Uniquely Zimanga: Specialist African Safari Photography

Uniquely Zimanga: Specialist African Safari Photography

If you’re serious about capturing unforgettable images of African wildlife, then you can’t afford to miss Zimanga.  Zimanga is Africa’s first private game reserve designed specifically for wildlife photographers, with purpose-built hides offering superb mammal and bird photography, and exciting game drives in pursuit of lion, cheetah, elephant, rhino and more.

Located in South Africa’s game-rich KwaZulu-Natal province, Zimanga boasts the first hides designed in Africa by multi-award winning Hungarian photographer Bence Máté. If you don’t know his name, you’ll know his images – he’s won the most coveted prizes in wildlife photography, and with good reason.

Bence’s hides have been designed to get you up close to everything from small birds to large mammals: we’ll be using them all, including the two nocturnal hides, where you could photograph anything, from rhinos to elephants to predators.

But we won’t just be ‘hide-bound’, we’ll also be exploring the Big Five reserve by vehicle, in search of great shots of elephant, rhino, lion and much more. Zimanga’s guides use the latest technology to search for thrilling subjects such as the lion and cheetah, and hopefully we’ll even have the opportunity to photograph some of the most charismatic animals on foot – allowing dynamic low angle viewpoints.

We’ve been visiting Africa for over twenty years, and spend several months each year photographing in its game parks, so you’ll be able to tap into our huge wealth of knowledge and expertise. But we’ll also be working with Zimanga’s guides, who know the reserve like the backs of their hands and really understand the needs of photographers – because they work with them every day.

We’ll be staying on the reserve itself, in the comfortable and exclusive Doornhoek homestead, which means we can respond instantly to the light and weather, and make sure we make the most of every opportunity. And with only six guests maximum, you can be sure of the very best personal attention, and all the help and advice you need.

In 2020 we’ll be running three versions of our Uniquely Zimanga safari: the classic seven nights on Zimanga, with an exciting mix of game drives and hides, including two nocturnal hide sessions; and two longer versions, with eight or ten nights on the reserve, more hide and game drive sessions, and on the ten night visit the opportunity to spend three nights in the nocturnal hides if you wish. Both trips include an additional night in an excellent Ballito hotel (convenient for Durban airport) at the beginning.

Key Information

  • Price £3650
  • Duration 6+ days
  • Group Size 5+
  • Date 04/06/2020 - 12/06/2020
  • Date 20/06/2020 - 29/06/2020

Highlights

  • Photograph in the first private Big Five African game reserve specifically designed for wildlife photographers.
  • Experience cutting edge low level photographic hides designed by multi-award winning photographer Bence Máté.
  • Amazing nocturnal hides offer wide angle shots of big game under the stars.
  • Excellent bird photography, including waterbirds at the lagoon hide.
  • Action photography of vultures, eagles and other scavengers fighting over food.
  • Relaxed elephants, including bulls which often approach the vehicle to within touching distance.
  • Resident lion pride, approachable to within metres. There’s a possibility of nocturnal spotlighting of lions, subject to suitable sightings.
  • Exclusive game drives, three guests per vehicle, access to both sides. No more than three vehicles operate on the reserve at any time, so no need to give way at sightings.
  • Photographers will be accompanied at all times by one of us, as well as local driver/guides with an in-depth knowledge of the area. Our philosophy is that your photography comes first, and we will always be ready with help and advice.
  • Excellent accommodation in the heart of the reserve. We will have exclusive use of Doornhoek Lodge, with a dedicated vehicle, driver/guide, and lodge staff looking after us.
  • No single supplement. A limited number of single rooms are available on a first-come first served basis.
  • Gratuties, drinks, laundry all included in cost.
  • Flights to and from Durban not included.

Itinerary

We’ll meet you in the Coco de Mer hotel at Ballito for dinner at 7pm on day 1.

After breakfast the next morning we'll drive the three hours or so to Zimanga. After settling into our accommodation and having a bite to eat, we’ll get straight into our first evening session.

During our stay at Zimanga we will have two activities each day. Most of Zimanga’s hides take a maximum of four people, so we’ll be splitting into two small groups – three photographers, accompanied by Ann or Steve. One group will work in a hide, while the other goes on a game drive. Everyone will have the same number and variety of activities, while enjoying personal attention from ourselves, and not having to share a vehicle with too many other people – which is really important for ensuring great photo opportunities.

During our stay on the reserve every guest will have two night hide sessions, and at least three other hide sessions, including the beautiful lagoon hide and the exciting scavenger hide. 

Our game drives will place special emphasis on the exciting charismatic animals, including lion, cheetah, elephant, and rhino.

After our final morning activity on the last day we’ll depart Zimanga and drive back to Durban, dropping you back at the airport in the late afternoon, no later than 3pm, for connecting flights to Johannesburg in time for late night long-haul departures.

