Travel Report Timbavati (South Africa)
Our Travel Report Timbavati and South Africa should support your travel planning to one of the best safari locations in the world.
7 days phototrip to Timbavati South Africa, our itinerary:
Where is Timbavati South Africa?
What you should think about prior departure to Timbavati South Africa:
Local currencies: US dollars are widely accepted. If possible, take small USD bills for tip, which is expected in USD. South Africa = ZAR (South African Rand), but here too USD is welcome in the lodges. Otherwise, credit card payment works smoothly everywhere.
Vaccinations: Coming from Germany are no vaccinations – even yellow fever not – prescribed. However, the standard vaccinations are recommended, see suggestions Foreign Office.
Luggage: When traveling by small african aircraft, you should pay attention to “soft” luggage (i.e. sports bags) and the weight limit. The photo equipment should definitely be taken on board (!)
You need a Visa
Visa: Can be bought at arrival at the airport
Helpful: A small pocket knife and a strong flashlight with spare batteries are often very useful. The cell phone flashlight does it too, but often does not shine far enough.
Clothing: For South Africa, we used functional clothing and sturdy shoes, although this time we decided for slightly less warm things. In most lodges in Africa you can usually wash your clothes for free or for a small additional charge.
Detailed Travel Report Timbavati South Africa
Staying overnight at O.R.Tambo International
Coming from Mauritius (see other Travel Report Mauritius), we spend the night at the Protea OR Tambo Hotel, just over 1.5km from the airport. Absolutely OK for one night, but you realize that you were driven out of paradise when you look out the window the next morning.
The better option for the 1 night overnight stay would have been the Protea Airport Lodge, as you could walk there from the airport.
Day 1: We use the hotel shuttle to the airport. At the airport again discussion on hand luggage. The flight to Hoedspruit takes only 35 minutes, the airport is snugly small and the luggage is delivered by a tractor with a trailer.
Outside, all transfers to the lodges are waiting for the guest and we finally arrive at our Makanyi Guest Lodge at around 3:30pm. A dream that we can barely enjoy on arrival.
Briefly we clear the formalities and the first game drive is ready to start.
It is colder than expected, but a great drive in a great reserve.
The highlight is a lepard with prey after sunset, which is chaised up a tree by two hyenas. Spectacular!
Back at the lodge there is a fantastic dinner on the terasse and then we fall into bed. Note: we had expected significantly more mosquitoes at this time of the year, but there was almost none and the few could be kept at distance by Anti Brumm / Autan.
Waking up early for the first safari drive
Day 2: Very normal for safari camps, wake-up takes place very early at 5: 30am. At 06:00am the first Gamedrive starts. The sky is overcast and it rains lightly as we go to the cars. We did not expect that at all, as it was still 37 degrees 2 days earlier according to the weather app.
Our first black rhino
During the ride, the rain stops and we see our first Black Rhino, very rare and a good start into the day. Then we see a large herd of elephants, antelopes, wildebeest and much more.
During a coffee break we have a very nice encounter with an elephant. We just got out of the safari car and drank coffee when this little specimen approached through the bushes.
At 09:00am we are back at the Makanyi Guest Lodge, which we see now for the first time in daylight. Beautiful. The clouds break open and the azure blue sky becomes visible.
After breakfast, we sit on the veranda of our house and enjoy the view of the passing animals (Impalas, Kudus, Giraffes, Warthogs, Zebras, Wildebeest, just to name a few).
At 1pm we enjoy lunch. You definitely can not starve here.
We borrowed some tele zooms
Our borrowed lenses arrived. The Nikon 200-400mm VR II and the Nikon 200-500mm. I was interested in the comparison to my Tamron 150-600 G1. It was not about the professional comparisons, of which one finds enough in the net, but about the handling in real life.
Nikon 200-400mm VR II
The Nikon 200-400 VR II is a real heavyweight (over 3kg) and you drag around a lot. Carry it around all day, no chance. But in the safari car a very different number and the one who has the necessary budget a 100% recommendation.
Fast focus, super sharp, great contrast and built like a tank. I have never had so much fun with a lens.
The Nikon 200-500mm is equal to the Tamron 150-600 G1 except for the zoom range. Ordinary quality, but not for eternity. Significantly lighter than the 200-400mm (just over 2kg) and also with quick, precise focus. But the 200-400mm is a different class by far.
Compared to the Tamron 150-600 G1, the focus ring sits at the end of the lens, where one likes to hold on to freehand photography and then always has the risk to adjust the focus. In addition, the zoom path of the Nikon is much longer than that of the Tamron.
Tamron 150-600mm G1
Since the Nikon 200-500mm is heavier and priced above the Tamron, there would be no real reason for me to change, except if necessary, the continuous light intensity of f5.6.
It is also a great lens, which I, after many photos taken with it, can recommend. Nikon and Tamron are a give and take in this price range. It is more a question of taste.
African Photogrpahic Services
We borrowed our lenses from Africa Photographic Services in South Africa. The delivery to the lodge and billing by credit card worked great. First class service ! All top !
Every day the same schedule, but never boring
Day 3-6: The safari days basically all run according to the same pattern. 05:30am wake up, 06:00am the first Game Drive, with breakfast coffee. Here is the – invented by our ranger Nico – Kakao-Amarula coffee – as a highlight to mention. Then at 09:30am breakfast, 1pm lunch, 3:30pm High Tea and at 4pm departure for the evening game drive.
