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Serengeti Migration Calving Safari &
Mahale Chimpanzee Photo Workshop
This is a very special safari in that it offers you a fine wilderness experience yet still promises to fill your memory cards. Let's face it, Africa is a very popular photographic safari destination and the Serengeti is one of the most popular on the continent. If you look at almost all Serengeti photographic safari itineraries, you will see that you camp in the south and close to Lake Ndutu. This area has become so popular that it is not uncommon to have 30 vehicles at a sighting. On this safari, we base ourselves further west in a small exclusive camp, where you can photograph the migration calving season without hordes of other vehicles...
Your 2017 Itinerary:
Day 1 - Overnight Arusha
After being met at Kilimanjaro International Airport you will be transferred by road (approximately 90 minutes) to a delightful coffee farm on the outskirts of the town (www.legendarylodge.co.tz). A hearty meal and a comfortable bed awaits you at the coffee lodge and there is WiFi so that you can let your loved ones know that you have arrived safely. We all meet at breakfast the next morning at 7am all ready, packed and checked out. At 8am we take a short 10 minute transfer to Arusha airport to catch our scheduled flight to Mahale. A freight seat has been booked and we each have 20kg or 44lbs luggage allowance so I recommend a photographic jacket with big pockets, in which you can place items. Both camps wash daily and the climate in both is tropical so pack fewer clothes to compensate for the camera gear. If you need more of a luggage allowance, an extra seat can be booked for you, please enquire about this when booking your place on this safari. And so, the adventure begins!
Day 2, 3, 4, 5 - Mahale Mountains chimpanzee trekking and pre-trip workshop
After flying to the extreme west of Tanzania and deep into the wilderness, you will land at Mahale National Park's airstrip, which is about a 3 hour flight from Arusha. You will then take a pleasant 90 minute cruise on a motorized dhow boat, enjoying lunch and refreshments on the way to our luxury Tanzania safari camp in the Mahale Mountains National Park (www.greystoke.com). Greystoke is heralded as having the most spectacular setting of any camp in Africa making this an excellent trip to bring your non-photographing partner along on (you will earn massive brownie points). It is situated on the remote eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika and not far south from the point where Stanley met Livingstone and uttered the understatement of the century and those famous words "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?". Lake Tanganyika is a spectacular rift valley lake, with its crystal clear water it is the longest freshwater lake in the world and the 2nd deepest containing 17% of the world's fresh water.
Behind our charming camp, which is built from old Dhow wood, one finds the Mahale Mountains which house free and wild chimpanzee communities, the largest in the world in fact. Chimps are our closest living relatives and this is a photographic experience that you will never forget. The Chimps are tracked on foot and spending time with these special primates is a real treat, both as an observer and as a photographer. The chimp communities inside the Mahale Mountains have been researched since the 1960ís (long before the park was even gazetted), hence the chimpís relaxed nature around humans, which provides for excellent photographic opportunities.
This time of year the chimps are closer to our camp and this means that regardless of your age or fitness levels, you will be able to trek the chimps as we do not walk far and we can have regular breaks whenever you desire. The oldest client to date was 84 years of age. You can also rest and walk at your own pace if need be as we have more than one guide. We spend one hour each morning actually actively photographing the chimps and the park guides are very good at making sure we get our full hour of photography in (they even stop the clock for us when photography is impossible). It is not possible to photograph the chimps for longer than one hour as this strict park regulation ensures that the chimps remain wild and that their behaviour remains unaltered by the presence of humans. This one hour rule is a standard in responsible primate tourism across the continent. One hour might not sound like much but tracking them down and hearing their pant hoots echo in the jungle is all a part of the experience and the trek lasts the good part of a full morning, leaving you feeling not short-changed in any way. Also, we get close to the chimps and photographing at 11 frames per second (depending on your camera model of course) for a solid hour, is a lot of wildlife imagery for you to process! The Mahale primate experience is not at all touristy and offers an intimate experience. The guides offer fascinating insight into the complexities of chimp behaviour and social relationships. Its like a chimp version of 'days of our lives' out there and its absolutely remarkable and fascinating.
With chimp trekking being completed in the mornings, we enjoy a leisurely lunch back in camp. The camp's dinning area is located on the beach of Lake Tanganyika and the camp atmosphere is super chilled. The sound of lapping waves in the background and chimps pant-hooting in the forest behind will see your city stresses and jet-lag dissolve pretty quickly.
In the afternoon, I will conduct a photography workshop for those wanting a refresher and a re-familiarization with your camera. I will present lessons that will simplify your photography and elevate your skill levels. Using my experience as a professional wildlife photographer I will take the clutter and 'white noise' out of your photography, making it more fun and improving your photographic results. I will go through all your camera settings and make sure that you are ready for the action packed Serengeti leg to follow. Predator action is hard to capture, due to the excessive speeds involved, but by familiarizing yourself with your camera and settings beforehand, you will give yourself at least a fighting chance for the Serengeti leg of the tour. An advanced auto focus lesson will be given and this will see you customizing your camera's autofocus specifically for the purpose of tracking a cheetah (the fastest land mammal on earth) running at full speed.
