If you are a keen or amateur wildlife photographer with an interest in African wildlife photography, then you have no doubt seen a lot of images floating around social media at the moment from a reserve called Zimanga Private Game Reserve. Its a reserve they are calling the first specialist photographic reserve in Africa.

Waxbills at Zimanga Bird Hide

Blue Waxbills photographed from the Zimanga hide

Zimanga is a 6000 ha private game reserve in northern KwaZulu-Natal just outside the small town of Mkuze. The reserve is owned by the Senekal family who bought the property in 1998. Since then they’ve been establishing the reserve and re-introducing wildlife species that were traditionally found in the area. Today, Zimanga Private Game Reserve is home to over 80 mammal species (including leopard, wild dog, cheetah, buffalo and elephant), and 400 bird species.

While the above definitely makes Zimanga a favourable destination for wildlife and safari enthusiasts, it doesn’t necessarily separate it from other reserves in KwaZulu-Natal and the rest of South Africa. So what is it about the reserve that gives them the title of specialist photographic reserve?

I joined Pangolin Photo Safaris, who are actively involved in the reserve, to find out for myself. This is what I discovered and photographed on my short visit to the reserve.

By Photographers for Photographers

Charly Senekal, who manages Zimanga, is a passionate and extremely talented wildlife photographer. He has been managing the project from the start with a clear focus of creating a unique safari destination with wildlife photographers in mind. He knows the reserve back to front, where all the best landscape opportunities are and how to capture those magnificent wildlife shots.

Specialised Photographic Hides.

The most impressive feature of the reserve is without doubt their two photographic hides. The hides, named Mkhombe and Bhejane, are located in different areas of the reserve offering exceptional opportunities for photographing both birdlife and wildlife.

The hides were designed by Charl together with Bence Mate who’s best known for his exceptional birdlife photography (which won him the BBC wildlife photographer of the year award in 2010). Together, the two photographers built the hides taking every aspect of photography into account, including backgrounds, foregrounds, light direction, photographing angles, etc.

Both Mkhombe and Bejane are sunken hides which puts the photographer at ground level, looking across the water. They have one way glass to ensure the wildlife are not disturbed by movement inside the hide and have been carefully constructed on the outside to blend in with the environment. Inside the hide, Charl has made the them extremely comfortable with executive styled chairs and air-conditioning.

Currently, these are the only two hides on the property but while we were there, Charl showed us the sites he is currently working on for additional hides on the reserve. Currently there are three new hides in his plans. A mammal hide which will look over an open plain for photographing larger mammals like elephants and giraffe. A lagoon hide which will also be a sunken hide overlooking a large waterhole, ideal for photographing animals drinking, hippos in the water and of course aquatic birds. Finally, they planning a vulture restaurant for photographing vultures and other birds of prey. Once these hides are complete Zimanga will offer a full range of hides each offering unique photographic opportunities.

Zimanga Game Drives

While the hides are the focus of the reserve it is not the only activity on offer. Traditional game drives are also offered in open 4×4 game viewers as part of the Zimanga package. This gives photographers (and non photographers) the opportunity to explore the reserve in search of its varied wildlife.

As a photographic focused reserve Zimanga only allows to guests per row on their vehicles, allowing space in the middle for equipment. Having two people per seat also ensures that each person on the vehicle has a chance of getting the photographs without disruption.

Since Zimanga is a private reserve and they are the only ones operating on the property, there are no limits to the amount of time you can spend at a sighting. This is critical from a photographers perspective as it means you can spend hours at one sighting waiting for the photograph you are looking for. Most other wildlife reserves share concessions or have higher vehicle concentrations and therefore have to limit the time on sightings to ensure everyone gets a chance. At Zimanga this is not the case.

My Photos from Zimanga Private Game Reserve

While at Zimanga, I spent about an hour in one of the hides and enjoyed one afternoon game drive with Charl. In this time I managed to capture some lovely photographs. With more time on the reserve I am sure I would have left with hundreds of images. Below is a collection of my best images from my Zimanga visit.

Hippo photographed at Zimanga Private Game Reserve

Hippo Yawn

Zimanga Private Game Reserve Birdhide Photo

Zimanga Private Game Reserve Birdhide Photo

Since officially opening earlier this year, Zimanga Private Game Reserve has grown in popularity. High profile photographers such as Grant Atkinson, Brendon Jennings and Tertius Gous have all recently visited the reserve and returned with both positive feedback and amazing photographs.

If you are planning a vacation to Southern Africa and are a keen wildlife photographer then Zimanga Private Game Reserve is worth considering. At the moment there is no accommodation on the reserve but there are several options in the area including the popular Ghost Mountain Inn. Alternatively, stay in the neighboring Zululand Rhino Reserve (Mavela Game Lodge or Leopard Mountain Game Lodge) and book a game drive or hide session as an add on to your KwaZulu-Natal safari.

This post was originally shared on my CapturingAfrica Journeys blog