Back in the lodge around 7pm and then directly to the bar for the exchange of the day with the other guests. In good lodges, the menu is personally presented by the “Chef”, including wine recommendation (at Makanyi a highlight) and after dinner, it is usually time to go directly to bed.
The time between game drives is at your disposal, you can do sports, sleep, relax or whatever. Of course, as a photographer you also use the time to take pictures around the lodge, because there is “wildlife” too.
Falling in love with the "fat Berta" (Nikon 200-400mm VR II
At this point, I come back to the lenses again. During the day and with enough light, Tamron’s results are only marginally worse than the Nikon 200-400mm VR II. Most hobby photographers would not really notice the difference, as they only show up in crop and in things like contrast.
Nikon 200-400mm VR II - a low light hero
In poorer light conditions, especially early in the morning or at dusk, which are usually the times of animal watching when being on safari, the Nikon 200-400 VR II shows its true strength.
Through the monstrous front lens comes so much light that the AF always hits, even if you feel like it’s already dark. ISO rarely has to be set higher than 3200.
Giving the Nikon 200-400mm VRII lens back at the end of the rental felt like an "amputation"
I have to say, when I had to hand back the lens after 2 days and switched back to the Tamron 150-600, it felt like an “amputation”.
Especially when we had watched a pack of lions in the evening and I missed some nice shots, as I was still using the ISO settings of the Nikon 200-400 VR II. In addition, the first “see through” suddenly felt like the lens cap was still on, so much darker it was.
The desire to own the Nikon 200-400mm VR II
The desire to own the “fat Berta”, as we nicknamed the Nikon 200-400 VR II, is unfortunately aroused now. Definitely I would rent it for Safari again. At this point another tip.
For the Timbavati Reserve, a 400mm lens is long enough, as there are only a few situations where you can fully use this range, unless you are a “birder”.
In private game reserves you get usually closer to the animals, as you can go off-road
The same applies to most Private Game Reserves, because you can drive “offroad” and get very close to all animals. That’s why you should think carefully before going on safari. What area will you be traveling to and then plan your lenses carefully. As I said for “Birding” 500mm are actually a minimum, each “extra” helps.
Following are a few pictures that I have “shot” with the Nikon 200-400 VR II (more pictures can be found at Flickr, see link below):
All pictures are directly from the “.jpg” out of the camera and only here and there a little Crop, or slight sharpness tweak with Lightroom. Otherwise unchanged. I think you can see very well that the Nikon 200-400mm VR II really delivers extremely vivid images.
The following pictures are taken with the Tamron 150-600mm (G1) and personally I find the difference especially in the contrast noticeable and subtleties come out less well, as soon as the light goes.
Day 7: One last game drive with really spectacular impressions, e.g. a huge herd of elephants at the waterhole. These pictures were taken with the Tamron 150-600mm G1.
Makanyi - time to say goodbye
Makanyi in Timbavati was a sensational experience with incredibly attentive staff, the friendliness and service are hard to beat!
The return flight from Hoedspruit to Johannesburg is reminiscent of the early days of flying and we have rarely taken off so relaxed. At 7:25pm our return flight to Germany starts and wonderful 2 weeks come to an end.
Better use a specialized travel agency
We always rely on a travel agency AST, when it comes to South Africa, Botswana or Namibia.
The travel agency has a local employee (the enchanting Mrs. Csar), who knows most of the lodges and is always on hand to help and advise. Some things you may ask before booking: how big is the game area belonging to the lodge, do they use a tracker and a ranger per vehicle, which is the maximum number of guests per vehicle.
Some Lodges are special for photographers
You can also check, whether a lodge has specialized in photographers (Makanyi, for example is, because every ranger at the same time is a photographer – at least as a hobby and you can borrow equipment, you could even photography classes).
Also you do not have to constantly explain the guide why the light is better from the “back”. Also important, although not easy to find out is the wildlife density and whether private vehicles are allowed to drive in the area, which is usually not the case in the Private Game Reserves, which is why these are “quieter” but also significantly more expensive.
If it is your first safari
Good lodges are not cheap, but it makes a huge difference, if you have 4-6 people or 10 people sitting in the car.
Great lodges are organized in a way that there are never more than 2 vehicles per sighting on site, leaving enough space for the animals and time for guests to observe. In addition, the guides are top trained.
You never have the feeling that you are being processed. To our experiences one should stay max. 4 nights in a lodge, since you have discovered the area after 3 days.
Of course something new can happen on day 4 and 5 too, it’s wildlife, but for yourself it’s just more exciting to discover new things elsewhere and usually most of the other guests are there for a maximum of 3 nights too, so the lodges have adjusted their programs accordingly.
Many lodges, especially those that discovered semi pro photographers as an interesting target, are installing so-called “hides” near their waterholes. For the ambitious photographer this is the top (see my pictures of Mashatu in Botswana).
Tuningi in Madikwe opened a very luxurious hide in 2018 another one is Ulusaba in Sabi Sands. Especially for the times between the game drives, those offer great opportunities to experience the animals from a different perspective.
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Which Photoequipment for Timbavati South Africa?
The photographic equipment that we brought to Timbavati South Africa can be found below. In addition, you have the opportunity to order the used photographic equipment directly through our photo shop and to request further technical details. There are also a lot of extras.