Reviews

Average Rating

  • 8 Reviews
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Wendy

Wendy Conway – July 14, 2019

Simply the best! Our experience at Zimanga with Ann and Steve was excellent. They are the go-to team for any photographic trip to South Africa and coupling their expertise with the facilities at Zimanga makes for a very special combination. Ann and Steve are an unbeatable team with a laid back management style but totally professional in every way. Their passion for, and their knowledge of, wildlife behaviour is unbeatable and both have a natural teaching ability that enables photographers of all levels of experience to maximise their potential. Don’t hesitate to book this trip with Steve and Ann!

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Carol

Carol Spencer – July 14, 2019

We travelled with Steve and Ann in June 2018 to Zimanga. We are enthusiastic amateur photographers who were keen to improve out photography and loved it. We learnt a lot, others in the group were more experienced and the group worked well, Steve and Ann are great hosts, very helpful with advice when wanted. We stayed in Doornhoek, the accommodation was comfortable and it felt like home from home.

The food was good and the staff helpful and friendly. Craig the ranger was great found us wonderful sightings when on the drives and was able to position the vehicle for great shots. We were privileged to actually be able to get out of the vehicle with a cheetah and get great pictures of her walking along, a very special moment. The elephants were very relaxed and came right up to the vehicle, the baby was happy to leave the protection of its mothers which is unusual and so were able to get good pictures.

We also had great pictures of lions. We got out of the vehicle at the dam and we’re able to take hippo shots from the shore at sunset. There was never more than us at a sighting. The hides were good, our favourites were the lagoon hide and Scavenger hides. They are spectacular and amazing how close you get especially to the birds. I managed to achieve a picture of a kingfisher in flight,a long time aim.

The Scavenger hide is very busy and it would be difficult to leave without some great pictures.We were unlucky at the night hides, but having done much travelling in Southern Africa realise this is all part of safaris.The night hides are well equipped and comfortable. It was so good we plan to return next year with Ann and Steve.

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Richard

Richard Tadman – July 14, 2019

I've been fortunate enough to photograph wildlife in many unique locations across the world, but Zimanga is in a league of it's own. Not only is it teeming with a vast variety of African wildlife from the largest mammals to the smallest birds but boasts first class facilities and superbly equipped hides together with very close access to some of the world's most iconic animals. The tuition and knowledge of the guides is exceptional and the comfort of the facilities and quality of the food and accommodation could not be better. On both occasions I have been with Ann and Steve whose unique knowledge of this area and familiarity with Zimanga enables them to provide an unparalleled experience, ensuring that guests are always in the optimum locations for shooting images with maximum impact and helping photographers at every level, from beginners to accomplished practitioners and always in a manner that is warm and friendly and suitable to each individual's level of skill. This ensures that your safari will produce a truly memorable experience and more importantly images that will delight you. This facility is not open to the public and so guests are able to enjoy the undisturbed privacy of this unique game reserve. Highly recommended.

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Malcolm

Malcolm Blackburn – July 14, 2019

I have now done three visits to Zimanga with Steve and Ann Toon. The first was a short visit after time spent in Botswana with them. The time at Zimanaga was really good value with a relatively small number of hides, compared with the greatly increased availability of day and night hides in our recent trip. Like all hides, there is an element of luck in particular animals and birds arriving when you are there, but my wife and I have an amazing collection of high quality images. The second time I went, I stayed in the newly built Doornhoek Homestead and found it comfortable, more convenient than a local hotel and with fantastic food. This year my wife and I enjoyed our time in the Homestead, which is used for groups rather than individual guests. Ann and Steve are dedicated to making the trips, instructive, productive and enjoyable. They and the guide/driver have a knack in getting you to the right place for excellent photography. This is all done in a relaxed and professional style. The only snag is having to be dressed with equipment ready at 05:45 but that gets you to the right place in time for the Golden Light. The gain is that the middle of the day is free to relax and download images, before setting off for sunset and evening golden light shots. If you want to enjoy your first wildlife safari, then look at the Toons first and you will not regret it.

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Rod

Rod Collier – July 14, 2019

I chose to go on this tour because of the beautiful photos I had seen by Ann and Steve and I was thoroughly thrilled with the opportunities we had to get some lovely photos of our own. I have now been on some 10 photo tours and would rate this as the best lead tour of them all. I have found many tours get you to the area and then you are on your own, not this tour. Steve and Ann's knowledge of the animals behaviour helped you get ready for action. When you combine this with the excellent guide (also a great photographer) we had, who would go to great lengths to ensure the vehicle was positioned for the best possible shooting angle and light, you had every opportunity to get great photos. Also, Ann and Steve spent considerable time helping anyone that wanted advice, but equally left people to their own if that is what they wanted. One of the main attractions of Zimanga is the photo hides, these are not little wooden huts out in the bush but very well constructed and comfortable hides ideally positioned for great photo opportunities. Add to this good accommodation, with elephants coming to the swimming pool for a drink, and great food it made for a top rate tour.

