Tau Game Lodge at Madikwe Game Reserve - A Photographer's Review

During the Olympus Visionary photography trip to South Africa, we spent about 4 days staying at Tau Game Lodge in Madikwe Game Reserve. Olympus booked the whole place and we had the entire lodge for ourselves for the full duration of our stay. I had such a positive experience at Tau Game Lodge that I thought perhaps I should dedicate one full blog entry about my stay there.

One of the coolest experience was the opportunity to get so close to the wild animals!

Tau Game Lodge provided accommodation, food as well as game drives (wildlife safari drives) all inclusive in their full service package. 

The location itself was situation right in the middle of the open desert terrain of Madikwe Game Drive. There were watering holes (I suspect man-made) strategically placed very close to the lodge, encouraging wild animals to come close for a drink. Without even stepping out of the lodge, the residents have ample opportunities to view wild animals coming so close from the viewing decks at the dining area, or even at the comfort of their own balconies in the individual cottages we stayed in. The lodge was protected by a barrier of electric fence, which was low and was not distracting at all for even the most demanding photographers. We saw buffaloes, baboons, warthogs, rhinoceros, deers, zebras and many more animals coming to drink water just outside of our lodge. 

During our "game drive" sessions, we got into a jeep that can take up to about 10 people at once and our designated ranger drove us out into the open for close up encounters with the wild animals. It was such a thrill being able to get so near some of the wild beasts! Strict rules and guidelines need to be adhered at all times, and we just obeyed whatever our ranger instructed us to do and we were perfectly safe. Our ranger was skillful in navigating through rough terrains and going through thick bushes so we can get as close as we can to the animals, which was very helpful for us to get better shots. After all, the famous Robert Kapa once said "if your photograph is not good enough, you are not close enough". We have two game drive sessions each day, one at the break of dawn - 5am to 8am and another nearing sunset - 5pm to 8pm. At these times, the weather was pleasant, and more importantly, the low light of the sun rising or setting were just magical. The golden hour was what added the glow to the images of the animals!

Ernie, our game drive ranger was so helpful and he was attentive to our requests. Being photographers (Olympus Visionaries) we were quite a demanding bunch but he tried his best to accommodate us. Our priority was to get nice shots and we sometimes needed to re-position the vehicle for better vantage point or to avoid certain distractions in our framing. He obliged with no complains and each and every one of us got our shots satisfactorily. It was a blessing having someone so understanding and patient with a group of possibly crazy photographers, that may not be easy to work with. 

The bed has insect netting for extra protection from mosquito attacks. 

The cottage that we stayed in was cozy and super clean. 

The bathroom, leading to the outdoor shower area

Outdoor shower area, with open ceiling

The front entrance to the cottage I was staying in

The balcony was facing the open bush of Madikwe Game Reserve. Animals can be easily spotted! That was me working on my images while enjoying such a breathtaking view. 

This shot of Pumba, I mean Warthog, was spotted from my balcony

I love the small yet cozy cottage that we were staying in. Each photographer has their own individual cottage. The cottage has a mixture of concrete (slab/floor), brick (wall) and wooden (roofing, balcony) structures which was quite interesting for the civil engineer in me to inspect.

The furnishing was very good too. The bed was comfortable and large, perhaps too large for the room (I don't mind a smaller one honestly). There was an insect netting for protection against mosquito attacks. The room was pretty much insect free and I did not feel there was any need for the netting, but hey, any extra layer of protection is always a welcome.

The room was super cozy and clean. There was a corner for everything - the coffee/tea making corner, the one-seater sofa corner, the place to place my large sized luggage as well as a working desk where I can use my laptop and charge my gadgets and camera batteries. There was also a walk in closet with wardrobes and to store everything else I wanted to hide inside. The bathroom was interesting - there was a bathtub, which I should have used (now that I regretted not doing a long bath there), but there was also this outdoor shower. It was awkward because in the middle of the night, returning from an all day adventure, I did want to take a quick shower before calling it a night. However I had to walk out into the cold air for a shower. But when I looked up I saw open sky with stars, so I guess that was the point of having an outdoor shower! What a majestic view.

The cottage was placed just at the edge of the electric fence, and we had full view of the open area where the wild animals roam. In fact, even by just staying in the cottage, I could see many wild animals already!That was an experience I will sure miss. In fact, I took some night sky shots from this same balcony, and I did not even have to go far!

Ernie, our passionate ranger, who showed so much love for his work. 

Look how close we got to the cats!

Our vehicle that can fit up to 10 people at once.  

 Safety briefing. Spotted, Olympus Visionaries and staff members from various countries - Hong Kong, Korea, Thailand, Singapore and Australia

Michael Chan, an Olympus Visionary from Singapore enjoying his morning cup of coffee, overlooking the vast openness of Madikwe Game Reserve

The food served at the lodge was great, with good variety and skillfully cooked. Service from the Tau Game Lodge staff was top notch, they fulfilled our requests efficiently and effectively. Everyone was so friendly and accommodating and that added positively to the whole experience of this trip. Coming back from a long and exhausting game drive session (photography is labor intensive, you know), we were greeted with warm smiles and hot towels, as well as drinks to warm our bodies before dinner. I think we were overfed over the course of 4 days there, we had quick refreshment before morning game drive, full breakfast spread after the game drive, lunch buffet, afternoon tea, a quick break with refreshment and drinks during the game drive and finally a full dinner buffet session that include special "game meat" (an animal they caught and cooked from the location nearby). 

I was so thankful that I brought along my tripod, because the night sky view from the lodge was simply incredible. Having the Olympus M.Zuiko 7-14mm F2.8 PRO lens with me, I used both the Live Time and Live Composite functions inside the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II to shoot the stars in the night sky, as well as doing a star trail shot. It was so easy, I only had to go out to my balcony for these shots! And you know what, it was my first time being able to capture a full circle trail of the stars! These kind of images were always a challenge in Malaysia, or specifically where I am currently based in Kuala Lumpur, a city metropolitan area with heavy air and light pollution. The sky in Madikwe Game Reserve was so clear it would be a sin not to shoot it. 

Sunrise view from the dining hall 

Dinner under the stars. Our final night ended with a fantastic outdoor dinner directly under the night sky!

 The sky was so clear! Look at how bright the stars were

My first ever full circle star trail shot, and it was from the convenience of my room balcony!

Perhaps, one tiny request for further improvement, which by no means is a negative remark, is to have WiFi installed and fully accessible in every single individual cottage. Currently, WiFi was only available at the main lobby, dining, pool and conference areas. It would make a world of difference for social media influencers and bloggers who actively need to engage with their audience to create live stories and update their feed instantaneously with interesting posts from their fresh experience at Tau Game Lodge!

I have enjoyed my stay at Tau Game Lodge tremendously, and I was happy with their warm hospitality, helpful and passionate rangers who brought us out for game drives as well as overall available facilities and high quality room conditions. As a photographer, I was satisfied and perhaps if I wanted more drama and impact in my shots, I may need to stay a little longer and be a bit more patient in getting the money shots. Do check out Tau Game Lodge's official website here and their Facebook page here

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