A memory of our Golden Wedding day spent in the Matabole Hide at Mashutu back in 2018


“This is your early morning wake up call”. The voice in the darkness belongs to Richard our guide for the five days we were to spend at Mashatu Tented Camp. 

The previous evening at Pont Drift we had crossed into Botswana by what has to be the most laid back border post in the world. A quick passport check on the South African side followed by a short drive through no-mans land took us to what looked like a derelict barn where we were met by one of the guides from Mashatu. 

Disclaimers signed, crossing charges paid and we were off, loaded into a metal cage with just enough room to take us, our guide and travel bags. “Hold on tight” the cage swung out and we were off crossing Rudyard Kipling’s “Great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River”. 

6.00 AM

Mashatu comes to life, coffee and snacks are quickly taken before safari vehicles set out on early morning game drives. This morning however we are off to spend what is actually our Golden Wedding Anniversary at the Matabole Photographic Hide. 

By the light of the trucks headlamps our guide points out where elephants have recently crossed the track, we could be in luck they are headed in the direction of the hide. 

6.30 AM

After a bumpy drive through pre-dawn African silence we arrive at Matabole to be greeted by Janet the resident Professional Photographer. The hide, set beside a natural waterhole, is simply two metal containers sunk in the ground with access through the roof and slits cut at water level for windows. The interior is basic but well equipped for photography with a shelf running along one side overlooking the waterhole, cushioned to accommodate spare lenses and cameras the shelf has eight stations each kitted out with a bean bag secured to a swivel mount, perfect for 180deg views of the waterhole

The door in the roof is secured and safari trucks are moved away while Janet goes through the do’s and do not’s of hide etiquette, then we settle down to wait. For the first few minutes before the sun rises our only visitors are birds of various species and colours. Then our first mammal appears, a lone wildebeest, hesitant, nervous and wary, Janet warns us to let him settle and take his first drink before firing the shutter. All too quickly he is spooked and gone but I have the shot. The sun is up and we are well into the golden hour, that special time for photographers just after sunrise when everything takes on a golden hue.

7.17 AM

Janet taps my arm giving me the universal sign for silence, I hear nothing, then suddenly out of nowhere they are in front of us, The Giants of Mashatu, right there, nearly within reach. They jostle for position around the waterhole, no need to wait for them to settle before firing the shutter even if they could hear the sound above their trumpeting. We count up to twenty six in the family group including three small infants, then just as suddenly, they turn and are off. 

I still have not absorbed what we have just seen, when just as suddenly another family group arrives, the first group have actually made way for them. This second group is bigger than the first but my heart has stopped racing, I begin to think about the pictures I am taking when that group also moves on to be replaced by a third. We estimated later that six breeding groups comprising in total around 200 elephants had passed through. 

The elephants however have the final say. Just as the last group is about to leave one old matriarch with a heart shaped perforation in one ear, turns and lets fly, a tidal wave of muddy water sprays in through the narrow windows catching us all totally unawares.

8.00 AM

Then just as quickly they are gone leaving us to clean up ourselves and our cameras and to reflect on what we had been privileged to witness over the last three quarters of an hour.