Luxury Safari & Travel Filmmaking in South Africa
By Casey Carr
May 14, 2020
On my first visit to Africa as a young man of 17 years, my mom took me to Kenya and I was immediately hooked, there is simply no place like it on earth. Africa is a sort of homecoming for almost everyone who experiences it. After all, this is where we come from, there is a kind of primal attraction to it.
Africa is also a place that, if it’s on your bucket list, it’s best to see it sooner than later because it is growing up very fast. That’s a great thing for Africa but it’s losing some of it’s mystery. On my first trip, we drove for hundreds of miles on dirt roads and visited remote tribes who had scarcely even seen an American. Those roads have now been mostly replaced with blacktop highways, and the tribesmen have cell phones and wifi.
20 years later on this, my 6th journey to the continent, it is again my mom and I, plus a lovely group of 38 travelers we have the privilege of hosting. It doesn’t take me long to feel the same sense of wonder I felt at 17.
Along side my hosting duties, I’ve been contracted by Lion World Travel & African Travel Inc to produce a film for their promotional use. I’ve been making films professionally for close to 4 years now, traveling for most of my life, and I’ve got packing down to a science. Here is my packing list for the 12 night trip:
- 1 pair of socks and underwear for each day of the trip
- 1 baseball cap
- 2 pair of cargo shorts
- 1 pair of gym shorts
- 1 pair of swim trunks
- 1 pair of jeans
- 1 pair of Kuhl hiking pants
- 2 pair of Lululemon ABC Pants
- 5 technical T-shirts
- 3 Columbia SPF sun proof button up outdoor shirts
- 1 SPF sun proof Columbia hooded pullover
- 1 Northface fleece pullover
- 1 Marmot rain jacket
- 1 Northface hooded puffy jacket (folds up into the pocket to become a travel pillow)
- 1 bandana Buff
- 1 pair of hiking shoes
- 1 pair of toms (smash flat)
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of tennis shoes
- 1 Manfrotto Carbon fluid head tripod
- 1 Glidecam 2000 Steadicam Rig
- 2 Canon 5D Mark III’s
- Canon 16 to 35 mm ultrawide lens
- Canon 70 to 200 mm zoom lens
- Sigma 50 mm lens
- Canon 40 mm pancake lens
- Canon 100 mm macro lens
- Sigma 150 to 500 mm telephoto lens (rented from Competitive Camera – $280 for 2 weeks)
- 1 Zoom H6 Audio Recorder
- 1 Sennheiser wireless Mic
- 1 Macbook Pro
- 2 Lacie Rugged 2TB Hard Drives
Our first lodge is Kapama River Lodge, a lovely place situated on a dry river bed, patrolled by vervet monkeys and overlooking a watering hole where hippos would come in the evenings. Game drives did not disappoint, as every evening our group shared enthusiastic tales of Lions on a zebra kill, Rhino babies, Leopards in trees, herds of 20+ Elephants, and sightings every day of the incredible endangered Black Rhino.
Our guide is a charming and cocky 22 year old named Corne’, and our tracker is Elvis.
It’s a great first experience for my clients, many of them even witnessing a kill, lions on an aardvark. Nature is cruel, it’s something you have to accept and try to understand, and each time I’ve been there, a kill has been at the top of my list to see, yet it eludes me. They were incredibly lucky.
After 3 nights, we say goodbye to our guides and drive 3 hrs to the Sabi Sands and our 2nd lodge – Lion Sands River Lodge. This lodge is absolutely beautiful, each room practically a small villa overlooking the river where hippos honk at each other through the night, elephants & rhinos graze and a myriad of bush bucks, nyala and impala stroll in relative safety, always greeting us outside our rooms. Kapama is secured by an electric fence. Lion Sands is fenceless, allowing anything that wishes to enter the grounds free access, and our guides tell tales of elephants in the lobby, lions sleeping beneath your porch and leopard kills in front of room 20. Lynn Middleton shows me video of a 12 ft python passing beneath the elevated walkways that leads to their room. Here, we are required to be walked to our rooms by armed guards after dark. Besides the beautiful grounds, the food is the best I’ve had at any lodge. Fresh, delicious and beautifully presented. I brought home a spare tire I’ll have to jog off.
Our guide is Anthony and our tracker is Kruger. Both are exceptional, knowledgeable, passionate about the animals and committed to making our experience enlightening and memorable. When we arrive, Anthony informs us that he is somehow magnetized to the extremely rare black rhino, and that is proven time and again, as we see one every day of our stay. It’s hard to underscore how amazing this is, they are so rare, and very very shy. White rhinos can care less about your presence. Black rhinos somehow know when they’ve been spotted, and sprint through the bush when they see a vehicle approach. The Black Rhino is on the brink of extinction, with less than a thousand animals remaining in the wild. They are killed regularly by poachers solely for their horns, which are thought to be an aphrodisiac in China. Despite worldwide appeals, and the sheer absurdity of the idea that consuming an animal’s horn can make you horny, there is no slowing of the demand for black rhino horn in China. The buck stops at their doorstep for the looming extinction of this incredible animal, among a great many others. It is very sad. We are asked, if we post pictures of the rhinos to social media, not to tag their location, as poachers are now scouring the internet for details of their whereabouts.
Our time at Lion Sands is marked by extraordinary animal encounters. The first night of safari here, we come upon a leopard and her cub tending a fresh kill. Mom on the ground, and daughter in a tree above with a baby bush buck. She disembowels it like a mortician, each organ hitting the ground below her with a wet thud. The intestines, the bladder, the stomach. Gross. Awesome.
