For longer than I can remember, the thought of going on safari has entranced me. The early morning air, the open-top safari jeeps, and the chance to see a lion in the wild. Safari in Africa just has a little bit of magic about it. Visitors to South Africa often include the famous Kruger National Park but there’s a little-known park called Inkwenkwezi Game Reserve in East London on SA’s Eastern Coast.
They offer sunrise and sunset wildlife game drives, as well as a whole host of other activities including quad biking, hiking, and horseback riding. We booked on the sunrise game drive to catch the wildlife at their most active and most easily photographable. It’s not that you won’t see animals on a sunset tour, but the fading light means that unless you’ve got a low light beast camera, you’re going to be getting some grainy and blurry images.
Wildlife in Inkwenkwezi
The park is home to the Big 5 (the lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and rhino), as well as antelope, birds, and zebras. The most elusive by far are the white lions, which we almost missed but for one eagle-eyed member of our group but we’ll talk about them later.
There’s no shortage of wildlife roaming around the park, and you’ll quickly become accustomed to seeing Kudu antelope wandering around. They seem very used to the large safari trucks going by and tend to pay them no heed.
Our guide had an amazing eye and spotted some birds that I for sure would have missed for sure. This guy was maybe 20-30 metres away so this photo was pretty heavily cropped but the quality of the Canon 6d really held up here.
One of the most amazing experiences was when we happened across a group of giraffes. They followed our jeep for a while, and we learned that a group of giraffes standing still is called a Tower, but when they’re moving they’re called a Jenny. Here’s the view we got of them walking along in front of us. This is the kind of traffic jam I’m OK with.
Elephants in Inkwenkwezi
There are elephants in the reserve, but they are kept separate in their elephant sanctuary. You can book in on their Elephant Experience for 395 Rand (€23/ $27) but we didn’t do this. It seems to be more aimed at kids and teaching them about elephants and how to care for them.
Rhinos in Inkwenkwezi
As we went down the road a little we came across a mother rhino and her calf. They were walking across the road until they decided that they wanted to take on our jeep. They stubbornly plodded towards us, only moving once our guide beeped the horn at them a few times. A really great memory and a surefire way to get a shot with them looking right down the barrel of my camera.
Watching the interaction between mother and calf was amazing. You can just see how much love and care they have for each other. For an animal that can weigh over a tonne, they’re surprisingly delicate and sweet. The young calf barely left his mother’s side, staying within touching distance nearly all the time.
Lions in Inkwenkwezi
The white lions are kept separate from the main park in their own 90-hectare area until such a time that the park can sustain them. This means that there is a good chance of seeing them, however, we went to the lion enclosure at the very end of our Safari so they were pretty well hidden. You’ll want a long lens and a keen eye to pick them out amongst the bushes.
We saw two lionesses taking cover to avoid the hot South African sun. They weren’t too bothered by us and it took quite a while for them to even look our way. When one of the lionesses did deign to look towards us, I managed to take one of my favourite shots I’ve ever taken. Our safari truck was half amongst the foliage so the leaves gave the shot some lovely soft bokeh that almost looks like a beam of light coming into the top left corner.
Once she had given us a glare, she went back to her important business of relaxing in the shade. I was almost completely breathless after taking that photo. There’s such an odd feeling when an animal with that much power and grace looks at you. It almost felt like the lioness was looking right into my eyes, and I feel so lucky to have been there for that moment.
Camera equipment for Inkwenkwezi
Due to the nature of game drives, I had to limit myself to one lens. The roads are bumpy, there’s a lot of dirt and wildlife appears and disappears in an instant. This meant that I stuck to my Canon 6D and 70-200 2.8 IS. With the amount of movement on the jeep, being able to keep my shutter speed high was key.
If I were to go back, I’d love to have something with a little more focal range. Something like the Canon 100-400 would be ideal or even a 2x extender to get a little closer. I had to crop my photos in quite a lot, so even having a crop sensor body like the 7D or even a more consumer camera like the 80D would give a x1.6 crop.
As you can tell, I’m a Canon shooter, so I’m not going to pretend to know about offerings from Nikon or Sony. In general, you’re going to want a lens that’s at least 200mm and more if possible. I kept my aperture at around f/3.5 while we were moving just to give me a little more depth of field to play with. When we stopped the truck, I shot at f2/8 to get that lovely soft background.
How to get to Inkwenkwezi Game Reserve
Inkwenkwezi is about 50km from East London on South Africa’s Wild Coast. From East London airport it’ll take you just under an hour to get there. You’ll go through East London and get on the N2 towards Mthatha, which brings you most of the way. Keep an eye out for a right turn with a sign for Chintsa. Drive for about 7km and you’ll see signs for Inkwenkwezi Game Reserve on your right.
How much does it cost?
The guided game drive costs R895 (€54/ $62) per person for 3 Hours. You’ll be in a safari jeep with space for 6-8 people so it’s perfect for groups or even by yourself. This is a pretty great price for a guided tour with knowledgeable guides. You’re probably looking at double that cost at least if you go to Kruger or some of the larger safaris. You can stay in the park itself and again, it’s not too expensive for what you’re getting. If you’re looking to keep costs at a minimum East London has quite a lot of inexpensive accommodation.
I’ll finish off this post with a rather seductive booty shot. Saucy wildlife.