Thursday, June 23, 2016

The 'Big 5' tips for great wildlife photography

In recent years, wildlife photography has seen a massive growth in popularity. DLSR cameras are now readily available, reasonably priced and user-friendly. However, as ‘easy’ as cameras are to use these days, we’ve all had those moments when you take a photo of something beautiful and the result just isn’t what you imagined or doesn’t capture the essence of what you were photographing. It’s frustrating and can be a little disheartening. That’s why we decided to chat to wildlife photographer and Rhino River Lodge regular, Heidi Watson.

Heidi has always had a fascination with wildlife and the bush in general, from behaviours of animals to the interactions between them. Like many South Africans, her interest in wildlife photography was sparked on her first day trip into Kruger National Park. Combine that obsession with the tools to capture those memories and interactions, and the rest is history.

We asked Heidi to share a few tips on how to take better photos while on safari.

Copyright Heidi Watson

1. Invest in good lenses
I would have to say invest in your lenses – good quality glass is key. Next, a minimum focal length of 200-300mm. If you are birding, the longer the focal length the better for these mostly shy creatures (400mm and longer) I would say a 70-200 f2.8 (depending on budget) and then something on the wider side like a 24-70mm, and if you wish to go longer than anything over 200mm, it should be a prime lens (which has no zoom capabilities but is a superior lens generally).
At the end of the day I believe you should use and invest in whatever works for you personally. Start with the basics and build from there, not everyone can afford the “pro” equipment from the get go.

Copyright Heidi Watson

2. Experience is the most important thing when it comes to wildlife photography
Get out there, and practise! Learn as much as you can about your subjects and, of course, be patient.

Copyright Heidi Watson

3. Tell a story with your photos
Capturing the soul of an animal in a photograph isn’t easy, but for me that’s what makes a great photo. An attempt at capturing a moment that cannot be recreated by another.

Copyright Heidi Watson

4. Be considerate of the animals
The topic of flashes is highly debatable, however used correctly they can be effective. This is done with offset brackets and cables to trigger the flash so that it does not flash directly into the subject’s eyes. I do however disagree whole heartedly on using pop up flashes. The other big issue for me is ethics, for example don’t antagonise the wildlife to get a reaction from the animals you are photographing.

Copyright Heidi Watson

5. Spend time, not money
My main advice would be, don’t follow the fads. Rather spend money on going places. The camera is just a tool; you are what makes the photo speak a 1,000 words. Work on your skills rather than buying the latest and greatest equipment. After all, what use is a bag full of gear when you have nothing to photograph? And lastly, see the world for more then what it is at that moment.


To see more of Heidi’s beautiful photographs and get inspired for your next safari, visit her Facebook page.

Originally published on Africa Geographic.

First time safari tips from rangers in the know

For the first time safari traveller, going on safari can be an overwhelming prospect. Often considered a bucket list trip, expectations are high and the territory is unfamiliar and a little intimidating. Here we offer some advice to help prepare safari goers, courtesy of the guys who know the business best – game rangers! 

We asked Rhino River Lodge's rangers, Kyle, Alex and Ryan, to share with us their top safari tips.

Here are a few of their recommendations:

1. Bring binoculars
It’s the number one piece of equipment that guests forget to bring along that substantially improves the safari experience, and it’s just as important as your camera! Not many people own a great pair of binoculars, but if you are planning to go on safari, now is the time to invest in a quality pair. Even when sightings are fairly close, binoculars allow you to take in details that would be missed with the naked eye. Ranger Alex mentioned bringing binoculars in the answer to every question he was asked about giving advice on safari… their importance shouldn’t be underestimated!


2. Keep the noise down on game drives
Guides know that guests’ excitement can reach epic levels at amazing sightings but by keeping quiet and sharing the excitement later, you can actually improve your sighting by not disturbing the animals. Also, keeping quiet during the drive itself will increase the number of sightings you have as you do not startle animals before you are able to approach them.


3. Slow down
When planning your itinerary make sure you take time to enjoy each place. Ranger Kyle says, “Try and stay in each place for at least two nights. That gives you enough time to relax and enjoy every aspect.” The last thing you want during a safari is to get bogged down in the logistics of transfers, settling bills, packing and repacking. Spending a little extra time at each spot will make your trip much more enjoyable.


4. Let go of expectations
Just relax and enjoy! All three rangers listed this as the number one piece of advice for the first time safari goer. Letting go of expectations and simply living in the moment is the number one way to increase your enjoyment of the whole experience. In the words of ranger Ryan, “Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to see big game. Take pleasure in just being out in the bush! The fresh air, the wind in your hair as you travel in an open vehicle, the warmth of the sunshine on your skin, the bird sounds – it’s a delight for the senses. But all too often people forget this as they burn their eyes scanning the horizons for elusive animals. These sightings should be a bonus, not a requirement!”