The forest behind the camp offers good macro and wide angle opportunities. After the workshop component, for those still wanting to photograph, they will venture back into the forest. Bring your macro lenses and tripods. Also, bring your costumes so you can take a dip in the lake afterwards. There is also the option of kayaking on the lake and for those of you seeking a true wilderness experience, the lake's sparkling blue waters offer you peace and tranquility. You can also take a boat cruise in search of hippopotamuses. The water is so clear that you can see them running on the bottom! Catching fish for a sashimi snack before dinner is also part of the boating experience, if you are so inclined.
In the evening you will meet in the best bar in Africa for sundowners. Built in-amongst the boulders, you gaze over the lake at the setting sun and you dine with the sound of lapping waves in the background. For those wanting to shoot the stars, there is zero light pollution except for the camp's lanterns.
After enjoying a campfire on the beach you will retire to your cabin which is not only superbly comfortable but also has a distinctly Robinson Crusoe feel that is simply charming. Tea and coffee will be delivered to your private deck the following morning and you meet back at the breakfast area for another incredible day of chimpanzee trekking.
Day 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 - 'Serengeti Calving Season' safari
After having spent the last few days photographing Chimps and with your camera set correctly (after having completed our pre-trip workshop), you fly from Mahale to our secluded corner of the Serengeti National Park. For those not joining us for the pre-trip workshop, you will overnight in Arusha at the Legend coffee lodge (www.legendarylodge.co.tz) and you will fly into the Serengeti where we will meet you. All your airport 'meet and greets' and transfers will be taken care of.
Once landing in the Serengeti (after a 2 hour flight), you will enjoy a short drive into a beautiful Acacia woodland which is where our exclusive safari camp is located. See the camp here. We are located inside the Serengeti National Park and it is so remote that it is like photographing in a private concession. We are able to venture off the beaten track and often we are able follow the cheetahs as they hunt. There are resident prides of lions in the area and they eat at least once every 24 hours during this, a feasting time for the predators.
Our days in the Serengeti start with a cup of coffee or tea delivered to your tent before sunrise. Each day, we will journey through the Acacia woodland in search of leopard. We will also venture onto the great plains where we will enjoy exceptional wildebeest migration photography with the associated predator action. Standing on the short grass plains and gazing over one of the world's last remaining mammal migrations is an experience of a lifetime. We will also enjoy exceptional predator viewing and this is possibly the best place in Africa for predator action. Full memory cards are almost guaranteed on this safari which also offers brilliant animal landscapes. Both the camp we are based at and the time of year have been carefully selected to coincide with the calving season of the great migration. During this time calves gambol about the great plains and this truly is one of the great wildlife spectacles of Africa. I have been following the migration for over a decade now and each year is different in terms of where and exactly when the wildebeest calve, but we have carefully selected the time of year, so as to not be too early. Our camp is inside the Serengeti National Park and we can explore far into the park where the feeling of wilderness and freedom is possibly no greater anywhere in Africa.
We will take a packed breakfast out with us so that we do not need to return back to camp but rather follow the cheetahs on their hunts. After our afternoon safari drive we normally arrive back to camp in the dark where there is a wonderful campfire and after a scrumptious dinner we will enjoy a nightcap under a giant Acacia tree before turning in.
Your 5 nights spent in the Serengeti will be a time of photographic indulgence during which you will track down the migration and enjoy what is arguably the finest predator action photography in all of Africa. The calving wildebeest attract an incredible amount of raptors and you will also enjoy some of the finest 'bird of prey' photography on offer across the continent. Lying in your tent, it is not uncommon to hear the migration bellowing outside, punctuated by the distant groans of the resident super-pride of lion. There are lights in the tent, flush loos and hot showers. You can charge your camera and laptop batteries in the camp.
Day 11 - Flight home
On our way to the airstrip we enjoy one last safari drive to bid farewell to the great plains and to capture our last award winning images. A scheduled flight will take you from the Serengeti back to Arusha, where you will be transferred to Kilimanjaro International Airport, for your connecting flight home. Depending on the time of your flight, a day room can be booked upon request or we can arrange overnight accommodation for you, if need be.
For those of you not ready to end your safari keep reading as we are offering an exceptional extension to this safari, one which includes the Ngorongoro Crater and Ruaha National Park.
Award winning wildlife photographer Greg du Toit will lead you on this remarkable expedition. Greg was based permanently in Tanzania for two years (2006-2007) and he has been photographing the great migration for the last 13 consecutive years now. He was invited to perform a solo exhibit for National Geographic in London and his exhibit titled 'Africa' was a sell out. A majority of the artwork for this exhibit was photographed in the Serengeti. He has also been a finalist in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year with an image captured in the Serengeti (click here). Not only will Greg be interpreting the regionís wildlife for you, but he will also provide valuable photographic tuition to ensure that you obtain your dream images. For guest reviews click here...
'I have traveled several times to Africa, but my recent trip with Greg to Mahale and the Serengeti has been a never-to-be-forgotten experience. Greg's photo workshop was amazing. I feel much more comfortable with my camera now. The greatest wisdom I carried away from Greg is this: I am the photographer not the camera, I can be in control and not depend on the camera's interpretation of what I see. His tips and advice put me on the right track to being in control. Beyond the camera, Greg's passion for the natural and his immense knowledge of the Serengeti from the predators to the birdlife, and to the smallest flower in that never-ending expanse, gave me a privileged glimpse into the heart of Africa. Thank you Greg.'
Punam Anand Kumar (India)
Still got questions? See my safari FAQ page here...
This is the end of the scheduled tour.
All images and text copyright Greg du Toit 2016
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