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Adventures Of The Boondocking Photographer: South Africa

I recently became an empty nester and was looking for a change in my life that would maximize my time left on this great planet. So I sold my house, bought a Ford F-350, an Arctic Fox 990 truck camper, and hit the road. This is the story of my adventures with travel, photography, and RV tips designed around living the boondocker lifestyle.

South Africa

The focus of this boondocking adventure is South Africa. Of course I could not take my truck camper to South Africa in two weeks, but sometimes a boondocker needs to park their adventure vehicle and hop on an airplane.

It is very possible for a United States citizen to rent an RV in South Africa. Rates for a Toyota Hilux with a roof tent are around $2,500/week. There are plenty of campgrounds and RV parks in South Africa. So boondocking in South Africa is totally possible.

A boondocker would have to use extra caution while boondocking in South Africa. Instead of raccoons there are baboons and instead of bears there are lions and leopards. Also, there is an under current of racial tension in some areas. However, there appeared to be plenty of National Parks and state protected areas for the boondocker to camp.

I elected to not rent an RV, but I did rent a car and had no problems navigating the roads, which were mostly in great shape. I did struggle a bit at first driving on the wrong side of the road. Admittedly I received some furious looks from locals when I messed up a couple of tricky intersections. However, after the rental car was returned to the Cape Town Airport the car was undamaged and no body got hurt.

Travel Tips

Cape-of-Good-Hope-Cape-Point-National-Park-The-Thrill-Society

For this South African adventure I flew into Cape Town. Cape Town is a beautiful city filled with a lot of great stuff to see. I would recommend exploring the city via the Hop On/Hop Off Bus (HOHOB). Pay one fare for the day and you can jump on and off the bus as much as you would like.

Cape-Town-scene

Table Mountain National Park

Table Mountain is a prominent ridge that runs along the south part of the city. The HOHOB will take you to Table Mountain. I recommend getting to Table Mountain right away in the morning because every one that visits Cape Town will eventually end up here. Bring a light, jacket as the weather at the top can be quite breezy and foggy.

For more information about Table Mountain National Park check out: https://www.sanparks.org/parks/table_mountain/

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is a must see destination in Cape Town. The HOHOB will take you to the gardens. Plan on spending all day at the gardens, there is a lot to see. The food is very good at the gardens, so be sure to plan a nice lunch with amazing floral views.

Kirstenbosch-Cape-Town-South-Africa

For more information about Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden check out: http://www.sanbi.org/gardens/kirstenbosch

Camps Bay

While staying in Cape Town I rented an Airbnb, two-bedroom house right on the beach in the Camps Bay area. There are plenty of bars and cafes within easy walking distance. The views are off the charts with the Atlantic Ocean to the west and Table Mountain National Park to the east.

Cape-Town-scene-sunset
Camps Bay

For more information about Camps Bay check out: https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Tourism-g312658-Camps_Bay_Western_Cape-Vacations.html

Cape of Good Hope

A wonderful day trip out of Cape Town is Cape of Good Hope. Tours can easily be arranged with a guide. Plan on spending a long day exploring coast, but it will be worth every second. Be sure to get to Cape Point National Park early in the day as the crowds can be tremendous.

For more information about Cape of Good Hope check out: https://www.sanparks.org/parks/table_mountain/tourism/attractions.php

A nice side trip during your exploration of Cape of Good Hope is Betty’s Bay and the Penguin Nature Reserve. These African Penguins are cute, but let out a donkey sounding bray that can be quite obnoxious.

african-penguin-The-Thrill-Society
African Penguin

For more information about the Penguin Nature Reserve check out: http://www.capenature.co.za/reserves/stony-point-nature-reserve/

Cape Agulhas

After exploring Cape Town and the surrounding areas for several days we rented a car from the Cape Town Airport and headed east on the N2 to Cape Agulhas. This area is the southernmost point of South Africa and offers great views.

Cape-agulhas-sign-The-Thrill-Society

For more information about Cape Agulhas check out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cape_Agulhascape-agulhas-lighthouse-The-Thrill-Society

Tsitsikamma National Park

Next stop along the N2, also called the Garden Route between Mossel Bay and Storms River, was Tsitsikamma National Park (TNP). TNP offers absolutely, beautiful coastal views, is famous for it’s three swinging bridges, and loaded with jaw-dropping, camping sites.

South-African-National-Parks-sign-The-Thrill-Society

We spent a few hours at TNP, however, I wished we would have spent several days. The TNP campsites are right on the ocean and there are several hikes along the coast and deep inland ravines. Sea kayaking is a popular activity at TNP and looked like a bunch of fun.

For more information about TNP check out: http://www.nature-reserve.co.za/tsitsikamma-coastal-national-park.html

Addo Elephant National Park

Continuing down the Garden Route, our next stop was Addo Elephant National Park. This park is massive and is home to over 700 elephants plus multiple other species of African Wildlife. We stayed in the park at an amazing lodge that had a great view of a watering hole. There were also campsites available for the boondocker.

Addo is very brushy for the most part with areas of prairie that used to be farmland. It can be very hard to see animals in the brushy parts of the park, but the prairies offer an oasis generally filled with all types of wildlife.

Our first game drive was provided by an Addo game guide and included a sundowner. The sundowner is famous in Africa and offer scenic, sunset views while sipping on adult beverages and eating snacks. A sundowner is a great way to end the day after a great game drive.

In addition to Addo game guides, a person can drive their own car throughout most of Addo or enlist a game guide from one of the surrounding game reserves like Schotia Private Game Reserve.

For more information about Addo Elephant National Park check out: https://www.sanparks.org/parks/addo/

Schotia Private Game Reserve

Schotia Private Game Reserve is located right next to Addo Elephant National Park. A Schotia guide took us through Addo in the morning and Schotia in the afternoon after a nice lunch at their headquarters.

