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Mala Mala Minute by Minute--Trip Report

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It’s not really minute-by-minute but I did keep track of our sightings in 5-minute increments and eventually I get to that after some ramblings and musings.

Mala Mala has a reputation for legendary game viewing, so I thought I’d quantify my experience over 4 days to offer something more specific than just superlatives and names of animals that make up the Big 5.

Mala Mala Main camp: June 23-26, 4 nights

Photo link:
http://www.kodakgallery.com/I.jsp?c=k8fpf01.ax5s3u2d&x=0&y=xaqwzq

1- 61 On safari
62-67- Mala Mala facilities, not the best light or angles
68-72 Rhino and Lion Park, outside Johannesburg

Ranger: Bruce. If you go you must get Bruce! Bruce is the Best. I am sure his skills are representative of every Mala Mala ranger and any one of them would provide an equally great outing. But after 4 days with him, I am partial.

Tracker: John. He is the senior tracker and wowed us continually. I want John scanning the horizon from the high seat in my vehicle. The John & Bruce combo is unbeatable.

Room: 11. This room probably does not have the most open views of the area surrounding the lodge. I did not request any particular room and spent very little time inside looking out. The room itself was lovely and there are some photos at the end of the album. I did appreciate that there was no single supplement.

TA: Eyes on Africa

Some comments I’ve heard, read or picked up from who knows where (maybe a few from Fodors), and what I discovered for myself after a first visit to Mala Mala:

1. “The Sabi Sands is not the real, wild Africa”—if it’s wild enough for the wild dogs to den, it is wild enough for me. As the plane circled above the airstrip I was pleased to see no buildings, no golden arches, etc.

2. “Sabi Sands/Kruger is Africa-lite”—a phrase coined by a Fodorite no longer in good standing. I did see more smart, khaki and olive safari ensembles at Mala Mala than anywhere I’ve ever been. I’m talking 10-member families in crisp, coordinated safari uniforms. I agree that has a “lite,” even comical element to it. But I observed those fashions at lunch and not on parade in the bush frightening the wildlife, so it had no impact my game viewing enjoyment, and who knows what these finely attired families thought about my safari duds.

There was a phone in the room and that’s how we received our wakeup call from our ranger. And there was a fridge.

Mala Mala was the first Africa accommodation that I ever had the ability to heat (or AC), but it’s also the furthest south and coldest spot I’ve stayed. Lite, dark, heavy, whatever you want to call it, my days at Mala Mala (and Phinda) provided me my required “Africa fix” and then some.

3. “It’s all so managed.”—The lodging, food, vehicles, customer service are very well managed at Mala Mala and offer a highly effective model for any operation. In the concession, it’s like being on safari anywhere that allows only 3 vehicles per sighting and requires rangers to take turns. The wild dog den was further managed in that only one vehicle was allowed for about 20 minutes. To me that’s wise management of the resources.

Of course, I realize the whole Kruger-Sabi Sands area is managed by professionals. There is the controversy over elephant culling, there are controlled burns, sometimes wild dogs or other species are relocated. But unlike some places that are considered more wild and remote, there is no artificial water source at Mala Mala to attract animals.

4. “The rangers are always talking on their radio and racing around from sight to sight.”—The talking was almost inaudible and incoming messages were delivered through earphones. There was frequent communication in Zulu between ranger and tracker. Tracker John usually initiated the exchange with a whistle. It was always exciting to hear that whistle because we knew John had a surprise for us. If you request racing around, you’ll probably get it. Those in my vehicle requested staying put on many occasions and that’s what we got.

5. “Tarred roads”—Maybe I got that from pictures of Kruger. No tar to be found. There was one bridge.

6. “Along the boundaries you may encounter vehicles from neighboring concessions peering into Mala Mala’s property to get a glimpse of good sightings.”—Never saw a vehicle from anywhere else. Mala Mala has traversing rights into Kirkman’s and we saw their vehicles when we went down there. But it was still 3 vehicles max to a sighting.

7. “If you are at Main Camp, it’s pretty much like a hotel and you lose the bush atmosphere of animals in and around camp.”—I saw no animals roaming between the rondavels, but we saw herds of buffalo and elephant at the water in front of the lodge as we had lunch and tea. Plus we had some Fish Eagle action. At the entrance gate I watched vervets, bushbuck, and nyala. I heard lions roaring a few times at night from within the solid walls of my room.

8. “Tired rooms.”—I do not subscribe to Architectural Digest, so my observations may lack integrity. I couldn’t tell that the room contained tired décor, but at the end of the day it always contained one tired (and happy) occupant. My room was great and very comfortable with a patio. I have pictures of it at the end of the photo album. It had the standard his and hers bathrooms. I limited myself to the one that I labeled as “hers.” So maybe all the tiredness was contained in the “his” bathroom. I actually thought about that while I was there and just kept the door of the “his” bathroom shut so if that’s where the tiredness was hiding, it would remain put and not escape.

10. “There’s too much emphasis on the Big 5.” The emphasis came from the visitors. I heard far more Big 5 talk and comments like “we just need to see the lions and we’ll have the Big 5 today” from guests than the ranger. I experienced our ranger, Bruce, trying to get us quality sightings and not counting to 5 every outing. But this topic was more prevalent at Mala Mala than other places I’ve been.

