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The Seven Year Safari

Updated: Oct 25, 2019

Seven years ago, my parents persuaded me (rather easily) to venture out to Zambia as my next wildlife photographic trip. At that time I was still living in the UK and had stuck religiously to South Africa as my travel destination, having already fallen in love with the country many years before that – it felt like home, so the idea of dipping my toes into a new country was always immediately thrown aside to returning to my second home. Based on what I saw and heard, I took the extra step and what ensued was, and still is, the best experience of my life in the realms of African wildlife and photography. It was an intense ten-day trip in the scorching heat (October is often referred to as Suicide Month) but the onslaught of fantastic sightings and encounters was something I could never have predicted, and looking back is hard to imagine was real. Multiple prides of lions, leopards, hundreds of elephants, honey badgers and hyenas feasting on carcasses; all of these were a common occurrence each and every day. I came back to the UK a different person, and I count it as the first signifying moment that I knew I had to make a life for myself in Africa.

This image, published by National Geographic, was taken in Zambia with Noelle as my guide.

Cut to seven years later and here I am, based in the Greater Kruger of South Africa and working in wildlife photography and conservation. I frequently get to see the animals that had me spellbound decades ago, in a manner that I’m passionate about, and surrounded by people who share that passion and a rare motivation. What I wasn’t aware of when initially moving out here, was that one the guides I was lucky enough to meet in Zambia is also based in this area. Now, I’ve been around plenty of guides, but none had the sheer force of passion and infectious enthusiasm as Noelle. I was lucky to be on her vehicle a few times in Zambia and we instantly seemed to click (probably due to our somewhat dry sense of humour). She was responsible for so many of the amazing sightings and experiences we had, and as such for many of my photographs that, seven years later, still hold up. She was one of the strong and defining factors that made me realise I had to change my life and to pursue my passion.


Over the years we stayed in touch but, as is common, life takes over and correspondence falls off. Luckily In 2016 I found myself with a spare week, and she graciously invited me to where she was working; Madikwe Game Reserve, a place I’d visited a few times before and, similar to South Luangwa, holds lots of great memories of wildlife encounters. I spent the best part of a week with her, joining her on drives, getting further glimpses into the ‘behind the scenes’ work of the lodge and guiding industry, and we had plenty of discussions of future ambitions.

The visit to Madikwe also resulted in me snapping one of my most successful photographs.

Now, despite moving out to South Africa less than a year later, our continued communications didn’t go so well. Life in the bush takes over and it’s easy to lose contact with people. However, recently we’ve managed to right this wrong and be more proactive, with her even giving lectures and talks at my place of work. And this is where we get to the most recent chapter, with Noelle inviting me to be a photographic expert guest on a future safari. Planning is difficult, as both our calendars are insanely booked for the foreseeable future, but we’ve managed to work together something that promises to be a truly unique and awesome experience that I’m beyond excited for. A photographic safari based in Madikwe, with Noelle guiding and myself acting as photographic expert… even as I type this it’s crazy to think how we’ve arrived at this moment in our lives; if you’d have told me, seven years ago, that I’d be working with one of the biggest personal and professional influences in my life, there’s no way I would have believed you. I can hardly believe it now.


The Madikwe Photographic Safari is a trip, seven years in the making, built on the foundation of passion, determination and a collaborative friendship that neither of us could have predicted. This is more than a passion project, as it strongly represents elements of the journey of getting to where I am today, and I’m more than excited to be able to share these experiences with other people.


So, for more information on how you can join Noelle and myself on this amazing experience, email me at sam@samuelcoxphoto.com


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