A small pride of lions has also killed a huge adult bush buck close by, and we return each day to find the buck a little more skeletal, and the lions in a food coma sleeping like house cats, their two small cubs roughhousing and challenging each other. We learn about the dynamics of the pride. The alpha male, a beautiful 450 lb goliath, has a new girlfriend, and there is question whether she will be accepted by the head female in the pride. Anthony thinks yes, Kruger thinks no.
Game drives are always topped off by a stop for refreshments. Coffee, hot chocolate, tea and fresh granola in the mornings; a full array of spirits, beer, nuts, dried fruit and impala jerky at sundown. We toast the sunset, slap each other’s backs, laugh and thank our lucky stars to be where we are. Midday is reserved for naps, fascinating bush walks, spa treatments and general lounging at the pool.
Departing Lion Sands our group is gleeful, you can see it in their faces, Africa has taken hold. They’re different. Forever.
We take a short flight to Cape Town where we will round out our trip in this world class city, at the fabulous 12 Apostles Hotel. Owned by our close friends the Tollman family, the 12 Apostles always gives us the warmest welcome. It’s picturesque location lies about 20 minutes outside of town. It is in fact, the only hotel allowed to be built in front of the stunning 12 Apostles Mountain Range on the front side of Table Mountain. The Spring Boks are playing Samoa in the Rugby World Cup, after a hugely embarrassing loss to Japan, and the entire hotel is watching the match. The atmosphere is electric as we watch the sun set over the Atlantic. The Boks win easily.
Cape Town is in my top 5 favorite cities in the world. It is jaw droppingly beautiful, a world class city and hub of fashion, food and culture, yet still retains the African mystique. Green and peppered with Umbrella Trees and Norfolk Pines, Table Mountain keeping watch like a father over the city center.
Our touring includes a full day trip to the beautiful Cape Winelands and the picturesque town of Stellanbosch. Think Napa with baboons. Tastings at 3 wineries, one including a chocolate pairing. Naps were had on the way home. Another full day trip through the Cape Peninsula, communing with the Jackass Penguins at Boulders Beach, a photo op at the most South Westerly point on the continent, extraordinary ocean vistas, Southern Right Whales breaching on the horizon. Think Montevideo with baboons.
And three brave souls, myself included, ventured out on our final free day for the world famous Great White Shark Cage Dive. This is without a doubt one of the most amazing things I have ever done. It’s a long day, 4:40am pickup, not home until 5pm, and worth every second. First of all, the drive down is just over 2 hours, and some of the most beautiful countryside I have ever seen. Pine trees, mountains, low hanging clouds, mist on the water, lagoons, beach houses. Think Monterrey with…. well…. baboons. We went with Great White Adventures, a great outfit, and after a light breakfast, a light briefing and half a Dramamine, we found ourselves motoring towards a small cove to summon a sea monster from the deep.
And summon we did. Donning wetsuits, myself and Gary & Peggy Ort, my other two brave adventurers, were the first people into the cage. The cage is attached to the side of the boat, with about 2 feet remaining above the surface and the rest below. They chum the water to attract the sharks, and tie a couple of tuna heads to a rope to lure them in. The water is cold, it is uncomfortable to say the least, and though we had good weather and none of us got seasick, there were 4 people out of 20 who couldn’t handle the waves, and supplied their own chum.
Inside the cage, there are 5 people at a time, no scuba no snorkel, only a mask. You place your feet against a bar at the back of the cage, and your hands on a bar inside the cage at the front. When the skipper yells go down, you push yourself below surface and….. oh my God. A 13 ft, one ton shark, female. You cannot believe how big she is, just her midsection takes up your entire field of vision it is absolutely shocking. Every person in the cage rose back to the surface laughing maniacally, you can’t help it, I noticed it with every group that saw her for the first time, everyone came up laughing, complete strangers hugging. There is nothing else you can do, such a creature almost doesn’t make sense, she was a dinosaur. Our girl (she didn’t have a name, I named her Stella) had a perforated dorsal fin from an encounter with a boat prop, though she seemed to be no worse for the wear. We also saw a huge 9 ft male but only once. They grow as big as 22 ft, 6200 lbs. Stella returned to us over and over for the hour or so we were anchored. Visibility was probably 15-20ft, and you would see her for about 10-15 seconds before she disappeared back into the depths. You were given about 5 sightings before they rotated people into the cage, after perhaps 3 rounds everyone had gone and we were allowed another go in the cage. I went 3 times which was plenty, and about all the cold I could handle.
Gary & Peggy were as thrilled as I have ever seen anyone I have taken on a trip, and I felt it myself. I cannot recommend it highly enough, it’s a long day and you have to sacrifice a bit of comfort, but I’ve already forgotten the discomfort and I will remember what it felt like to be face to face with Jaws for the rest of my life. She touched my elbow with her fin! Truly extraordinary and the perfect capper to an epic trip. And I got to travel with my mom, whom I love and whose passion for Africa has been instilled into my sister and I, and all of the people who have traveled with us there, since 1989.
Africa is simply the best trip we put on. It’s life changing, astonishing, primal, sacred. It’s also quite possibly the most romantic destination on earth. It’s without a doubt worth going alone, but I’ve been 6 times now and I’ve committed to myself not to return until I can bring someone I love to share it with.