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Umgede Hide - Our First Underground Hide Photographic Experience

Updated: Mar 13

By Gabby Sykora and Luca Tomlinson

Embarking on a journey into the heart of the South African bush is always an unforgettable experience, an experience that eases one’s mind, body and soul. Recently we had the privilege of visiting the incredible Antares Bush Camp and exploring the hidden marvels of the Umgede Underground Hide. Antares is nestled amidst the beautiful landscape of the Grietjie Private Nature Reserve, which is about a 3000ha reserve that forms part of the Balule Nature Reserve and the Greater Kruger National Park. We were beyond excited to explore this new (to us) reserve, so join Luca and myself, as we recount our unforgettable adventure.

Antares Bush Camp and Umgede Hide
Antares' defender ready for drive...
Antares Bush Camp and Umgede Hide

The Antares Bush Camp is a haven for nature enthusiasts seeking that authentic African safari experience. As we entered the camp, we were greeted by the warm and welcoming smile of Ian Owtram, Antares owner, our host and highly qualified wildlife expert. Already we felt at home. Coupled with Ian’s warm welcome and the soothing sounds of the bush, we were filled with so much joy and yet also anticipation as we caught glimpse of the hide for the first time. Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention that on our drive in to camp we managed to connect with a Kruger lifer for both of us, a Black-chested Snake Eagle.

Antares Bush Camp and Umgede Hide
Sunrise views over the lowveld

Antares is a self-catering, exclusive use bush camp. Accommodating a maximum of 8 guests in 5 luxurious rooms, featuring both indoor and outdoor showers, Antares provides an affordable and authentic experience, which lends itself perfectly to those quiet and intimate family break-aways. With exclusive use of the camp during your stay, small photographic or birding groups would also find Antares the perfect place to visit and experience.

For a truly unique experience, and one that we were probably looking forward to the most, we made our way down to the Umgede Hide for the first time, an ingeniously designed structure that allows visitors to observe wildlife up close and personal, without disturbing their natural habitat. Located strategically next to the waterhole, the hide faces south which allowed us to get awesome images throughout the day, as the light was always good. Another bonus of this is that the milky way is almost always visible above the waterhole, which can make for some incredible nightscape images. One of the goals I (Luca) had for this trip was to capture one of these images with a herd of elephants in the foreground.

Antares Bush Camp and Umgede Hide
Photographing elephants from the hide

As we silently settled into the hide, almost hidden beneath the Earth’s surface, there was a sense of anticipation in the air. Time seemed to slow down as a small herd of elephant arrived at the waterhole to drink. These elephants, with their massive frames, quenched their thirst, while birds cautiously approached the water’s edge to get their fill of water too. Witnessing these scenes from such a unique vantage point was truly a humbling experience and gave us new insight into the daily lives of the elephants. It’s truly a totally different experience from the normal viewing of animals from a vehicle, and the experience sticks with you and makes you want to keep coming back for more and more. So within our first hour at the hide we had already captured some unique images that we could add to our portfolios.

Antares Bush Camp and Umgede Hide
A mother elephant and calf

Antares Bush Camp and Umgede Hide
Elephant Panorama

The next morning, we embarked on a chilly morning game drive led by Ian. The knowledge he shared and his insight into the diverse fauna and flora that call this reserve home, was incredible. The stories he recalled of all the incredible moments and memories he has made on the reserve, left us feeling inspired to say the least. Being surrounded by a large herd of elephant, both big and small, offered a sense of wonder as to how they can move around you barely making a sound, even at a couple of tons each. The morning light during golden hour lit up the elephants perfectly, a photographer’s dream.

Antares Bush Camp and Umgede Hide
Little ellie owning the road during golden hour

Antares Bush Camp and Umgede Hide

Having access to the Olifants River makes the game drives here extra special. We stopped for coffee and rusks at one of the viewpoints over the river while soaking in a bit of the morning sun. Standing on the banks of this famous river is truly a privilege, being able to listen to the flowing water and observe all the wildlife that thrives in the area really puts one at peace. Here we were fortunate enough to get another Kruger lifer for both of us besides the myriad of other species we recorded in the riverine woodland, this time the Brown-throated Martin. We munched on a few more biscuits while listening to Ian with much jealousy as he told us of a time, they flushed a Pel's Fishing Owl from that very spot. African Finfoot has also been seen from this spot.

