Situated in the Giants Castle nature reserve managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife is not only a bird photographer and watcher’s paradise but is also a spectacularly beautiful area of South Africa offering majestic vista’s and landscapes. The Giants Castle (Lammergeieir) Vulture Hide has become a prized destination for both local and international photographers and delivers across the board when it comes to spectacular bird photography.
The hide itself is very tiny but ample for only 3 photographers to shoot comfortably but many photo groups continually try to squeeze in a fourth photographer who will often end up with a shooting gap that is not optimal to getting the really good shots. So if you are going in a group restrict it to 3 only and you will all have a very comfortable shooting arrangement without having a fourth photographer feeling short changed.
Giants Castle Game Reserve is reached by good gravel roads from Mooi River (about 60 kilometres) or from Estcourt (about 70 kilometres), both towns on the N3 between Johannesburg and Durban.
THE LAMMERGEYER HIDE ‘feeding season’ is May to September, and bookings open in the previous November. Tel +27 36 353 3718, fax +27 36 353 3775. Charges are R150 per person per day, with a minimum of R480 (less then 3 people) for use of the hide. Access is by 4×4 vehicle, provided by yourself or by the reserve. It is advisable to book on the 1st of November when bookings open as the bookings fly in within the first two days leaving only few openings for others.
It is advisable for groups to ensure they have flasks of coffee, tea, cool drinks, food and snacks for the day as you will spend the entire day from before sunrise until sunset up there. There is no electricity in the hide and no ablutions either so you are required to go in nature, so prepare for that too. Oh and make sure all your batteries are charged and that you have ample memory cards as you will easily run out of memory cards on an average day’s shoot at Giants Castle. You will also need a 4×4 or SUV vehicle to get up the mountain, either have your own 4×4 or arrange with the front desk to take you up in the morning and fetch you in the afternoon. Trying to get up in your own sedan is seriously not advised, you will spend your shooting time getting unstuck or worse.
The Day visitor Entry fee:= to Giants Castle is R20.00 per adult R10.00 per child and they have excellent accommodation facilities available but be sure to also book well in advance.
Gate Opening and Closing Times: Summer ( October to March ) 05h00 to 19h00 Winter (April to September ) 06h00 to 18h00
If you are an eager bird photographer and you have not been there then Giant’s Castle should be on the top of your “have to go to” lists. Not only will you get to photograph the highly endangered Bearded Vultures (Lammergeier) but you will also have excellent opportunities to capture fantastic images of Cape Vultures, Jackal Buzzards and a variety of other endangered species.
As far as photographic equipment goes, if you don’t have a decent lens for the job PLEASE go to effort and hire one for the weekend. You will need a minimum of a 200-400 mm lens, 400mm prime and if your budget can afford it a 600mm prime lens. Having two bodies one configured with a 200-400 mm lens and the second with a 600mm lens is probably the greatest combination you could hope for. You can hire lenses and cameras from the great people at OutdoorPhoto in Pretoria.
Good News for Avian Photographers, a second vulture hide was opened in the Maloti Drakensberg Park on the 14th of August 2014. Tghe press release reads …. “In the race to save South Africa’s vultures, a second vulture hide will be opened on the 14th of August near Giant’s Castle in the Maloti Drakensberg Park. This follows the opening and success of the first hide at Cathedral Peak in 2013,” says Kevin McCann, Deputy Director at Wildlands Conservation Trust. “The hides offer a means to safe-guard Bearded Vulture populations by providing a safe and stable source of food.” Read more about that here.
Here’s a few images of mine from Giants Castle over the past few years and I highly suggest for any budding, intermediate or pro photographer to book and go have one of the most fantastic photo trips they will ever have.