Breathtaking South Africa

I’d had been looking forward to heading to South Africa for quite some time and before I left everyone kept saying to me “Oh you just wait, you’re absolutely going to love it.” and LOVE it I did. I have to admit I had no idea what to expect, I mean, I knew it was going to be a beautiful destination, but I don’t think I was prepared for just HOW beautiful it is. And true to my nature, I spent most of the days completely overwhelmed and pinching myself at the sheer natural beauty, close encounters with wild animals and the world-class, breathtaking landscapes.

South Africa truly captured my heart.

Arriving in Cape Town after what felt like the longest commute we hit the ground running for a whirlwind, but unforgettable trip.

From finding solitude standing on the summit of Table Mountain, breathing in the fresh smell of the ocean and watching the clouds roll like silk over the weathered granite, as the sky closed in. To sitting down, with a light heart and admiring one of the most beautiful coastlines I've ever seen. It is hard to believe this is a city of 5 million people.

Those familiar feelings of being suspended between the sky and the sea, one morning part of SA crew and I began hiking at 3:30am. We reached the summit of Lion's Head under a cloak of darkness, to be greeted with a breathtaking 360-degree view of Cape Town. As the sun began to rise on a new day the sky exploded around me and turned out to be one of my favourite sunrises all year.

Another absolute highlight for me was Boulders beach and being up-close with the adorable little African penguins. Did you know, they mostly have one mate for life? And that they are only found on the south-western coast of Africa. There is no place else on Earth where this species of penguin is found! Be still, my heart.

Sad to say goodbye to the ever so captivating Cape Town we made our way to Johannesburg, where our guide Kenny greeted us with the warmest smile and explained that Johannesburg actually means “A place of light.”

I typically find photographing cities challenging, being much more connected to the natural world, however whilst we were in Joburg we stumbled across beauty in the urban environment. Including a wonderful mural by artist Faith47 entitled “Una Salus Victis Nullam Sperare Salutem”, from a latin poem:

‘the one safety for the vanquished is to abandon hope of safety.
surrendering to the knowledge that there is no hope, can bring deep courage.’  // @Faith47

We scrambled to building rooftops and together we watched the African sun burn so brightly in the sky as the city began to sparkle beneath us. Of corse, a trip to 'Joburg' is not complete without visiting the historical town of Soweto and both the Nelson Mandela house and the Hector Pieterson Museum for a no-holds barred history lesson.

Already head over heals with South Africa we made our way to the Madikwe Safari Reserve, where I think I lasted approximately 5 minutes before bursting into tears at the sight of a distant baby elephant, followed instantly by seeing my first ever wild Zebra/s and being within 5m of majestic, sleeping wild lions. Honestly, a true dream come true for me.

Coming face to face with one some of rarest animals in the world left me feeling truly speechless. We spent enchanting few days on safari, in the jeep with the hot African sun burning down on my skin, wind in my hair and my mind completely free. A reminder for me that the world is an overwhelmingly beautiful place.

I want to share a little bit of background information on Madikwe Safari Lodge because in the words of my wonderful Safari guide Gerard, "conservation starts with education," and this is truly a topic I feel passionate about; ethical tourism.

Madikwe Safari Lodge has a distinct eco-system and was formed to protect endangered wildlife and use sustainable tourism initiatives to create permanent jobs for the indigenous people. Covering 75,000 hectares, Madikwe is home to the big five (African Lion, Cape Buffalo, African Elephant, African Leopard, Rhinoceros) and has the distinction of being one the few game reserves in the world proclaimed purely only on the grounds of being the most appropriate and sustainable lands use for an area.

It is my hope that in the coming years we will be able to travel and to experience abundant wildlife -- in the wild -- living as nature intended them to be.

Unfortunately in times of increasing loss of habitat for wildlife, poaching, climate change and other human generated pressures on the planet, it is crucial that we in the tourism industry, and as tourists, continue to expand our knowledge and actively participate in the vital protection of wildlife.

Madikwe Safari Reserve is just 4 hours from Joburg (bordering South Africa and Botswana) and it is a lesser known, however highly successful, conservation area wilderness safari offering ideal viewing and a chance for guests to re-connect with nature -- “This is rugged Africa.”

Lastly, being on the road with a crew who is not only passionate about photography and eco-travel, but are exceptionally talented individuals and generous with their craft is incredibly inspiring and worth the 3:30am daily alarm clock. I am left feeling so grateful for the experience. Thank you to the team -

@LaurenEPBath, @jewelszee, @jarradseng, @itsworthashot, @tscharke & @milesgray88.

South Africa, you have left the most deeply heart-felt impression on my heart.

 M. xx