Antares Bush Camp and Umgede Hide
A bit of birding during our coffee stop

Back at hide we were treated to many more animals and birds coming down to drink. A large herd of ellies arrived, including a few little ones, splashing around and enjoying the afternoon drink.

The hide’s unique design allows for some remarkably close encounters with the wildlife and one such experience was later that afternoon when a large bull elephant came rather close to the hide’s shutters to drink and progressed to take a trunk full of water in, but as we readied ourselves to get the shots of him drinking, he had other ideas and casually squirted the water toward the open shutters of the hide. This left every one of us scampering to get our cameras and laptops out of harm’s way, as we never knew what his next move would be. Being this close to a massive elephant bull in the wild is an experience we will never forget.

Antares Bush Camp and Umgede Hide
This old bull treated us to an experience of a lifetime!

The hide not only allowed for remarkably close encounters with animals, but also birds, as various bird species fluttered by, colorful and melodious. We found ourselves captivated by the vivid plumage of a Brown-hooded Kingfisher, who settled on one of the new tree posts that had been placed by the waterside only days before. A visit from the gluttonous juvenile Green-backed Heron, had us all laughing at his insatiable appetite for small fish and the odd platanna.

Antares Bush Camp and Umgede Hide
Brown-hooded Kingfisher

Birds such as Blue Waxbills, Golden-breasted bunting and Grey go-away birds dropped by frequently to the water’s edge. We managed yet another Kruger lifer in the form of a Cinnamon-breasted Bunting which then returned to drink multiple times during our stay. Daniel's (Luca’s brother) patience paid off when he finally managed to get a decent shot of a Golden-breasted Bunting taking off. Emerald-spotted Wood Doves also frequently visited ,but unfortunately we didn’t manage a flight shot of one them as well (We couldn’t have our cake and eat it, haha).

Antares Bush Camp and Umgede Hide
Reflection shot of a Golden-breasted Bunting

Antares Bush Camp and Umgede Hide
Golden-breasted Bunting in flight

Antares Bush Camp and Umgede Hide
Reflection shot of the bushveld's alarm clock

After the sun had set, we were treated to not one but two incredible elephant sightings under the stars, which was exactly what we had been hoping for, and I was super thrilled to (hopefully) have pulled off the star shot. Listening to lions roaring nearby in the middle of the night while sitting in the hide with the shutters open also gives one a bit of an adrenaline rush.

Antares Bush Camp and Umgede Hide
Composite image of elephants under the milky way

While sitting in the hide, each passing moment etched such incredible memories in our minds, highlighting, not only the sheer splendour of our natural world but also the wonder that the Umgede Underground Hide has to offer. Our visit to Antares Bush Camp and Umgede Hide offered us an unparalleled experience in the heart of the South African wilderness. I cannot say it enough but the opportunity to have witnessed wildlife interactions up close and personal from the vantage point of the hide was truly incredible.

Antares Bush Camp and Umgede Hide
Winter can be quite warm in Africa, so why not...

Antares Bush Camp & The Umgede Underground Hide not only granted us a respite from the daily hustle and bustle of life, but also fostered a profound appreciation for the fragile beauty of South Africa’s wild spaces. If you seek an escape into the bush, with breathtaking landscapes and extraordinary wildlife encounters, a trip to Antares Bush Camp & Umgede Hide should be at the top of your bucket list.

We encourage you to have a listen to The Birding Life Youth Podcast episodes where we chat to both Ian as well as Savanna and Cary Owtram!

Go check out my (Gabby) Instagram highlight labelled 'Antares '23' - for some more images from this incredible trip - Insta handle @gabby_sykora. It can also be found at @the_birding_life

Click below to download the list of birds we recorded during our stay. You can read more about Antares on The Birding Life's accommodation directory,

Download • 29KB


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