. The evening was concluded with a special guest lecture for staff and friends regarding a rhino protection project – shipping rhinos to Australia for conservation purposes. Again we were treated to an excellent dinner.

The last morning was cold, windy and rainy. Not much to see except for a leopard kill up in tree and a red-crested korhaan saying farewell to us from a termite mound.

A beautiful Korhaan

A beautiful red-crested korhaan © Willem Kruger

Nikon D4 camera with Nikkor 600mm lens, 1/2000 sec, F4, Exposure = 0, ISO 400, 15 metres from the spurfowl

It was a pity that the trip only lasted two nights but it was definitely a great success! Klaserie Sand River Camp is a little gem in the Klaserie Private Nature Reserve and it is definitely worth visiting if one is in the vicinity. Once again, a special thanks to Klaserie Sand River Camp for offering this prize and to Africa Geographic for running the Photographer of the Year competition.

My message to take home…

This was our first trip to this area of the Greater Kruger National Park. For wildlife photographers, it is important to get away from your home, your well-known environment and even your comfort zone (including the photographic areas you are familiar with). Exploring new territories like we did during this trip is a great way to find inspiration and try to get some alternative images. The Greater Kruger is not always seen as the ideal photography destination but then that is the purpose of visiting other destinations – a world away from your comfort zone. Remember, when visiting a new photography destination, think outside the box, break out of your rut and use alternative methods to capture those new, innovative images.

Until next time, keep on shooting! 

Leopard on a termite mound

A majestic leopard standing on a termite mound surveying his territory © Willem Kruger

Nikon D4 camera with Nikkor 600mm lens, 1/8000 sec, F4, Exposure = -0.67, ISO 800, 32 metres from the leopard

Willem’s accommodation

KLASERIE SANDS RIVER CAMP

Klaserie Sands River Camp is an exclusive safari lodge located on the banks of the Ntsiri River in Klaserie Private Nature Reserve, Greater Kruger National Park. Click here for more information about the lodge, and see our SPECIAL OFFER banner below.

Clockwise from top left: 1) View of the private reserve from the balcony – complete with infinity pool; 2) Rustic thatch-roofed chalets; 3) Enjoy dinner outside on the deck; 4) Relax and experience the joy of seeing elephants up close. All photos © Simon Espley

 

Special offer through Africa Geographic Travel

Africa Geographic is offering the chance to enjoy 4 nights at Klaserie Sands River Camp for the price of 3 – visit this special offer or contact us via email to plan your Klaserie safari. If you contact the lodge directly, be sure to use the reference ‘AG Online Feb18’ to qualify for the special offer.

Travel in Africa is about knowing when and where to go, and with whom. A few weeks too early or late and a few kilometres off course and you could miss the greatest show on Earth. And wouldn’t that be a pity? Contact an Africa Geographic safari consultant to plan your dream vacation to Africa.

 ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Capturing the moment in time to be appreciated in the future is the vision for my photography. I am Willem Kruger from Bloemfontein, South Africa. I am a public health specialist.

My interest in photography was largely motivated by my wife because of her love for nature and wildlife. Because of my love for nature and originally coming from the rural area of the Free State, it is just logical that the focus of my photography leans heavily towards wildlife photography.

To learn more about me and my travels, you can visit my blog.

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