For many years I had dreamt of visiting a specific region of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, the holy grail of safari destinations, the birth place of safari as we know it today.
It exists within the eastern half of this iconic game reserve, and shares a very large boundary with Kruger National Park, unfenced.
It was officially established as a photographic safari camp in 1964, but its rich history dates back to the early 1900’s.
The camp I am speaking of, is Mala Mala Private Game Reserve.
Why the fuss over a single safari camp?
Well, I have a multi-faceted answer for you.
Mala Mala fashioned the safari industry into what it is today. They were pioneers in their day as they turned an area largely known for hunting into a photographic destination.
Today, I can’t think of a single destination or property in Africa that can deliver a BIG 5 safari experience to the same equal. It’s truly exceptional, to say the least.
I was incredible fortunate to finally get to experience this special place for the first time this year as I hosted 2 separate privately guided safaris. It has been some time in the making and I was so excited to share this experience with my guests at the time – two incredible individuals who I have hosted on different occasions previously.
I wanted to share some of the encounters with you, just to show you how special this place is.
Yes, I know that the Sabi Sand in general is known for special sightings, but this place is just, well, different.
Also, as you look through the below, keep in mind it was all captured over 6 nights in total. Simply incredible!
I spent time at Mala Mala on two separate occasions, and for 3 nights at a time.
The quality of each day is what really blew me away. The place had a reputation and this can very often be a misleading thing. It’s easy to arrive with a sense of expectation, at times unrealistic. This is something I always chat to my guests about – the last thing I would want is for someone to leave one of my safaris feeling let down. What a shame that would be.
That said, every one of my expectations for these 2 safaris at Mala Mala were exceeded, something not very often done I might add!
One of the first sightings we got to enjoy was of this leopardess. We found her up this Knob Thorn tree with a very fresh impala carcass. In fact when we arrived she had yet to start feeding, and my guest and I watched as she went about her business of neatly opening up the carcass, all within beautiful view of us.
As we returned the following morning we found a pack of wild dogs arriving at the same time.
The dogs, as expected, quickly chased the leopard up a nearby tree. This is typical behaviour and leopard would far rather enjoy the “company” of the dogs from the high branches of a tree, than on ground level. The carcass was out of reach from the dogs and the leopard only had to wait it out and the dogs eventually moved off.
If you have a look at the picture above, you’ll see the leopardess up a fallen Knob Thorn, and the wild dogs bottom right at the base of the same tree.
On one morning we went looking for a great place to stop for a cup of coffee. My friend and long-time guide here at Mala Mala suggested a spot along a large dry river bed, and we obviously agreed to go along with it.
As we arrived at the spot we found that a small group of rhino had already decided to occupy the very same place. Not one to argue with such a large beast, we spent a bit of time with them and then decided to go in search of another spot for coffee, this time in the opposite direction.
As we arrived at the new spot – a lovely scene with a large slab of rock under the shade of a large tree – we found a leopard occupying the very same rocks.
Can you believe it?
It was a large & powerful male leopard, and he was not at all impressed at the sight of us.
As is expected, we spent some time with him too and upon our third attempt at coffee we finally succeeded!
What an experience that was for my guest! Not every day that you morning coffee gets interrupted by rhino’s & leopards!
Another incredible sighting we enjoyed there were of a lion pride crossing the Sand River, from west to east.
Lions, as we all know, are not fond of water. Any time you get to see them in it though is special, and being in a position to photograph it even more so!
As we found the pride they were resting on the edge of the river in soft white sand. We were able to position the vehicle in such a manner as to create that stunning & captivating low angle, and this resulted in great photographic opportunities for my guest.
Being at eye-level always changes the feel & mood of an image for the better. It’s not always safe to physically alight from the vehicle, so having a guide on board that understands vehicle positioning is essential!
We were without doubt hoping they would cross the river to the east. They had spent the night further west and my guide, Roan, and I together guessed that they would very likely cross. This was confirmed when one lioness stood up, went for a drink and then crossed right over.
As is to be expected, lions are wary of what lurks beneath the waters of the Sand River. It’s not a very deep river so it would be tough for a large crocodile to sneak up on these lions, but it’s still instinctual and they do not like it at all. Her snarls were evidence of this dislike.
As soon as she crossed over so did we via a causeway, and we were able to capture the rest of the pride moving across, directly towards us! Incredible sighting!
I have not had many sightings such this in the past. It could be attributed to luck, but with that said there’s a special quality to this area and it’s almost second nature for the local guides to see things such as this.
Not two days later, and we were in that same situation all over again.
We found a male lion about 1 kilometer from the river. He vocalized a little and then started to walk in the direction of the river.
Not long afterwards he too crossed over the river to the other side! We were in awe and I could not believe how fortunate we were to see so much in such a short span of time.
Another exciting experience is visiting the very well known hyena den, occupied by the Charleston Clan.
This particular clan of hyenas were made famous by several wildlife documentaries & books, including a National Geographic film called “Hyena Queen”. The den is very large & the chambers hiding the cubs are located beneath a massive slab of granite rock.
We were lucky to find some of the young hyenas on the top of the rock when we visited, and the photographic potential at the den was exquisite.
There’s so much more to be said about this incredible safari destination, and about these two privately guided safaris I was fortunate to host.
The area stood out to me as one of the finest big game safari destinations in Africa, without doubt! We found & photographed so many incredible things, and all of this in 7 days. According to my guide Roan, this was not even the “good” season to be there. I just laughed!
Thanks for taking the time with me to share in a special experience that I enjoyed with my guests.
Mala Mala and it’s diverse segment of the Sabi Sand Wildtuin certainly exceed any expectations I could have had. To think that images such as the above could be taken in 7 days is simply awesome, and I really look forward to visiting more often!
Till next time,