Schotia has a huge concentration of a variety of animals and is famous for their lions. At the completion of the game drive we joined other safari adventurers for a game lodge dinner and drinks next to a large bonfire.

The combo Addo/Schotia tour takes about 14 hours, but is well worth a long day to see huge numbers of African wildlife. I would highly recommend this tour.

For more information about Schotia Private Game Reserve checkout: https://www.schotiasafaris.co.za/

Cango Caves

The next stop on our South African tour, heading west toward Cape Town was Cango Caves near Oudtshoorn. Cango Caves offers a variety of tours, but all of them offer spectacular, cave views. I have had the opportunity to visit at least a dozen caves in the United States, but none of them come close to Cango Caves. The formations are large, well preserved, and dynamic. The basic tour takes around an hour.

For more information about Cango Caves check out: http://www.cango-caves.co.za/

Swartberg Pass

Swartberg Pass is very close to Cango Caves on R328 and goes through the rugged Swartberg Mountains. The views are impressive and there is the chance to see troops of baboons on the hillsides. The road is gravel, but good enough for a two-wheel drive car. This mountain pass drive is well worth your time. Consider bringing a picnic lunch to enjoy on top of the pass.

For more information check out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swartberg_Pass

Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

Sanbona Wildlife Reserve is located near Barrydale on Route 62. The landscape is desert like and very barren compared to Schotia and Addo. Sanbona offers animals only native to South Africa and is famous for their white lions and rhinos.

The food and lodging at Sanbona are excellent. Normally guests arrive around noon, have lunch, get settled, and then go on an evening game drive that includes a sundowner. The next morning guests eat an early, light breakfast and start their game drive as the sun is rising. After three hours of game drive, guests are treated to an excellent breakfast.

Sanbona was experiencing a drought when we visited, but the animals are being feed and where in great shape. Sanbona is well worth the time and effort to drive to this remote location.

For more information about Sanbona Wildlife Reserve check out: https://www.sanbona.com/

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Photography Tips

When traveling, a photographer must be prepared for any type of shooting situation. In South Africa I took city, nature, long exposure, and wildlife photographs.

For this trip I took one camera body, two batteries, charger, and the Nikon 28-300mm lens. I am a huge fan of this lens and it was able to handle all of the shooting situations I encountered. Sure there were several times shooting wildlife that I wished I had more length, but for a photographer that doesn’t focus on wildlife, the 28-300mm performed fine.

One option to get more length is to purchase a teleconverter that fits between the lens and camera body and can increase the length around 2X. Unfortunately a teleconverter will not work with a 28 -300mm lens. All of the research I read said 50 mm is the smallest range a telephoto lens can have to add a teleconverter.

Cape Town did offer several camera shops that would rent larger range, wildlife lens by the day or week. However, when we left Cape Town we were away from the city for 10 days and the cost to rent a larger, wildlife lens was more than I wanted to spend. Renting a lens would be a great option if you just needed it for the day or in the USA where the rental rates are more reasonable.

I also brought a GoPro 4 with four extra batteries and charger. As a backup camera I brought a Luminex, which is basically a pocket camera that is adjustable for manual shooting and has a telephoto lens out to 700 mm digitally enhanced.

I found the Luminex to be especially helpful while shooting in Cango Caves in tight places with a group of people. The Luminex also has decent video recording capabilities. Considering the size the Luminex makes an excellent, small backup camera.

The GoPro 4 worked very well for shots around Cape of Good Hope. The seacoast terrain was close and the fisheye lens of the GoPro helped me get more real estate into each frame.

Additionally, I brought a small cleaning kit, adjustable ND filter, a variety of graduated filters, neck strap, and a tripod. I used all of my equipment at some point in the trip and felt I brought exactly what I needed without anything extra.

Shooting wildlife while on game drives was a new experience for me. After trying several different positions in the safari vehicle it seemed that a top corner seat was probably the best compromise. Experienced game guides will try to position the safari vehicle for optimal client viewing and shooting.

Most guides are very understanding when it comes to a photographers needs. However, on one game drive, I was sitting behind the driver and got scolded for standing up to shoot a lion that was walking behind the safari vehicle. I also got scolded for shutter noise and was asked by the guide to take a break so the group could hear elephants eating brush. This is an example of a cranky guide, but after that experience I determined that sitting all the way in the back was a better option.

When shooting out of a safari vehicle be sure to have your main battery fully charged, a spare battery, a spare memory card, and a backup camera. Game drives normally last around three hours and if your equipment fails there is no going back to the camp to get replacement equipment.

RV Tips

Although I did not rent a RV in South Africa I did do a bunch of research before I decided not to rent one and go with a rental car and hotels instead. What made me lean toward a rental car was the fact I wanted to visit several game parks and stay at Camps Bay in Cape Town that did not allow personal camping. I also wanted to enjoy the game lodge and ocean side Airbnb experience. With the daily cost of renting an RV in South Africa, to leave it in a parking lot and not stay in it for four nights of my journey, was cost prohibitive.

However, there were a large variety of RV options that could be rented right from the Cape Town airport. Johannesburg and Durbin both offered airport, RV rentals as well.

South Africa did offer a lot of National Park and private RV park camping for the boondocker. As far as boondocking on public lands like BLM or National Forest in the USA, I did not research the options.

On future international travels I will definitely look into the RV rental option. There were several campgrounds especially at Tsitsikamma National Park that I really wished I had an RV and could have stayed for several days.

Conclusion

South Africa is an amazing, international, traveling destination. There are great views, lots of wildlife, great food, and friendly people. The next time you are considering an international trip put South Africa on your short list and you won’t be disappointed.

Please remember to always boondock without a trace! 

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