The waterhole by Jaci’s Safari Lodge has always seen its fair share of game. Elephants and a large variety of birds are notably the most reliable visitors. The hide at the waterhole plays a vital role for guests, as you can relax in the shade of a large tamboti tree, enjoying the views. Many people have experienced having elephant herds peacefully passing by, just a few metres away, calmly feeding from the bushes nearby.
The beauty of a waterhole is the same as when you embark on a game drive, you never know what to expect from one minute to the next. The amount of animals passing through on a daily basis is amazing. You may be in for a peaceful few hours, relaxing while watching the sunset, only to be surprised by an action packed and thrilling wild dog hunt happening at the last rays of the day. It’s happened to me a couple of times and it’s always what you least expect that’s the most fun.
Little over a year ago, a new project was taking form – the Terrapin hide. The idea was to have a hide in the water itself, getting closer to the action, without disturbing the wildlife. As builders arrived and some noise and activity was going on for a couple of months during the completion of the structure, we worried that the animals would be scared off and avoid the waterhole completely.
It turned out that this wasn’t the case at all. Elephants kept arriving at least once a day, though drinking a bit away from all the commotion, buffaloes patiently waited until sunset in the surrounding tamboti forest and birds totally ignored the fact that anything was different. One night lions even killed an antelope in the middle of the construction site, and the next morning we found hyenas feasting away, as we went out for a game drive.
At the opening of the new hide, we were all very excited to experience photography at a different angle and nature has definitely been delivering. As elephants come to drink twice a day during the dry season, there are plenty of opportunities to get some interesting close-ups. They often stay for long periods and this time of the year they start enjoying splashing around, fully submerged in the refreshing water again.
One morning the news went through camp that there were lions at the waterhole and of course this was an opportunity not to be missed. As I arrived with both colleagues and guests, we got a very nice view of one of the most beautiful male lions in the reserve, lying perfectly across from the hide, not even granting us a glance. Later on he was seen mating with a female, in that exact same location, making hide guests very happy, as well as those of us out on drive.
I’ve always enjoyed late afternoon birding around the waterhole, as the golden light colours everything magical and many species come down to drink, bathe or fish. Often there seems to be a competition going on between kingfishers, cormorants and herons… fish after fish is being pulled out, to a photographer’s great delight. Capturing them actually diving in or catching the fish is not the easiest, but pictures of them after the catch, with water dripping from their prey are also very rewarding. At eye level with the water, the experience feels close up and truly personal.
A few days ago, some of the guests opted to spend the morning at the hide, instead of going out on drive… something which can prove to be a wise decision. All of a sudden impalas came bursting out of the bushes, rushing past the waterhole. A few minutes later, the reason for this was revealed when a cheetah came trotting along, totally out of breath. Even though his hunting attempt had been unsuccessful, he allowed us a great few minutes as he relaxed in the shade, catching his breath before heading off again.
I’m still waiting for the perfect picture of a kingfisher emerging from the water with a fish in his mouth, water droplets frozen, looking like liquid gold and a leopard drinking at the water’s edge one misty morning. There’s no doubt in my mind that the opportunities are there, I just also need to be there, at the right time.