When travellers mention the Chobe River in Botswana an immediate sense of awe and wonderment prevails and this is rightly so given that it has to rate as one of the last remaining areas in Africa where vast herds of game roam alongside an incredible diversity of birdlife.
As the plane banked to the left, the large expanse of the Chobe River came into view like a green vein coursing its life giving contents through the surrounding arid landscape. Large herds of African elephant and Cape buffaloes showed clearly against the lush grasses on the islands that dotted the river and in the water itself, numerous boats circled in arks around the great herds of game. Landing a few moments later, the hot dry air that entered the plane was a huge change from the wintery weather and snowy mountaintops that I had left behind in Cape Town earlier that morning. “Welcome to Botswana and especially to the great town of Kasane, I am very positive that your visit here will be more than memorable!” This friendly statement was beamed through a huge smile by Betty the elderly customs officer that stamped our passports and ushered us through the small customs hall, allowing us to begin our visit to this magical part of Africa.
1 of 11: Carmine Bee-Eater.
This wildlife photographer’s paradise is what had drawn me here to attend a four-day “Better Wildlife Photography Course” with Pangolin Safari’s. Gerhard Swanepoel, otherwise known as “Guts” and who is the co-owner of Pangolin Safaris met me and three other ladies at the airport and quickly briefed us on what to expect during the photographic course and during the boat cruises that would be starting up the river later that afternoon. I had chosen to join Pangolin Safari’s as their riverboats have been especially designed for wildlife photographers and each boat has eight comfortable swivelling chairs with gimbal camera mounts that allow you to photograph in a 360-degree ark. Aimed at clients that have a reasonable understanding of digital photography, the courses are held once a month and allow access to the Chobe River, the terrestrial park and also give the opportunity to do some star photography around some ancient and gnarled Baobab trees.
2 of 11: Rock Pratincole.
As per the briefing from Guts, I wandered down to the boat jetty later that afternoon and we were all soon heading up-river to the entrance of the Chobe National Park. Guts introduced everyone on the boat to one another and it was fantastic meeting a diversity of wonderfully friendly people that heralded from as far a field as Zimbabwe, Sydney, Malta, India and then also locally from Cape Town and Howick. Not only were we from different parts of the world, but we also had different levels of photographic skills and a wide mixture of equipment. Yet, despite this complexity and over the four-day period, Guts managed this expertly and easily, carefully guiding and teaching each of us in accordance to our skills level. His opening comment of “the most important device in the tool-box of a wildlife photographer is patience and to respect your environment at all times by minimising your impact” became the mantra of the whole course. It was this total respect on his behalf for all the wildlife and his pleasant manner with all the guests that was truly inspirational and without a doubt, definitely helped in us all getting fantastic images from the trip. While we drifted along the waterways, he also timeously provided advice and tips on shutter-speed, depth-of-field, white-balance, composition and lighting options in an easy to understand way that was mixed together with valuable information on animal behaviour and what to expect from a photographic subject.
3 of 11: African Fish Eagle.
From here on, it was the animals and birds that held our attention and on that first afternoon, the added benefit of the boat was quickly realised as it allowed us to drift slowly and quietly towards countless wildlife interactions. Amongst our first sightings, African Fish Eagles perched on dead tree stumps as Pied Kingfisher families plunged into the water to catch small fish. African Openbills waded past snoozing Marabou Storks and then pulled up freshwater mussels as African Skimmers swept along the waters surface with their elongated lower mandible cutting the water open like a can-opener. Flocks of eye-catchingly beautiful Carmine Bee-Eaters swooped above the waterways, plucking insects from the sky and in the reed-beds, Coppery-Tailed Coucals fleetingly graced us with their presence. This was indeed a photographers paradise!
4 of 11: Coppery-Tailed Coucal.
It was however the African elephant herds that held most of our attention and as dusk settled and the sun changed into a glowing orb of dark orange, we headed to the numerous islands in the middle of the Chobe River. Here, large elephant bulls tugged out the long grasses, shook them and deftly placed them in to their mouths to slowly munch on. They made the most perfect photographic subjects with their large easily recognisable bulks silhouetted alongside the orb of the setting sun. As we drifted past the elephant, hippos began to grunt and bellow around us and the African Fish Eagles threw their heads back to call loudly adding to the incredibly African scene.
5 of 11: African Openbill.
