Kambaku River Lodge May 2023 Trip Report

Leopard in a tree

Earlier in May Panthera Photo Safaris was back at Kambaku River Lodge for another safari, this time hosted by The Safari Expert – Villiers Steyn, as Lance was in the USA having hip surgery. Below is the trip report from the amazing 4-days spent in Kambaku River Lodge’s underground hide, as well as the game drives in Kruger the National Park

We started our first afternoon hide session at 15:30pm on day one and we were welcomed by a huge thunderstorm. Luckily for us we all got into the hide before we got wet, but as soon as we sat down there was a big downpour which turned out to be quite nice as there was a lot of bird activity at the hide. There was Egyptian geese, masked weavers, blacksmith lapwings, bronze mannequins as well as laughing doves. A lot of them hung around while it rained. That combined with lots of lightning, which put on quite a show, was an amazing spectacle!

Luckily it cleared up and then we had some beautiful side light with dark skies behind, even a rainbow on the one side.

This session we dedicated to focusing on our settings and getting used to taking photos again. This was a very successful first afternoon, mostly focusing on the usual suspects, as well as some pied wagtails and a water thick-knee that visited us after dark.

Our first morning drive we were second in the gate. It is so nice to be in the park that early as it is still very dark. It is kind of hard to take photos for the first 30 minutes or so, but a great chance to get into the park and be on the lookout for animals.

Luckily the overcast weather they had predicted disappeared quickly so we had beautiful morning light. We didn’t see a huge amount of animals as it was very quiet in the park, but we did see very nice general game such as giraffe, loads of warthogs and small groups of elephants. The only real mammals we photographed were the giraffe, as the others were either too far away or hiding behind bushes.

We did however see some really nice birds, including marabou storks sitting on a dead tree with purple hues in the background, and some beautifully backlit bateleurs. One of the clients’ bucket-list shots was to photograph nice lilac-breasted rollers, and we managed to get some great images of a pair on the same branch in nice light and at the perfect height!


All in all it turned out to be a great bird watching morning drive, which everyone really enjoyed. The scenery in the park along the S118 and 119 roads are breathtaking with the riverbeds.

We were enjoying breakfast at Afsal picnic spot when a call came over the radio that there was a leopard spotted close to the gate. We rounded up our things and took the chance to get down there and were rewarded with a view of Maximus leopard sleeping in the riverbed. Unfortunately he was quite far and didn’t give us any real photographic opportunities, but we at least got to see a leopard, which is always nice!

We re-entered the park in the afternoon at 14:30pm and had a very productive drive mammal wise. The very first animals we saw were a lovely large herd of elephants from the bridge overlooking the Matjulu River. With the water from the late rains still being present this section of the park is still so beautiful.

Shortly after we found a mother rhino and calf in the road. They were posing so nicely in the beautiful light. We saw more herds of elephants and rhino, but photographically not as nice as the ones early in the drive. There were no signs of predators this afternoon, but with the beautiful general game and birds we saw we didn’t mind at all.

The next mornings hide session was an incredibly productive one when it came to mastering our camera settings. We spent a lot of time deep diving into aperture, shutter speed and ISO, as well as using the right focus settings for the type of photography we were doing. We also discussed animal eye tracking, which is fantastic for birds at the hide!

During all this time the local Egyptian Geese, masked weavers, widow birds, pin-tailed whydahs, bronze mannequins as well as pied wagtails all visited. The best photographic opportunities were the wagtails and weavers launching themselves off a beautiful backlit perch giving great silhouette opportunities.

In the afternoon we once again headed back into Kruger with the sole mission to find a leopard, which we have been looking to photograph for a few days now.

We headed up North towards the Mlabane River along the S118. Driving along there we saw a herd of elephants, before getting a call saying people had found a leopard in a tree close to James’s Pan. As we arrived we saw Aranyani chilling in a Maroela Tree. She was complexly backlit, so we had to overexpose a lot, however we got some fantastic high key images before she climbed down and crossed the road right in front of us. We managed to follow her for about 45 minutes as she climbed another tree and then another log, but these were too far to photograph.



On our way back to the gate we were on a super high, and were rewarded with a sighting of two male lions far in the distance, a beautiful sign off to a fantastic day.

The next morning we headed back to the park hoping to find the lions again a bit closer to the road. We didn’t manage to get lucky this time around, but had fantastic sightings of zebra and elephants. We turned onto the Biyamiti Loop we saw some klipspringers on the rocks, a fish eagle and a massive herd of about 1000 buffalo. They started moving towards the river and eventually they completely surrounded our vehicle. We had an amazing opportunity to get beautiful high key images before making our way back South.

On our way back towards the lodge as we were approaching the Mlambane River, we were presented with the most unexpected sighting of all….two cheetahs down in the riverbed.

As we were on the bridge watching them they walked towards us. What made it extra special is the fact that there is still lots of water winding its way down the riverbed. These streams with the back-lit cheetah made for beautiful high key images once again. Certainly the most unique way I have photographed cheetah.

The afternoon hide session was scheduled for 3:30pm, but as we were standing outside just after lunch we noticed a herd of elephants coming down to the hide. We quickly rounded everyone up and made our way as fast as possible to the hide, getting in before the elephants arrived.

The elephants didn’t drink on this occasion, but did graze on the lush green grass that surrounds the hide. The light was harsh being so early in the afternoon, but the experience of being that close to these gentle giants is well worth the entire trip.

The rest of the afternoon hide session we went super in-depth into exposure compensation and were lucky with being able to practice this straight away on the Egyptian geese that came back to visit a number of times.

All in all it was a fantastic safari and a great way for our clients to get really connected with their cameras. They learnt some exciting new photography techniques which should help them so much in the future.

If you would like to join us at Kambaku River Lodge we still have space on our August 2023 and October 2024 safaris. You can find more information about them here.

Don’t forget to give Villiers a follow on InstagramFacebook and Youtube to keep up to date with his latest work!

Tags :
Bird Hide,Birds,Buffalo,Cheetah,Elephant,Leopard,Photography,Safari
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