No two days on safari are ever the same and our rangers have their own ideas of what a typical day on safari involves:
Kyle says, “A typical day on safari would be having a good time out in the bush – enjoying the sunrise and sunset, listening to all the different birds, and looking for all the interesting things that we do not get to see everyday (like dung beetles in a rhino midden rolling balls of dung or female lions teaching their new cubs to hunt and catch their food).”

Copyright Heidi Watson

Alex believes guests can expect, “A variety of flora and fauna, from big sycamore figs to small bushes, from the big five to smaller creatures like dung beetles and ants. It all makes a day of safari exciting.”


For Ryan a typical day on safari involves, “Great scenery, sunshine, plains game, birds calling from tree tops, butterflies fluttering around, flying insects buzzing past your face, a sky full of stars, warthogs fleeing in a cloud of dust, vultures soaring miles above our vehicle – basically the time of your life!”

Copyright Claire Birtwhistle

So, while it is impossible to predict what guests will experience while with us, if you’re following the sound advice of our rangers, you’re setting yourself up for a successful safari!

Originally published on Africa Geographic.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Staff Feature: Bonisiwe Zungu

Bonisiwe, or as she is known by her nick-name "Siza", is one of our newest staff members. She is our assistant cook in the Rhino River Lodge kitchen. Siza has been one of our favourite additions to the Rhino River Lodge staff as she approaches everything she does with a big smile and a positive attitude. Not to mention, she is a really fantastic cook as well! We get to know Siza a bit better through this interview....

What is your favorite part of being a cook at Rhino River Lodge?
I really like to cook because it always makes my mind creative with ideas of new things that will make the guest happy.

How do you get inspiration for new recipes?
I get inspiration from other professional chefs that I have worked with and on the internet as well. I really like to play with recipes from the internet. Also from my training course on catering.

What is your favorite recipe to prepare for guests on safari? Why?
I do have a few favorite recipes to prepare for guests, my rolly-polly pudding for dessert and my mushroom soup for starter. My rolly-polly pudding is a baked pudding kind of like malva pudding. It's a South African recipe that guests like. My mushroom soup everyone seems to really like.

Will you share an easy South-African recipe with us?
Siza's South African Rolly-Polly Pudding

2 cups sugar
2 cups water
125 g margarine
2 cups self-raising flour
60 ml apricot or strawberry jam

Mix 1 cup of sugar, 2 cups self-raising flour and 125g margarine.
After mixed together roll on baking table with rolling pin, spread 60 ml jam on top.
Roll up like a swiss roll.
Place on greased baking tray.
Make the sauce by dissolving the remaining cup sugar into the water and bringing to a boil.
Pour the sauce over the pudding, cover with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour at 180 degrees.

Serve with homemade custard. Yum!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Guest Experience Highlight: Alison Langevad

Recently photographer, Alison Langevad paid us a visit at Rhino River Lodge. Here she shares with us some of the stunning photos that she captured during her stay with us.

We asked Alison to tell us a little bit about her photography:
"I enjoy both sport and wildlife photography. I first became interested in wildlife photography in 1995 while visiting Africa. My husband and I traveled extensively through Kenya, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Uganda. We were fortunate enough to spend time with the Mountain Gorillas in Zaire, and so my passion for African Wildlife and its conservation began. We have since enjoyed the splendours of Botswana, Namibia and most recently South Africa. For me, Africa has a way of reaching deep into my soul and through photography I hope to share this. I sell stunning images on my website and have a Facebook page Alison Langevad Photography so people can indulge themselves a little each day."

Alison found Rhino River Lodge through the recommendation of a friend, "I connected through social media with a local photographer.  After a trip last year where we spent a short amount of time in KwaZulu Natal then left for Kenya and Tanzania, he wrote me this most amazing long email of all the reasons we should of stayed longer in South Africa. He described all the wonderful places close by we could of explored and suggested them for the future. It's people who are passionate about where they live that do the best promoting. Word of mouth is invaluable and now after such a wonderful stay at Rhino River, we can do the same."

We asked Alison to share her favourite memory from her stay at Rhino River Lodge, "My favourite memory would be the look on ranger Ryan Andraos’ face when we found the elephants. He was such a fantastic guide. They hadn’t been seen for a long time and we found them on his birthday. It was a great, light-hearted afternoon."

We asked Alison if she had a favorite safari subject to photograph, "I don’t actually have a favourite animal to photograph. I enjoy moments rather than things in particular. This makes every day on safari a good day because I’m never disappointed."

