Everyone on the photo boat is awestruck. A small herd of elephant are crossing just in front of the boat, and everyone aboard is silent – but for the rhythmic click of camera shutters. The elephant move slowly, trunks raised above water level like snorkels, and seem completely oblivious to our presence. In such a relaxed environment, some of the finest wildlife images can be shot. So too in the nine purpose-built photography hides.
Just imagine a hide for every purpose: some underground, some elevated, one mobile and one built to accommodate overnight stays for four. The hides were all designed by an award-winning wildlife photographer and hide architect; some are specific to waterbirds, others for small birds, some for wildlife and large mammals. If you are a nature or wildlife photographer – or an aspiring one – Zimanga Private Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal is your nirvana.
Potentially being able to get up close and personal with 80 different mammal species and 400 bird species is mind blowing. When you know it all started with just seven zebra, one wildebeest and a handful of impala and warthog, Zimanga is a miracle – and that’s exactly what the name means. Add to the original species list the full Big Five plus giraffe, cheetah, waterbuck, kudu, nyala and hippo, and you have an enviable offering for wildlife photographers and nature lovers to enjoy. The photo boat is another enchanting option available to guests and will get you close to swimming elephants in summer, or photographing drinking lions at night under spotlights.
To complement the hide photography, active game drives on open vehicles are done daily with everyone enjoying a side seat. There is also no time limit on sightings, and with only 3 vehicles on 70km2 it feels like you have the entire reserve to yourself. Night astro and landscape photography is also offered.
When light during the day is too harsh for photography, it’s a chance to savour Zimanga Lodge. The suites – six double and four single – are stylish and spacious, each replete with a laptop desk for processing images. And if you’re dipping in the rimflow pool instead, lookup and you may see elephant sauntering by with the lazy Lebombo mountains beyond.
After a day of riveting wildlife encounters, cosy up around the evening fire in the boma or dine on the deck under the stars. Cuisine is delectable and talk at dinner will surely be about f-stops and light, and possibly an image from the day that could grace the lodge entrance. Memorable shots taken on Zimanga by visiting wildlife photographers from around the world create a welcome to fellow photographers. It’s a casual hall of fame, where bush inhabitants are the stars.
Reviewed by Keri Harvey
What we love
- Zen simplicity and such spacious suites which exude calm
- Four cosy, purpose-built single rooms – with no single supplement to pay
- That the lodge with stone walls and wooden decks blends beautifully into its surroundings
- Stunning indigenous gardens and birdlife around the lodge
- Such comfortable, well-designed photography hides and sleeping out in Tamboti hide
- The Greaves photographic equipment collection on display – dating back to the 1800s
- Exclusive use of the entire reserve is also possible
Need to know:
- Only the overnight hide has toilet facilities
- Laundry is complimentary
- Zimanga is a 2-hour drive from Richards Bay, 3 hours along the N2 north of Durban, 6 to 9 hours from Johannesburg (pending delays en route)
- Private charters to Mkuze airstrip, just 10 minutes from Zimanga, can be arranged by guests
- Guests staying 9 nights or longer, will be flown complimentary on a private transfer from Virginia (Durban) to Mkuze. Direct (50 minutes) or low level coastal scenic flights (70 minutes) are offered
- The lodge is fenced for safety