Days 2 to 5: Mashatu Game Reserve
Mashatu Game Reserve comprises 29,000 hectares (72,000 acres) of privately owned land in the conservation area known as the Northern Tuli Game Reserve. The reserve lies in the eastern extremity of Botswana where the great Limpopo and Shashe Rivers converge. This highly diverse landscape includes wide open plains, grassland, riverine forests, rocky hills, marshland and majestic sandstone ridges.
Mashatu, “Land of Giants”, takes its name from the locally sacrosanct Mashatu or Nyala berry tree (Xanthrocercis zambesiaca) and the giants that roam its terrain. These magnificent dark green trees, which are found along the rivers in the reserve, provide refuge, shade and food to a myriad wildlife. Mashatu, which is one of the largest privately owned game reserves in southern Africa, avails a sanctuary to the largest herds of elephant on privately owned land on the continent. In addition to that, the world’s tallest mammal, the giraffe, the world’s largest antelope, the eland, the world’s largest bird, the ostrich, and the world’s heaviest flying bird, the Kori bustard are all part of the game drive experience on Mashatu. Add the king of the beasts, the lion and the iconic baobab tree and you have Africa’s big seven land based giants. Because of the exceptional diversity of landscapes on the reserve, Mashatu enjoys a biodiversity uncommon in other game reserves in Botswana. Three members of the Big Five, namely the leopard, the lion and the elephant are complimented by some lesser well-known, but interesting, species, including the aardwolf (or “earth wolf”), the Bat-eared fox, the African wildcat, the honey badger, the spotted hyeana and the black-backed jackal.
For visitors who are interested in birdlife and bird photography, Mashatu is home to more than 350 bird species, including the enchanting Lilac-breasted Roller.
While overlooking the ‘Land of Giants’ from the towering vantage points on Mmamagwa Hill, one is embraced by the stillness of time immemorial. Down in the valley, as far as the eye can see, lie the sweltering Mopane plains of the Mashatu Game Reserve – a sweeping wilderness of immense beauty; one that unfolds like an intricate tapestry into savanna, riverine forests, marshland, endless plains and sandstone outcrops. The ‘Land of Giants’ is a totally unpeopled wilderness.
One of the greatest highlights of your time at Mashatu will be the sunken photographic hides. At a waterhole, a whole hide has been sunk into the ground in prime elephant habitat. Inside, you are seated so that your head is at ground level. Everything you see will be from the perspective of lying on your stomach looking upwards. The hide is a strong metal structure and totally elephant proof so you can watch and photograph in total ease as the animals go about their business.
The Matebole Hide is located in an ecotone between mopane grasslands and the thicker central game viewing region of Mashatu. This unique combination of these two habitat types creates a wide diversity of bird and mammal species which reside this area. Elephants in this region migrate daily in the dryer season, heading north in the evenings to feed and south in the mornings. The Matebole Hide is situated along these main daily migratory routes, making their visits to the hide very frequent.
There are chances of seeing mammal species such as Elephant, Kudu, Impala, Baboon, Zebra, Eland, Vervet Monkey, Mongoose, Jackal and Warthog among others - the beauty is that you never really know what may come drink! Even the elusive leopard could visit to quench her thirst. Bird species which frequent the hides include Waxbills, Meyer’s parrots, African Green Pigeon, Red-billed Quelea and Guineafowl.
There will be ample time to learn and experiment with creative photographic techniques with Botswana Wildlife Photographer of the Year and Mashatu specialist, Kirsten Frost. Having been based at Mashatu previously, Kirsten will take you to the ideal locations to capture Africa’s starry night sky, introduce you to the exciting concept of ‘camera-trap’ photography and share the very best scenic drives and hidden sundowner spots that the reserve has to offer!
This ideal combination of photographic hides, game drives and scenic exploration while learning new photographic techniques makes this expedition different from the norm and one that you will never forget!