Living It Up While On Safari In South Africa!

Occasionally, I will write about previous trips.  Here is an account of my October 2006 trip to Mala Mala Game Reserve in South Africa.

Lions at rest...

My three-day stay at Mala Mala Game Reserve was one of the most beautiful, moving experiences I have ever had.  I doubt if there is anything more magnificent than seeing animals in their own habitat.  While visiting a zoo can be fun and educational, seeing lions, elephants, leopards, etc. roaming free on the bushveld is something everyone should experience at least once in his or her lifetime.

We chose Mala Mala as it had the reputation as being the foremost game-viewing destination in the world.  It is the oldest and largest, private game reserve (33,000 acres) in S. Africa and it even has its own airstrip!  Mala Mala abuts Kruger National Park – the largest, park in S. Africa.  While there are many private reserves in S. Africa, Mala Mala guarantees that you will see the “Big Five” – the five most dangerous animals to hunt (lions, elephants, leopards, buffalo and rhinos) as well as other animals and birds, etc.

Nilo, Moses, Tim and Me

Our trip began with a one-hour flight from Johannesburg to Mala Mala.  After descending from our turboprop, everyone was greeted by his or her assigned ranger and assistant from the local Shangaan tribe.  Tim, our ranger and Moses, his assistant, drove us back to the lodge.  After checking us in, Tim showed us to the main lodge in which the restaurant, lounge and bar were located.  He then showed us to the pool and the gym and escorted us to our suite.  The “Main Camp” accommodates 36 guests in 18 units and it is situated on the west of the Sand River so that animals from Kruger have unimpeded access to the river.  Since the nearest town is many miles away, the staff live on the premises just outside the Main Camp.  The whole complex has an African motif and blends well with the environment.  Our suite was in a conical-shaped building with a domed, thatch roof.  Inside, we had all of the modern amenities you could desire.

Heard of Beasts

At 430pm, we had a quick coffee with Tim and then we dashed off for our first drive into the bushveld.  As we prepared to leave, we were told not to stand up or get out of the jeep during the drive as it could startle the animals.  During our four-hour drive, we saw the following:  very colorful, squawking birds; a black mambo snake; a female leopard resting by a muddy waterhole; herds of impala, kudu, steenbok and cape buffalo; and heard a hyena barking.  The highlight for me was seeing a pride of lionesses and their cubs drinking from a waterhole, a lone giraffe walking gracefully through the bush and watching a herd of elephants march peacefully under an full moon lit sky after having bathed in a water hole.  At 8pm, we returned to the lodge, showered and had a Gin & Tonic with Tim in the bar.  The furniture was upholstered in faux animal pelts and antique photos of animals lined the walls.  In addition, there were animal trophies hanging on the walls and a scoreboard showing what animals were spotted during the day.  After our drink, the three of us had dinner on the deck overlooking the river while listening to insects and birds sing in the night.

Lunch Time!

On day two, Tim woke us up at 5am (!) for our morning bush drive.   Once again we saw lions (albeit a different pride), a white rhino family of three grazing near the river, a male leopard resting near the river, a female warthog on her ankles using her snout to dig for grubs and more herds of impala, etc.  It’s amazing that the animals don’t dash off when a jeep approaches.  Tim told us that they are habituated to jeeps thus they pay us no attention.  At about 9am, we returned to the lodge to have an enormous breakfast.  At 1030am, my friend and I took a guided, power walk with two armed rangers in an area not frequented by wild beasts.  I then worked out in the small gym and took a dip in the inviting pool while kudu were grazing on the grass nearby.  At 130pm, we had lunch and took a nap.

At 430pm, Tim introduced us to four guests who would be joining us for the late afternoon bush drive.  During this drive, I had the ultimate African experience.  One of the highlights for me was seeing a female leopard eating her kill in a tree while a thunderstorm was approaching.  It started to rain heavily and when the female noticed a male leopard nearby, she jumped out of the tree.  Just as this was happening, the clouds parted briefly right as the sun was setting – spectacular!  It started raining again and we began to see lightning strikes in the distance and heard thunder.  I thought we would return to the lodge but Tim pushed on.  We were soaking wet and cold but none of us cared.  Thirty minutes later, we found a pride of lions, including two male lions waking up from an afternoon slumber.  The males were grooming each other and began to roll over on their backs.  The females greeted each other by rubbing their noses together.  While this was happening, the thunderstorm raged on.  We saw lightning strikes all around us which frightened most of us in the jeep.  The pride marched on roughly in single file – presumably to search for their evening’s meal.  We followed the lions for over an hour hoping to see a kill.  As the lions began to go off-road, so did we.  We drove over small trees and bushes and while doing so I was attacked by a thorny Acacia tree.  My left arm was full of thorns and thanks to Moses, they were quickly removed.  We went back to the hotel, had a drink in the bar and had dinner with Tim and the four guests that joined us in the 4×4 earlier on.  A most memorable evening!

Just as I was really getting into the safari, we had to leave the following morning.  In retrospect, I wish we could have stayed at least five days.

Check out my safari photo album on my photo gallery.


About Robert Kavalek

Robert Kavalek is a travel consultant who shares his love for traveling the world on theTRAVELER ( While his specialties are Paris, Mexico and "digital overload escapes", he can advise clients on any type of vacation. In addition, he writes about travel destinations and travel tips on his blog and Facebook page. Robert has visited 31 countries and territories and hopes to check out at least one new country every year. He currently lives in Washington, DC.
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