Alison shared her advice for taking great photographs on safari, "The best thing you can do to get great shots while on safari is give yourself time. It’s not about the equipment because it is quite easy to get up close.  It’s about having enough days to discover these wonderful creatures and then allowing the extra time to watch things unfold. We have learnt over the years to stop dashing around and spend longer in each place. We had enough nights at Rhino River Lodge to enjoy amazing sighting and indulge in our guides deep pit of knowledge, and could of easily stayed longer."

Thanks very much to Alison for sharing her experiences and gorgeous shots. Make sure to check out her website and facebook page for more of her photos. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Staff Feature: Angelica Bilro

Angelica is Rhino River Lodge's new Safari Host. It's her smiling face that greets our guests at most mealtimes and when they arrive back from game drive. She is our newest staff member and is already receiving rave reviews, no doubt due to her sweet and happy disposition. We asked her a few questions about her new job and get to know her a bit better in the following interview.

What brought you to your job at Rhino River Lodge?
It was an amazing opportunity and an exciting new adventure.

What is your favorite part of the job?
That I get to meet so many different types of people and I get to hear all there different stories.

What is your favorite part of living in the bush?
I love the tranquility of the bush. The people that choose to live here are wonderful so I've enjoyed making new friends. I also enjoy my animal encounters.

What is your best memory at Rhino River Lodge so far?
I am still making memories as I go along.
But what has stood out is how welcome every has made me feel and going to watch the elephant drink at the reservoir. It was one of the best experience of my life and being that close. It was so special watching the baby elephant trying his hardest to drink while standing on his back legs. It is truly something I will never forget.

What should guests coming from abroad know about South Africa?
There are many different cultures, different things to see , our awesome wild life and there many different activities so there is something for everyone.

If you could give guests coming for the first safari three suggestions what would they be? Bring a hat and sunblock. Bring a jacket. And don't forget your camera and binoculars!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Guest Experience Highlight: Terry Lewis

Terry and his wife recently came to spend a night with us at Rhino River Lodge. He captured our attention when he posted the lovely photos he took during his stay to Facebook. We thought we would take the opportunity to share some of those photos with you along with a little bit of their experience at Rhino River Lodge.

Terry and his wife are locals, coming to us from the Durban area only about three hours away. Terry explains how he "discovered" Rhino River Lodge, "Our kids were all going to be away on the Friday night so I searched the internet for a place in Zululand that we could grab for one night. I have been to Zululand Rhino Reserve before so I am aware of the area and the history, but I had not stayed in the south of the reserve before. So I searched on Rhino, and by chance ended on your site. The online booking is a MUST as I took a chance and booked. We families follow really busy schedules while our kids are at school, so getting away for one night is really a treat for us. Being so close to Durban, one night is a good option as we can do it easily, and still drive through Hluhluwe-Imfolozi on the way home."

We asked Terry what his favorite sighting was during his stay with us..."We were spoiled with Lion, Wild Dog, Buffalo calf, Zebra foal, Rhino calf. All were special. The most appreciated was the wild dog. We have never been so close and had so much time with a pack. They are in such good condition. But we also had some time to explore the dung beetle. I appreciated Alex (our Ranger/Guide) really made an effort to show us the stuff that we wanted to see. He is really enthusiastic, and has already learned a lot of the local knowledge of the bush."

When asked if he had any special memories from his stay Terry shared "As a couple we were able to enjoy a private weekend away, and partake in an activity that interests both of us. So our memory is the overall experience at a reasonable price." That sounds like a great memory indeed!

Terry shared some great advice for first time safari travelers "My advice to first time safari goers is that the only way to really see game in a short time is to go to a private lodge as the rangers have a network that know the area. So a lodge like Rhino River Lodge is perfect for that.  A small digital camera is perfect for holidays, but if you want decent animal pics you need a good zoom, even a digital zoom will do. Another bit of advice is to pack clothing for all seasons, and you never know how cold those nights will be on the game drive."

All-in-all Terry and his wife had some really wonderful game viewing, especially for a one-night stay. Our sincere thanks for sharing the photos and their feedback with us. We can't wait until we get to have them back to stay again!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Staff Feature: Clair DeScally

If you have stayed with us over the last two years or so, then chances are, you have met Clair. Clair is our lodge manager, and while she may be young, she is filled with enthusiasm and is a fantastic manager, with both our staff and with our guests. Clair is also engaged to our ranger Kyle. Here Clair shares a little bit about herself with us...