Passing one herd of elephant, Guts noticed a huge Nile crocodile that must easily have topped four meters in length. As we cautiously approached the crocodile, Guts gave a reminder to “focus on the eyes of your subject as they are the gateway to the soul” The crocodile was raising itself high out of the water and shaking the remains of a red lechwe carcass in a tremendous flash of water spray and flesh so that it tore chunks off the remains which the crocodile could then shallow. As darkness approached, we had a last view of Black Herons, Squacco Herons, Great Egrets and African Spoonbills that were searching the waterlogged grasses for a final dinner meal. Reluctantly, we had to leave the park but we were all elated with what the river had offered to us and our cameras.
6 of 11: African Skimmer.
The next morning, the dawn chorus of scolding and chattering Chacma Baboons together with the beautiful calls of White-Browed Robin-Chats saw me out on the deck with a piping hot cup of coffee and watching two old Cape buffalo bulls and a small herd of elephant grazing on the lawn. I reflected that there were definitely few better ways to start the day! Soon afterwards, Guts was again guiding the boat downstream and into some gentle rapids where Rock Pratincoles, one of the areas real special birds, rested on the small rocky outcrops. It was while watching these birds, that a Spot-Necked Otter popped up next to the boat and had us all scrambling for our cameras in the hope of getting a photo of this rarely sighted mammal. Yellow-Billed Storks were also photographed at their nests in the large trees in the islands and we all battled to track extremely agile Yellow-Billed Kites that swooped down to snatch food items from the surface of the water.
7 of 11: Long-Toed Lapwing.
Coinciding with our visit to Kasane, the globally coordinated “March for Elephant and Rhino” was taking place. This march aims to raise awareness to the plight that elephant and rhino are facing against unscrupulous poaching. With elephants playing such a crucial and impactful role in the lives of the people of Kasane, the town had organized a march through the streets and as photographers, we were asked to document the event. It was an incredible privilege to “march” alongside laughing children, serious soldiers and singing men and women and at the end of the event, the poaching situation was made all the more relevant as an army helicopter flew overhead with a team of soldiers that were off on their next anti-poaching patrol. To top this off, our final boat cruise on the Chobe River coincided with several hundred elephants swimming across from the mainland to the islands. The elephants swam carefully protecting their small young while the larger animals bathed and played right alongside the boat and had us totally enthralled and provided some of the best photographic opportunities that I have ever had with elephant.
8 of 11: Pied Kingfisher.
It was this incredibly privileged time with the elephants that so succinctly wrapped up the four amazing days spent on the Chobe. It confirmed that the trip with Guts and Pangolin Safaris allowed unrivalled photographic opportunities while broadening my knowledge of photography. Finally, it confirmed what Betty, the customs official, had said on my arrival in Botswana – this was indeed a more than memorable trip to this incredible wildlife hotspot and wonderful country!
9 of 11: African Spoonbill.
Season and weather:
Summer months are extremely hot and humid and afternoon thundershowers can be expected. Note that this is a malaria area. Winter weather is more pleasant with cool temperatures and more stable weather patterns.
The Chobe National Park comprises of the terrestrial arid areas where Mopane Trees and scrubveld dominate. Along the rivers edge, large Mopane trees form a riparian band. Grass covered islands are dotted throughout the Chobe River.
Large herds of African Elephant, Red Lechwe, African Skimmer, Rock Pratincole, Coppery-Tailed Coucal
10 of 11: Little Bee-Eater.
Accommodation & Activities:
The town of Kasane provides a number of accommodation options that vary from the large public caravan and camping site through to luxury lodges that lie on the banks of the Chobe River. Apart from the photographic safaris run by Pangolin Safaris, day drives into the Chobe National Park are possible and these may be guided or self-drive. Fishing in the Chobe is also a popular past-time and a variety of tour operators offer boat trip for this.
Airlink is the regional feeder airline that connects you daily from Johannesburg to Kasane (Chobe ). With Botswana, Chobe and Zimbabwe featuring a unique wildlife game viewing experience, flights are timed so as to connect with the majority of international morning arrivals, domestic and regional flights from points such as Cape Town and for the afternoon wave of intercontinental departures as well as flights onward to Cape Town and other domestic destinations such as Nelspruit Kruger.
11 of 11: Marabou Stork.
Pangolin Photo Safaris
Central Reservations: (Mandy)
Tel: +27 21 461 2941 or
Tel: +27 82 877 4252