I THINK maybe we have now had 3 different general cruising experiences. One is what I will call the “sun and fun” experience. To us, that means a Caribbean Cruise. They are almost always warm and sunny. It seems that all the many stops (more are being added yearly) in the islands of the Caribbean have a certain “sameness” to them. A kind of “Bob Marley” vibe. We have done a few fun excursions around the islands, but generally they are all the same. I generally get off the ship at each stop and look for photographic opportunities. Mostly, I find colorful, Caribbean subjects, ala Jimmy Buffet’s “Boats, Bars and Beaches.” That’s not a bad thing. I have made some nice and fun images in the Caribbean. We also spend a lot of time on the ship, in the sun, around the pool, eating and drinking, and generally soaking up the warm sunshine. Since we bought our home in the Tampa Bay, Florida area, the allure of those cruises has worn off somewhat. Then there is what I will call the “see the world cruise.” This has generally translated into The Mediterranean, Europe, the British Isles, and the Baltic for us, so far. I know we will venture further in the years to come, seeing parts of Asia and Hawaii and Polynesia, and New Zealand and Australia. The goal, here is to see new things. The “wonders of the world,” so to speak. It has branched my photography out into travel, street shooting and architectural photography. At the same time, it has afforded continued landscape, nature, and even occasional wildlife opportunities. Photographically, it is more rewarding that the first category.
THIS TIME, though, we discovered a new category, all its own: Africa. What do you do for 16 days in South Africa? Some of the time was spent in Cape Town, and the rest on a cruise ship making 5 planned port stops around the South African Peninsula. After experiencing it, and spending the time there, there is really only one answer. You do wildlife viewing. There is really not much else to do. Perhaps an unfair characterization. But probably an accurate generalization.
When it comes to wildlife viewing, the African Continent is second to none
FOR SURE, there are some spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Indian Ocean on the eastern seashores of South Africa. That doesn’t – in my view – make it a unique travel destination. We saw incredible seacoast views in Portugal and in both Ireland and Northern Ireland. We have seen them again, in the Baltic Sea, and I have no doubt that our views of Norway’s fjord’s in June will be nothing less than spectacular. We have pretty great seascapes of all types on the shores of both the Atlantic and the Pacific right here in the U.S., and our Great Lakes, as well. Don’t get me wrong. The South African water views are worth seeing. They just bolster the fact that the world is an incredibly beautiful place. But they are not the reason to travel to South Africa. Likewise, though we didn’t get far into the interior of the African Peninsula, we are told that Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River (actually in Zimbabwe) are nothing short of spectacular. But are they more spectacular than our own Niagara Falls? Or even some of the “lesser” falls around the U.S. and around the world? Not really. They are not the reason to travel to South Africa. Cape Town is a very cool city, with some pretty interesting features. And the view of Table Mountain in the background virtually everywhere you go certainly adds its own unique quality to the city. We didn’t get to Johannesburg, or the wine regions of Franshoek and Stellenbosch. All have their own charm. No doubt. But at the end of the day, none would top my list of cities or places to visit. That isn’t saying I wouldn’t love to visit them. Just that there are other destinations that have more “draw,” in my view, both historically and photographically.
BUT WHEN it comes to wildlife viewing, the African Continent is second to none. And not surprisingly, virtually every port of call excursion and activity centered around seeing the animals. In spite of reading and hearing about the phenomena of “The Safari,” I was somewhat ignorant of the rank of this activity among “things to do in Africa.” In hindsight, it is the primary thing to do and is the reason to visit the African Continent. Everything else is secondary. At least, that’s my view of it. While we did have some splendid viewing opportunities, we really didn’t take full advantage of the trip. That is not to say we didn’t immensely enjoy our visit. Nor did we completely miss the viewing opportunities, as the photos here illustrate. But we didn’t take full advantage as we perhaps could have. There were other activities, but they weren’t even a close second to the wildlife “drives.” We spoke to fellow passengers who took a couple of the “city” tours and similar excursions. They were largely underwhelmed. We visited the beach and somewhat famous aquarium in Durban. Really “just o.k.” I’ll give it coverage in an upcoming post. But every single wildlife drive or viewing opportunity was acclaimed by all we spoke to. And they were certainly the highlight of our trip, also. If the opportunity to go back arises, we will arrange a several-day tour of the interior of the continent, including Botswana, and Kruger National Park in northwestern South Africa for wildlife, and Zimbabwe, for Victoria Falls.
FOR US, the Port Elizabeth stop was all about our wildlife drive. We were fortunate to have met a couple at the beginning of the trip who had room for two more in a six-person tour. We traveled from the cruise port inland to the ADDO Elephant National Park. Our guide, Mike, was very good. Having grown up over in Cape Town, he had taken up the career of tour guide. Mike picked us up just outside the port, where he drove us the approximately 35 miles inland to the park entrance. South Africa’s third largest national park, and said to have the full complement of wildlife, it is really known for its elephant population. It is a natural habitat for these huge animals, and they have been there for many years. But it has not all been good for them. The park was originally established in 1931, as a refuge for elephants. One of the large agricultural products of the area, particularly down along the flatter land adjacent to the Indian Ocean is oranges. But as the orange groves grew and became established, the indigenous African Elephant population, a scavenging herbivore, discovered the plantations and began migrating toward them to feed. They destroyed much of the groves as they foraged. The farmers began to shoot them as a defense of their groves. At one point, the population is said to have dwindled to only 11 remaining resident elephants. In 1931, South African conservationist, Syndey Skaife established the preserve. Fences were erected, creating a perimeter of the park and over time, were designed and re-designed (today they are electrified), with the goal of keeping the elephants inside the preserve, and presumably safe. In later years, Lions and the Black Rhinocerus were re-introduced to the area. Today, there are more than 600 Elephants in the park, along with many other species of wildlife, including Zebra, Wildebeest, Cape Buffalo, Warthog, Hartebeest, Kudu, Springbok, Ostrich and other bird species, to name a few. We were fortunate to see and photograph a number of these. As you can probably see from the images, the elephants were the most impressive.
WE WERE fortunate during the early part of the day to have a bright overcast sky, conducive to photographing the elephants. As the day wore on, the sun became “hotter,” and the usual challenges of daytime photography ensued. The other challenge was that we had to shoot from inside the vehicle. Park rules prohibit exiting the vehicle or even opening the doors. Distance was also a factor in a number of cases. We learned that Lions and Leopards are mostly active only during the very early and late hours – times we couldn’t be in the park. We did not see any cats. This is one of the reasons I would – as I mentioned above – schedule a more full-on safari if I visited again. They get you out during these early hours and you are pretty likely to spot these big cats.
I CARRIED my travel rig on this trip. Thankfully, that includes a zoom that reached out to 300m (35mm equivalent). I would have been very frustrated and disappointed without it. It did a decent job, particularly with the large animals like the elephant. But another trip to South Africa would have me making the effort to carry my more serious equipment. The “full frame,” 46mp sensor on the Sony would have made a substantial difference compared to the m4/3 body’s 20mp sensor, and its comparatively small size. As would the higher quality lens. I could have made better, and more detailed crops of some of the more distant animals. If you are a serious photographer and are making a trip to the African Continent, I would seriously consider carrying your best possible gear, and perhaps something even a little longer than 300mm.
ALL IN all, it was great day, and we not only saw some amazing wildlife that – outside of a zoo – I may never have the opportunity to photograph again, but we also enjoyed the company of some good new friends. Our next stop would be Durban.