I had done a lot of research on Safari companies in preparation for the trip. A lot of web surfing, a lot of emails. One company really stood out of the crowd to me and that was Craig Berger’s Oasis Africa.
Craig is Oasis Africa. So you’re not dealing with a company that has a lot of overhead which keeps prices reasonable.
You really can’t compare Oasis Africa’s prices with other companies because, most often, you get more by hiring Craig.
Not only will Craig help you plan your Safari, he’s also your guide while you’re there. So there’s no miscommunication because you deal only with Craig. He sends out emails not only on what to pack, what to wear but also sends a detailed series of questions about your likes and dislikes so he can plan based on YOUR desires and not some canned tour where you have to conform to their schedule.
I would not hesitate to recommend Oasis Africa to anyone. If you book a Safari with Craig, tell him I sent you. Maybe he’ll whip up a batch of his famous Chakalaka for you. Yes. Chakalaka is really a dish and it’s AWESOME! Just a side note, if you bring home some Chakalaka spice, make sure you use it sparingly and not a whole box of spice at once!
Now that Panasonic has held their press conference I can let you in on what part of our mission was. You see, Panasonic is introducing a new camera this year. It’s the HPX-300. It’s a fantastic camera. When they unveil these new cameras, people want to see what they can do. What better way to do that then put one in the hands of a wildlife cinematographer and send him off to Africa and see what he can do with it.
So, that’s what happened. Panasonic shipped the camera to me to give me a few days to familiarize myself with it before we left. Now, this camera is a full size professional camera, you know the kind you see sitting on the shoulders of news cameramen etc. So it was no easy task to get the camera, lens and batteries all in one carry-on bag that would fit in the overhead bin of a small regional jet. Thankfully I had picked up a ThinkTank Airport Acceleration bag.
It’s different than the Lowe Trekker series bags I have for my still cameras in that it’s not rounded near the top so it has a larger useable area inside to pack the big HPX-300 in. I wanted to get the roller but was concerned that if they weighed the bag with the 300 inside along with the lens and batteries, it would be over the allowed weight. So I went with the backpack.
Another nice thing about it is that it comes with a case for my laptop which can slide inside the front pocket of the pack so I could carry everything in one bag and take out the laptop when I needed to squeeze the pack into the overhead of the regional jets.
Ok, so back to the Safari.
Since Iowa weather is so unpredictable, we decided to fly out a few days early to make sure we didn’t encounter any weather delays or cancellations. Iowa weather can turn on a dime and it’s not uncommon for flights to be cancelled because of a winter storm.
Because we came in early, Craig was busy picking up provisions for the tour and prepping his vehicle for the brutal assault on dirt roads. We were met at the airport by his friend Achim who operates Thokozani Lodge
Achim and his wife Monika make you feel like your a part of their family with their generous hospitality. We would be staying with them later during our trip but for now waiting on the patio and enjoyed the silence and incredible beauty of their gardens.
Craig arrived shortly fully provisioned and ready to go into the park. The Safari wasn’t going to officially start for a few days but it was nice to get into the park and do some scouting and see what the filming situations would be like.
As soon as we entered the park we were greeted by a herd of impala. Of course we were all excited. I mean here is a herd of impala that until this moment we had only seen on Animal Planet or in zoos. Craig said that impalas were the parks “fast food” and that there are thousands upon thousands born every year. He said you’ll see them everywhere and eventually not even slow down when you see a huge herd. How can that be? I mean these are impala!!! But he was right, within a few days we would pass by herd after herd and not even bother to turn on the camera.
Something that I thought was interesting is Craig explained that impala are pretty smart compared to our whitetail deer back home. On about any road in Iowa, you’ll find deer dead on the side of the road, the victim of a collision with a vehicle. But here, the impala were smart enough not to get in the way. Even though we drove past hundreds on the side of the road, none would jump in front of us or crossed well before they would have met with our bumper.
Of course the park is full of predators that would make an easy meal out of a road killed impala, in all the miles we covered, I never did see sign of any animal that had been hit by a vehicle.
We drove to our first camp, Pretoriuskop. It’s the oldest rest camp in Kruger and has a large population of white rhino in the area.
The lodging was very nice. Certainly not what I was expecting. Craig had arranged for us to have a guest house. So we had a three bedroom two bath cottage with kitchen and living/dining room. All the bedrooms had air conditioning. Durning the day we would open our bedroom doors to cool off the main area of the house. This would be enough to keep the entire house cool all day and night.
We unloaded all our gear, rested a bit then headed out on our first game drive.
It turned out that it was a good thing we arrived early. Trying to shoot out of a window with a 14 pound camera sitting on a bean bag proved almost impossible.
In the next installment of Africa 2009, I’ll cover the problems we had and ultimately what we had to do in order to solve them and get some good footage.