Saturday 15 June 2019

Zoom in on an African safari: South Africa


Rhino in the Phinda game reserve
Rhino in the Phinda game reserve
Eleanor and a heavily sedated rhino

Eleanor Goggin

I bought a fancy camera a few years ago. It stemmed from a touch of envy of those who were bending down, getting up close, zooming in and out and smacking their lips with gratification at the finished product. I was the one using my phone, or a cheap digital camera.

So I went all out - and it's still sitting in the box, unloved and unused.

I think I took it out once to look at it. An array of lenses - and me without a clue when or how to use them. Too much hassle.

So when Huawei, the technology company, invited a group of us to go to Africa to see just how good the camera on their new Huawei P20 Pro phone was in a safari situation, I was over the moon, if a little sceptical, as to whether an eejit like me would be able to master it.


Ditch the scepticism. It's fantastic. It features the world's first Leica triple lens camera and the clarity is amazing. Every wrinkle on an elephant's bum and every feather on the pink-throated twin spot were clear.

South Africa was our destination and we stayed in Bayala Private Game Lodge, a recently refurbished home from home. I immediately felt part of a family. My accommodation was a chalet with eco-friendly furnishings, a veranda out the back and a communal green area with seats out the front to enable you to chat to other guests and share your experiences. A village feel.

The staff were warm and friendly with wonderful names like 'Praise well'. The food was simple and wholesome. Lots of interesting salads, quiches, venison dishes and the most divine omelettes for breakfast. You can tailor-make your own trip. Go for a morning drive, come back and lie out by the pool and then do an evening drive, or you can decide like we did one day to stay out all day and bring a picnic and Champagne. You can vary it each day. Oh, the decisions we have to make.

Bayala is in Zululand and is part of the Munyawana game reserve, which is made up of Phinda Private Game reserve and Zuka Private Game Reserve. It's next to iSimangaliso Wetland Park and the Indian Ocean is only 40km away.

Our ranger was Anton and we loved him. He was the king of all rangers. Our very own Bear Grylls. He bailed out of accountancy in Durban many years ago and lives in the reserve with his wife and two kids. It's a decision he hasn't regretted for one minute and his passion for what he does was evident from the get go.

He took us on an emotional journey - the de-horning of a rhino. A necessary exercise to combat the vile poaching of these wonderful animals. Over a thousand of them were killed in South Africa in 2017. The horn is made of keratin and some Asian countries believe it has medicinal qualities, but most of all, it is seen as a status symbol to display wealth and success.

Eleanor and a heavily sedated rhino
Eleanor and a heavily sedated rhino

Mike, the on-site vet, explained to us that the rhino does not feel the pain of de-horning and is given a sedative of a morphine-like substance which is extremely potent and is mixed with two other drugs to counteract any adverse side effects.

We watched as the vet and his pilot descended to within about 30ft of the animal in their helicopter and darted him with the concoction.

After about five minutes of struggling along, he started to wobble and his huge bulk went down and all the conservationists went into action, taking samples for ongoing monitoring. The vet uses a chainsaw to de-horn. It's quicker and less stressful for the rhino. The plan is to de-horn the rhino every 18 months to deter the poachers.

I think each and every one of us shed a tear watching this brutal, but necessary, process. When it was finished and purple gentian violet had been applied to the area, we all got back in the jeep and watched as he struggled to his feet and lumbered off to catch up with his buddies, blissfully unaware of his new brightly coloured fashion statement. A purple stump.

There's very little more appealing than an early-morning drive - wrapped in a blanket watching nature at its most raw.

We came upon some cheetah gorging on a breakfast of impala they had just killed. The cheetah is the most vulnerable of the big cats and will eat as quickly as he can and move on, for fear of another predator. We passed back later and only the carcass of the impala remained. A few hours later, vultures sat sated on various trees and only the skeleton remained. The food chain at its best.

A night-time drive is totally different. The silhouettes of the animals are dramatic to say the least. And the P20 Pro comes into its own here. Using artificial intelligence, it produces the most amazing shots which appear floodlit, but in actual fact were taken in darkness. And even I was able to produce a few masterpieces!

The impala is the sweetest little creature - and the most vulnerable. They have three stripes on their little bottoms and they say in the bush that it's like the McDonald's sign for predators. They are a medium-sized antelope with a Bambi-like appearance. They're around every corner and they gracefully bound off when you appear.

We were there in the rutting season. The males were rounding up the girls, keeping them in tight little herds, and 'doing the business' with as many of them as possible, all the while fending off the advances of any other males who were endeavouring to encroach on their patch. Things never change. I could hear the boys barking and snorting from my bedroom at night. Should slap an ASBO on them. Zebras and giraffes were also in abundance. The zebra has a very bloated stomach which is full of bacteria and he farts a lot - sounds far too familiar. I love the fact that their collective name is a dazzle. A dazzle of zebras and a journey of giraffes. Thanks to Anton, I now have valuable pub quiz information.

The Phinda reserve is a twitcher's idea of heaven. I had never heard of most of the birds that Anton pointed out to us but the colours on their plumage was a work of art by nature. Lemon-crested canaries, pink-throated twin spots. Red-billed firefinches, lilac-breasted roller to name but a few.

And then there were the two secretary birds, so called because of their crest of long feathers resembling quill pens used by secretaries long ago. They look as if they have stockings coming half way up their long legs. I have some great shots of them. They were at quite a distance but the zoom shot on the camera is great. Clear as crystal - and a facility on the phone called 'splash' allows you to create a black-and-white version of your photo and then single out one colour, like the girl in the red coat in Schindler's List. I played with this feature for hours.

Anton is also an expert on the trees of the region. The fever tree, the candelabra tree, the buffalo thorn amongst the indigenous varieties. He knows everything about everything in the bush and it's all self taught.

We visited a community school on the edge of the reserve which is supported by Phinda Game Reserve.

It never fails to amaze me how these kids, who own little or nothing, have a continuous smile on their faces. When I gave the chatty little Marenga a biro that I had in my bag, she threw her arms around me with delight.

A lot of them have to walk 10km to school and they have to be there by 7.30 in the morning, or the gates will be closed. They only got electricity very recently.

It's a wonderfully diverse and multi-cultural country and a trip I won't forget for a long time. And, if the memories are fading, I'll take out my Huawei P20 Pro and it'll all come flooding back.

TAKE TWO: Top attractions

Great wine tasting

Finding good wine in South Africa is a given. The wine regions are mainly around the Northern and Western Cape regions and South Africa is regularly among the top-10 wine producing countries in the world.

De-horning a rhino

Witnessing this brutal, but necessary process, to protect the rhino from evil poachers brought home to me just how vile humans can be to animals for their own greed. Something I’ll never forget.

Getting  there

The Huawei P20 Pro has an advanced camera system to capture more light, more details and more beauty, featuring a revolutionary Leica triple camera and 5x Hybrid Zoom on the Huawei P20 Pro.

The P20 Pro is available from €749 - Bill pay prices vary available from eir/ Vodafone and Three.

For more information please visit:

Accommodation: Bayala Private Safari Lodge and Camp:

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