Written by: Steve Dover
A day trip to Pilanesberg National Park was planned at short notice as it is a two hour drive from my home in Johannesburg and it’s always the most convenient wilderness to detox from the hustle and bustle of city life. It’s a trip that I make at least once a month and it’s something that I always look forward to as I have a passion for nature and wildlife photography.
Pilanesberg National Park is a place where I can proudly say that I honed a lot of my skills behind the lens, thanks to its magnificent landscapes, and diverse flora and fauna.
On this particular day we entered the park at around 7am and went about our game viewing and bird watching as normal. The sun was shining and the feeling of spring was in the air all around us.
At around 2pm we could feel a change in the air pressure. The wind picked up, the clouds began to gather above us, and there was a feeling of electricity in the air.
Over the next few hours we would witness something magical; something that few have been able to photograph with great detail.
At around 3pm a dark angry sky began to form. Heavy with moisture we knew at this point that there would be a massive downpour.
The rain began to fall just as we came across a pride of lions. You could see that they were anxious and restless, as it’s safe to say that cats do not like water. They were trying their best to get out of the rain and eventually huddled down in some long grass.
We decided we would wait out the storm, and sit with the lions until it passed over, but an hour later the heavens opened! Hail began to come down like nothing we had ever witnessed before. It wasn’t the size of the hail stones that surprised us but the sheer volume with wave after wave pouring down and creating a complete and unrelenting white-out. We had to escape for cover out of fear for the car getting damaged.
The next series of photographs is what we captured along the way to the nearest shelter about 500 metres down the road.
We waited out the storm under a big old tree for about 30 minutes and, once the hail had subsided, we made a beeline straight back to the lion pride, curious to know how they had coped through the hail storm.
The next series of photographs was what we witnessed on arriving back at the lions.
The cats seemed full of life and rejuvenated by the first rains of the season. Playful and energetic, they were bouncing around and even the two large pride males were acting like overgrown cubs. It was especially interesting to watch them gingerly walk over the ice covered floor.
The area was completely covered with ice making it almost look like snow fall. The landscape resembled an ancient icy tundra complete with ancient snow lions! It was a truly magical setting and a privilege to be there and witness from start to finish.
At 5.45pm, just 15 minutes from the gate closing time, we had to get going. The skies were clearing but the sun was setting and the low light made it difficult to capture the last series of photos.
The peaceful and refreshed landscape symbolised the start of spring and the end of the long dry winter months.
We drove home with a surreal feeling, wondering if we would ever witness something quite so magical ever again.