Underground Excellence

Villiers Steyn

UNDERGROUND EXCELLENCE

An introduction to Indlovu River Lodge’s two photographic hides

I’m sure that you’ll agree, as wildlife photographers we’re constantly looking for new and exciting places to photograph animals – places that allow us to get shots that look different from the ones we usually take in our favourite parks and reserves.

I recently found such a place. Somewhere where I can get close. Somewhere where I can smell the musky scent of an approaching waterbuck, where the dawn chorus is wonderfully deafening. Somewhere wild.

This somewhere is in one of two exceptionally well-designed underground hides at Indlovu River Lodge.

Sound exciting? Let me tell you more…

Where is Indlovu River Lodge?

Indlovu River Lodge is located approximately 45 minutes from Hoedspruit in the 9000 ha Karongwe Private Game Reserve, which is home to an impressive variety of Lowveld birds and mammals, including the Big Five.

What makes the hides so special?

Both hides are sunken, allowing photographers to photograph everything from bathing buntings and waxbills to drinking nyalas and zebras at eye-level – an angle that, unlike from within a vehicle, allows you to blur the background beautifully behind even the smallest of creatures.

What do the hides look like inside?

Both hides look identical inside: Five people can sit comfortably next to each other on super comfy high-back office swivel chairs. The inside is lined with carpet to minimise noise, but for maximum light and enjoyment of the surrounding sounds and smells there’s no glass separating you from the animals.

Each photographer has a beanbag and gimble head for support, as well as a place to put down additional lenses and those all-important cups of coffee. A narrow walkway behind the chairs allows you to stand up when you feel like stretching your legs, but believe me – you won’t want to leave your camera…

What can I expect to photograph?

Like any other wilderness hides, there are no guarantees. Every day will attract different birds and animals, depending on the season, the climate and the time of the day. If you ask me, that’s what keeps it interesting!

That said, there are obviously certain creatures that visit more regularly than others. Common feathered visitors include blue waxbills, emerald-spotted wood-doves, Cape turtle-doves, golden-breasted buntings and dark-capped bulbuls. Red-billed oxpeckers, grey go-away-birds, yellow-fronted canaries and a variety of weavers and starlings also make regular appearances.

I’ve also photographed green-winged pytilias, cut-throat finches, Jameson’s firefinches and a hamerkop there. In fact, I was able to photograph a whopping 29 different bird species in my first four visits to the hides!

Common mammals like impalas, baboons, waterbuck, nyalas, kudus and zebras regularly visit the hides. Even giraffes pop in from time to time. If luck is on your side some of the local rhinos, elephants or buffalos might come down for a drink and I know for a fact that the local lion pride has posed here for a lucky few photographers on more than one occasion!

Which hide is the best?

Hoseng Hide is the smaller of the two and faces west, making it ideal for early morning photography. Two slightly raised edges force birds to drink directly opposite photographers no more than six meters away. With a 400mm lens or longer you’ll easily get full frame photos of birds drinking and bathing.

That doesn’t mean that large animals avoid it, though. If you sit quietly enough, even giraffe will drink here right in front of you.

Thapama Hide’s waterhole is much larger, with the opposite edge being approximately ten meters from the cameras. Although you can certainly get some great bird photos here, the main attraction is the mammals that quench their thirst here in the afternoon, when they’re bathed in golden light. And if you prefer more dramatic backlight, nothing stops you to come sit here early in the morning.

Choosing a favourite is impossible and I strongly recommend that you sit in both, ideally for more than one session.

What equipment do I need?

If you have a variety of lenses, bring them all. Believe me, choosing which one to use when a herd of eleven nyalas are drinking in a row is nearly impossible! For mammals I use my 70-200mm most and for birds my 500mm f/4. If elephants or giraffes come down, though, you’ll need something wider.

A 80- or 100-400mm lens on a crop-factor camera body like a Nikon D7200 or a Canon 7D MkII will work perfectly for most shots.

Remember, you don’t need to bring tripods, beanbags or any other support systems.

What about accommodation?

Guests stay in the exquisite, fully catered Indluvo River Lodge located on the banks of the scenic Kuvjenami River. Oweners, Louisa and Craig Venter, will go out of their way to ensure that you have an unforgettable stay. Visit www.irl.co.za for more information about the lodge.

When should I go?

Since natural pools of water lure animals away from the hides in summer it’s best to visit during the dryer winter months from June to October. Ideally you want it to be hot, dry and sunny when you’re there…

How do I make a booking?

To find out more or to make a booking, click here.

 

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