Part 1: Malamala Game Reserve

By Bert Duplessis, Fish Eagle Safaris

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My March 2010 site inspection trip to South Africa was conducted in whirlwind fashion:  spending one night each at 10 different properties, and covering a huge swath of South Africa’s game-rich Sabi Sand and Timbavati Reserves adjacent to Kruger Park, as well as Cape Town, Franschoek in the Cape Winelands and Grootbos in the Southern Cape.

For the first time in many years I rented a car (from Budget) and despite some misgivings about South Africa’s notoriously bad road safety record, I was soon zipping about Pretoria and Johannesburg in a VW Polo, on the left hand side of the road.  It really was not a problem getting used to drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road – but it was unnerving to be passed by several drivers exceeding the posted speed limit by a wide margin.  For would-be visitors, my advice would be to drive sparingly and to avoid night driving, especially in urban areas.  Be sure to include a GPS device with your car rental – you can save yourself lots of time – by not getting lost – and void the anxiety of finding yourself in potentially dangerous situations.

On March 7, following on a short stay with family in Pretoria and attending my high school reunion, I made my way to Oliver R. Tambo Airport where I dropped off the car and put some excess luggage in storage.  From there it was just a short stroll to the FedAir departure office.  FedAir passengers are taken by minibus to a very comfortable lounge on the other side of the airport.  Here you can relax with a soft drink or juice (complimentary) or enjoy a light snack such as a sandwich and salad or fruit, likewise no charge.  Soon enough, we walked out onto the tarmac, boarded the Beechcraft 1900 and took off in an easterly direction for the Kruger Park.


First stop was MalaMala Game Reserve.  Having been collected from Skukuza Airstrip (where I was offered and promptly accepted an upgrade from Main Camp to Rattray Camp), another couple and I were driven to MalaMala.  I had previously spent several days at Main Camp and having sent dozens of clients there over the years, I was keen to experience the MalaMala ‘magic’ once again.  There are several fancier and more expensive camps in the Sabi Sand Reserve but in terms of consistently good game-viewing MalaMala has few rivals.  And so it was.  From my very first game-drive (good views of rhino and then lions in a rain-storm!) the game-viewing was simply phenomenal.  I had never seen so many leopards and not just glimpses of them:  out in the middle of the road, strolling about and very very relaxed!

The accommodation at Rattray Camp was very luxurious.  The elegantly appointed khaya was massive with a separate lounge area, plenty of closets and of course the usual (just bigger!) his and hers bathrooms which MalaMala is known for.  There’s even a wireless internet connection if you absolutely have to check Facebook…  Not to mention a heated plunge pool which I did not have time to try.  Most importantly, game drives at Rattray are limited to  maximum 4 persons per vehicle so for a party of 4 it is like having a private vehicle.

The next day I did a site inspection at MalaMala Main Camp and I was reminded why I liked this camp so much.   The camp and the surrounding grounds are attractive and spotless – perfectly maintained, green and making  the best of the ideal location along the Sand River.  While Main Camp’s rooms and suites are probably a bit dated compared with some of the newer camps, they are very comfortable, with plenty of space and not lacking for anything.  Over the years I have been to many safari camps in several countries but MalaMala remains at the top of my list for excellent value and above all consistently excellent game-viewing.  Want to go on safari but not spend endless days bumping around poor roads in search of elusive wildlife?  MalaMala is the answer.  Three nights here and you’ll have your fill of point-blank sightings of the so-called Big Five (lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard), not to mention many other mammals and an amazing variety of birds.  The rangers are knowledgeable and enthusiastic and will not only answer all your questions but will get you into the right spot at the right time for some fantastic photographs.  During my short stay, the food and hospitality were of the highest standard.

Some photographs taken at MalaMala:

The first big mammals I saw were these magnificent white rhinos:

Not long afterwards, during and after a short rain-storm, we observed a pride of lion who had just taken down a warthog minutes earlier.

Two large male lions had recently invaded the territory; this one was spotted during a night drive:

There were leopards all over the place, and they were not shy…

My room at Rattray Camp:

The deck at MalaMala Main Camp

Suites and luxury suites at MalaMala Main Camp:

Continue to Part 2