Last month, I shared with the NWPphotoForum community my experience having climbed Mount Kilimanjaro
. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The trip was spectacular - and I was very fortunate to also be able to go on Safari during the time I was in Africa. Because I booked the two through a coordinated program, I was even able to get a discount to boot!
The day after returning to Moshi from the mountain, and have had a successful, safe summit two days earlier, I was met early in the morning by my safari guide, Ben. I was surprised to find out that I will be traveling the next few days solo. I couldn't believe it! What awesome luck! Don’t get me wrong, I love the company of other people, but I was really excited to know that I was going to have my own Land Rover on the safari. You see, I had brought along my entire arsenal of gear, and I was afraid that I would be crammed into a truck with four or five other people.
As it turns out, Ben and I were headed for Lake Manyara all by ourselves. If you’ve been on safari before, you know the layout of the vehicle. For those who are unfamiliar, it is a Toyota Land Cruiser Safari Edition. The configuration is front seats, two in the middle and a bench seat in the rear with a roof that pops up to provide shade while out under the extreme equatorial sun of central Africa. Going solo allowed me to place my ThinkTankPhoto Airport Security bag on the rear bench seat and stand in the center of the truck with clear views in all directions. I was traveling with as much gear as I could pack into the bag. My gear included: 2x Canon 5DMII’s, 600mm f.4, 70-200mm 2.8IS, 2x 1.4x extenders, 24-105mm f.4, 16-35mm f. 2.8, 50mm 1.4, 16mm Zenitar fisheye, Wimberly head, Gitzo monopod, 8x batteries and a total of close to 200GB of Sandisk Extreme CF cards. I also brought a Sanho HyperDrive COLORSPACE UDMA backup drive to back up my cards on every night.
The drive from Moshi to Lake Manyara is about four hours, passing through the larger city of Arusha along the way. About an hour before reaching the park, I noticed some movement on the side of the road. I got my first sighting of giraffes in the wild!
They really are graceful looking animals, just minding their own business snipping away at the treetops.
Once inside Lake Manyara National Park, we are immediately surrounded by baboons along the road. Elsewhere in the park I also got my first look at Vervet Monkeys, Zebras, Cape Buffalo, Wildebeest, Warthogs and hippos!
I have to admit though that I was initially a bit disappointed. We did not arrive at the park until 11AM and left at 4pm. Unfortunately, most of the animals are under cover and not very active at this time of day. Sadly, in the morning we had to leave to head for the Serengeti.
Day two on the safari began with Ben picking me up at 7AM. We headed for the Serengeti Wild Camp (SWC). I was to stay at the SWC for the next three days. That is a good thing because it’s a five hour drive to get there. That means that I did not have to worry about arriving at the park at mid day…or so I thought. As it turned out, it was even later getting there because we had to deal with a clogged fuel filter in our truck. That delayed our trip for another two hours.
Once we arrive inside the boundaries of the Serengeti, I was amazed to see, for the first time, such a wide open expanse of land. As far as the eye can see, it’s just rolling plains and animals. We had missed the main portion of the great migration by a few weeks, but the number of animals that were still straggling through was amazing. The Wildebeest appeared to be following the Grant’s Gazelles, which appeared to be following the Zebras. It really is a visual out of The Lion King.
Speaking of lions, I asked my driver, Ben, if we would see any lions while we were in the Serengeti. He just looked at me and laughed, “Of course! We shall see many lions - and just not along the main road.”
It turns out this is sort of like "the superhighway" that cuts through the center of the Serengeti. Most roads split off of this main artery. Our camp was also off the main road. Eventually we took one of the branches to head for our camp. We were going to stay there for the next two nights. Suddenly, Ben looks at me and said that he knows of a spot where we are likely to see lions. He asked me if I would care to take the detour? Are you kidding me? Lions in the wild? Of course, detour away!
Before long, we reached an area where the road split to go around a strange, large mound of earth that was perhaps 30’ high and about the size of a basketball court. We circled around the hill and came upon several lion cubs and a few older female lions.
It was getting late and we had to head for camp. We arrived at our camp just before sunset. Ben informed me that we would be starting at 8AM the following morning. 8 AM? Really? Why so late I ask? I then asked if we could start any earlier and he says 8am is the normal start time. I told Ben that I would really like to be out by sunrise to capture some of the early morning activities but Ben insist that 8am is the earliest - but maybe we could start at 7:30 AM. I then played my trump card and reminded him of our delay this morning with the mechanical problems and he broke down and agreed to take me out at sunrise the following morning!
Leaving camp the next morning at first light allowed me to capture this image. It’s a shot you simply can’t get by sleeping in late.
Later in the morning we were greeted by a pride of lions lazing in the early morning light. They were led by a collared female. I was also fortunate to catch a photo of a young cub as she glanced over her shoulder to keep an eye on me.
It was not just a trip about lions though! We also saw Cape Buffalo, hippos, a monitor lizard and more gazelles! We almost had the opportunity to witness a special “National Geographic” moment. We had apparently just missed a kill, but we did get to see the mother lioness with the warthog waiting for her cubs so that she can bring them to the meal. She walked around in circles making a low, guttural noise as she called for her children to come to her. Eventually the two cubs make their way to their mother and follow her to a nearby tree.
***Editors Note: To see photos of the lions feeding, take a look at Greg's website
Later in the afternoon we witnessed a couple of lions in a nearby tree and I managed to grab a few great shots of the two descending from the tree.
Moments later, three male lions surprised us by popping up from the brush less the 30 yards from our truck! Here is one of my favorites from that series of photos.
Of course, no trip to Africa would be complete without a shot of the elephants.
On my final day on safari I managed to capture the elusive leopard - admittedly from a great distance. These two were my only spotting on the trip and they were not in an ideal location, but I did manage to grab a few shots of these two lazing in the trees.
On the way out of the Serengeti Park I captured this photo of a hyena – my first good ones.
My final day on safari was supposed to be spent in the Ngorongoro Crater National Park where I hoped to photograph the rare Black Rhino’s. Unfortunately, due to a case of really bad Montezuma’s Revenge, the day had to be cut short and I returned to my hotel in Moshi. Even with this final day of displeasure, I can still look back on this adventure as a trip of a lifetime that I wouldn’t trade for anything!
Just a friendly reminder that this article is written by Greg McKay and edited by James Morrissey. If you like the article, please link it wherever it is appropriate. Also, please feel free to 'like' it whatever social media platforms you use. However, please do not copy the text or the images without asking. It is the joint property of Greg McKay and the Nature, Wildlife and Pet Photography Forum. The photographs are the property of Greg McKay, and have been licensed to the forum, by Greg, for the purpose of this article.