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PAUL

PAUL TERRY – July 15, 2019

I have visited Zimanga on 3 occasions since 2016, spending about 40 nights there in total. Charl (the owner) is an accomplished, award-winning photographer and has created a very special venue for wildlife photographers to capture their own amazing photographs. He employed Bence Mate to design a number of hides on the reserve which have become better and better as the animals have become more used to their presence. All of the permanent hides contain tripods and use one-way glass which allows close-up shots of even the shyest mammals. reptiles and birds. My personal favourites are the 2 overnight hides which look out onto semi-circular pools of water to attract the wildlife at any time of the day; the sessions normally last from about 2pm to 10 am the following morning. Charl has installed professional lighting systems which means that, with the correct settings, spectacular images are possible for any photographer, no matter the skill-level. I have personally photographed lions, leopards, elephants, giraffe, buffalo, wildebeest, white rhinoceros, warthog, spotted eagle owls and many other birds of all sizes and colours. So far the honey badgers, servals and aadvarks have eluded me! My second favourite location is probably the Scavenger Hide where I have photographed numerous, vultures, tawny eagles, yellow-billed kites, black-backed jackals, spotted hyenas, warthogs, marabou storks, woolly necked storks, pied crows, yellow billed hornbills etc. The Lagoon Hide is largely a bird hide where I have regularly photographed African Fish Eagles, African Jacanas, Pied Kingfishers, African crakes, Great and Little Egrets, Sacred and Haderas Ibis and Black Winged Stilts. I was also fortunate to photograph large crocodiles at close range during an evening session. The other hides are mainly bird hides, although mammals do sometimes make use of the available water, where all manner of small birds can be photographed including white-fronted bee-eaters. The safari drives are also led by expert, friendly guides, who are also experienced photographers themselves. In addition to the animals I've seen at the overnight hides, I've regularly seen cheetah, zebra, various antelopes and black rhinoceros. The accommodation and catering is of a high standard and allows the whole group to stay together whilst not out on safari or in the hides. Ann and Steve Toon are excellent hosts in every way. I have been on numerous safaris with a host that often seems to prioritise capturing their own photographs over assisting their guests; Ann and Steve could not be more different. They do take photographs themselves but only when they are fully satisfied that their guests are in a position to capture their best photographs; this includes advising on camera settings and sorting out any technical issues. They are very professional, friendly and patient and try their best to ensure that every guest obtains the maximum satisfaction from the trip. They have extensive knowledge of safaris/locations in Africa, which they are very willing to share and are very experienced photographers, which enables them to give advice/tuition to guests, regardless of the make of camera being used or the skill level the guests are at. I definitely intend to travel with them again and would advise anyone considering going on a photographic safari to do so also.

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Steve

Steve Ripley – July 15, 2019

It's 30 years since I last went on safari and in the meantime I have been taking my photography a lot more seriously. I saw Ann & Steve Toon give a presentation at the Northern Photography Exhibition in Cumbria and I was immediately hooked. I persuaded a friend to join me (it didn't take much once he'd seen their pictures) and we went in June 2019 to Zimanga. The trip was brilliant. The photographic opportunities were excellent with Ann, Steve and our fantastic driver/guide, Calvin, working hard to ensure we got great photos in great situations. Zimanga is set up with some excellent hides (two of which have facilities for staying comfortably overnight in) set at ground/water level giving access to superlative views of animals and birds in both daytime and night-time settings. Accommodation was in the beautiful Doornhoek Homestead which is well-appointed and operated by lovely staff serving up great food and hospitality. I enjoyed every minute of my trip to Zimanga and, with some valuable input from Ann and Steve, have been able to take my photography to a new level. If you want great photo opportunities, with expert advice on hand if you need it, then join Ann & Steve Toon - you won't be disappointed.

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John

John Riding – July 16, 2019

The 10 days spent with Steve and Ann Tool at Zimanga were wonderful. I have been fortunate enough to visit Southern Africa most years over the last 27 years, and can honestly say that the wildlife experience at Zimanga is rather special. During the days I spent with Steve and Ann at Zimanga we had wonderful close experiences with many animals such as elephant, lion, and cheetah. The close attention of Calvin, our ranger and guide for our time at Zimanga was a super experience as he drove off-road, through bush, and across rivers to ensure that we had the best possible views and photographic opportunities of these wonderful animals. I have taken photographs for most of my life, but I cannot really say that I am a photographer. However the days spent with Steve and Ann, their advice, tips, and guidance, may allow me to say that I am well on my way to being an amateur photographer. There were 6 clients on our trip and we were divided into two groups of three, each group being led by either Steve or Ann. This is a pretty good ration of client to professional photographer, and I certainly benefitted from this opportunity. Steve and Ann are both enthusiastic, ready to offer advice, and, importantly, clearly love what they are doing. The hides are well equipped for photography, and the night hides provide a wonderful experience, complete with small kitchen and bunk beds, and importantly the opportunity to see and photograph animals visiting after dark for their nighttime drink. On our trip, in June 2019, we stayed at Doornhoek Homestead in Zimanga. Doornhoek provides super accommodation and was just perfect on all fronts; comfortable,great food, and wonderful friendly staff. I can truly recommend these trips both for the wildlife experience and the photographic opportunities presented.

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