What brought you to Rhino River Lodge?
A colleague of mine heard of an opening at Rhino River Lodge and put our names forward. We were then in contact with Dale for an interview and because he sounded so nice over the phone I didn’t hesitate! When driving through the reserve to get to the lodge I kept thinking about how exciting this adventure would be living and working in a big 5 game reserve and then met with Dale…He was so genuine and down to earth, I figured I hit the jackpot with bosses and from that moment on I was sold! I have been here for almost 2 years now and have never looked back!

What is your favourite part of your job?

The quality control part of things where I have to occasionally taste the lodge food! Hahahaha, no I'm kidding! There are so many reasons not just one, I am a people person though and through  - so meeting new people everyday from all over the world. I keep learning new things from each of them and making friends as I go along. I am most happy when guests leave happy, but doing small gestures for our guests and seeing their shocked yet ecstatic faces when they see it is so rewarding and by far the best feeling.  I have also always had a passion for animals so as a bonus is getting to partake in things in the reserve occasionally, with helping animals and of course joining on the Game drives.

What is your favourite part of living in the bush?

There are so many different perks to living in the bush so it's difficult to put my finger on one…..The most obvious ones that come to mind is firstly the peacefulness. Coming home after a days work sitting on the porch with a glass of wine and hearing nothing but birds and crickets (and occasionally the lions). Having the wildlife walk through my “garden” and being able to walk amoungst the wildlife and to be able live this incredible experience with my partner is the cherry on top. Another worry off the list is that the only Road blocks I have to worry about are animal ones. Lastly all the unexpected encounters with wild life in your house!    

What is your best memory at Rhino River Lodge?

Well that’s an easy one. The hyena dart that took place! Hyenas are my absolute favourite animal and one of the other rangers had spotted one with a snare around her neck. Because it was human interference that cause the injury the reserve chose to dart the hyena and remove the snare. She was denning on Rhino River Lodge property and after the vet staked out her den for two nights. On the 3rd night he radioed and said he had darted her and she had run off into the thick bush. Dale offered for me and other staff members from the lodge to join him and assist in finding her. As hyenas are nocturnal animals we were looking for her in the dark, after about 40 minutes of looking for her from the vehicle, Dale suggested we all got off the cruisers and started looking for her on foot. Me being me, I didn’t hesitate and just got walking-not wearing anything close to bush shoes (only a pair of pumps) and no proper torch (only the flash light from my cell phone). Kyle and I went in a different direction to the others to cover more ground. Eventually Dale had said I should get back onto the cruiser and check if I can see her again so Kyle was escorting me back to the road where I would find the vehicle and, low and behold, we found her “sedated”  under a tree! Once the reserve manager got to our location, she placed her hand in front of the hyenas mouth to check that she was still breathing. Kyle picked her up by her head and shoulders and someone else picked her up from the back, as the hyena’s bum touch the back of the cruiser because the vet was already operating on her. She awoke and stood right up with her head and mouth about 3 centimetres from Kyles face! She was very groggy so she fell back asleep and the vet gave her a top up of sedative. Finally the vet got the snare off that had grown into her skin but luckily the wounds were superficial. She was then taken off the cruiser and treated for her wounds and left  to wake up. It was by far the best experience I've had in my life (let alone just at Rhino River Lodge) and I will cherish that memory forever!   


What should guests coming from abroad know about South Africa?

That not everywhere is South Africa is the wild bush-not everyone in South Africa needs to watch out for Lions when checking their post or watch out for Crocodiles when taking a swim! They should know that there is so much diversity in South Africa, so much to experience and learn about. For example, South Africa being a rainbow nation, its not because of colour - its about the vast amount of different cultures that are irrevocably, absolutely mind blowingly amazing and should they get the chance to experience it  first hand they should. Along with local or traditional cuisine, try the food from the side of the roads – it will blow your mind. And lastly our heritage sites, not necessarily our World heritage sites that are posted and advertised everywhere, but the little hidden gems and sites that South Africa possesses.

If you could give guests coming for their first safari three tips or suggestions, what would they be?

-          Pack for every season and occasion, you never know what could happen in Wild South Africa.

-          Slow down, you not going to be here forever, so soak up everything you can! Soak up your surroundings, the sounds, sunsets and sunrises and just appreciate them through your eyes sometimes, and not always through a camera lens – Cameras are still important but sometimes you need to just take it in fully.

-          If it is your first time, try and not book yourself up too much, you will be more exhausted by the end of your trip then you did when you started! Pick a few things that you really want to do and do them…While you are here you can see what other things you could possibly do for your next trip and you could do some more research on the other things. We could advise you better than google could, as we have experienced it first hand most of the time. If you try and squeeze it all into one trip you will not enjoy it and appreciate it as much as you could have if your schedule was not so busy.