11. “The Sabi Sands’ has animals, but the terrain/environment is nothing like (fill in the blank.)”—It is not vast endless savanna with humungous herds like the Serengeti or the Maasai Mara. But there are open areas in the north of Mala Mala where cheetah can be found. It is not the brilliant blue and green vistas of the Okavango Delta, but the area near the river offers a more lush habitat. It also does not have the expansive salt pans of the Kalahari, the jungles of Uganda and Rwanda, or a giant waterfall like Zambia or Zimbabwe. No collapsed volcanic craters like Ngorongoro and not a towering sand dune to be found. No penguins either—they live near Cape Town. Mala Mala is located in an area of primarily scrubby bushveld that alternates thicket with open areas. It is appealing to many animal species and that makes it appealing to me.

12. “After Mala Mala, nowhere else can compare.”—I now understand why NapaMatt, Kaye, GrannyJoan, Tom-Cary999, and others enjoy lengthy and repeated stays at Mala Mala. I can see making a repeat visit or two myself. But, I have not cancelled my plans for a walking safari in Zambia in July of 2008. And if I want vast endless savanna with humungous herds, the brilliant blues and greens of the Okavango, salt pans, jungles, waterfalls, craters, sand dunes, or penguins I need to expand my visit beyond Mala Mala.

The couple I shared a vehicle with stated their desire to return to Africa, perhaps with other family members. The wife emphasized that on the next trip, she wanted to see other places and not return to the same ones. I understood her desire for variety but I felt compelled to caution her against transferring Mala Mala expectations to other locations because it would likely be a recipe for disappointment.

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    GREAT pictures Lynn! The wild dog puppies are so cute, hope they don't grow too much in the next two months. Loved the leopard carrying his meal into the tree and...all were excellent! Can't wait now!
    Thanks for dispelling some of the myths of MM. looking forward to my stay there even more now.

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    Puppies! Dogs! ((&)) leopards, cheetahs and lions((@)) Oh my. this is not what I expected to hear - you're one amazing and charmed woman.

    Thanks for a great report, dispelling the myths and those amazing photos - looks like you upgraded your equipment - who knew.

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    Beautiful shots-love all those pups! That is one disinterested looking lioness too. Mala Mala looks very comfortable and the game viewing looks spectacular-glad you dispelled all the "myths."

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    Great photos Lynn, all. Dog pups are special. Photos of MM room are nice to see also. I know Bruce is the best ranger - and so is Grant, John and . . .
    Most interesting way to report on MM, excellent, you discuss directly what we hear over and over here about MM and Sabi Sands.
    I think you agree that the rangers use of radio is very appreciated. And the tracker sitting high in the back works quite well. No need to stick the tracker out on the front fender in the way of viewing. (Unless you are trying to maximize vehicle seating capacity).

    Looking forward to your report on Phinda.

    regards - tom
    ps - tom, who will be at MM September 14-19.

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    Really great photos, Lynn! I love all the wild dog pup photos. They are so cute! And the leopard w/ the kill!

    It looks (and sounds) like you had a wonderful time and wonderful sightings at MM. But boy, do those rooms look tired! NOT!

    Looking forward to the rest of your report...


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    I've been looking forward to your report and am not disappointed. I love your way of addressing MM questions in your account. Very interesting and useful to future visitors.

    Your photos are terrific. Especially love the leopard, wild dog pups, and the entwined elephant trunks. You had great photographic opportunities in just four days.

    Was that about the right amount of time for you, or would you stay longer? (I realize the answer would depend on the rest of the itinerary, but in general.)

    Thank you.

    CW

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    Hi Lynn (hope that is correct)

    This could have been written by me, except I would not go to the trouble because generally I find a lot of the negatives come from people who have not been to MM or have had a couple of days somewhere in the Sabi Sands, so for me, not worth the effort to change their minds.

    I agree with their land management, controlled burns are very necessary for both land and especially the animals. One only has to see the devasting effects on animals from a natural fire to understand why the burning material, as much as possible, needs to be kept to a manageable amount. Also, so true about the dams - most other properties in the Sabi Sands, in fact I can't think of any that do not have pumped water. This has brought about numbers of herbivores, zebra for example, that are in numbers now, and changed what was and should be there, to moving out of the sable. It also allows the land no rest from the herbivores.

    I have seen vehicles from other properties from time to time on the boundaries, and that is a good thing, because info is always exchanged as to what the movement of cats has been, so always worth doing, and contrary to what has been said, I have never, never seen negatives things said between rangers when I have been on a MM vehicle.

    Again correct about the Big 5 pressure from guests, god knows how many times, I have had to race around looking for usually, buffalo or rhino, so the guests can say they have seen everything! Drives me nuts!

    If I want huge open spaces, I do not need to go to Africa, just need to go out west! The same with super luxurious rooms and food, plenty here in Australia. I need to be seeing something, animals reptiles or birds, in the bush, big wide open spaces is something I do not need to travel 1000's of kilometres for or pay 1000's and 1000's of dollars for!

    Having visited quite a few places and different countries, I now know what and how I spend my time and money and without a doubt I am happiest at MM and if I am going all that way it needs to be worth my while, so therefore the long stays.

    Bruce and John are a great team, but as you say, they really all are, and I have never been let down by a MM ranger. If only I could get them to leave earlier, but unfortunately that is often tricky with other people in the vehicle.

    I am almost sad to look at your photos because I so wish I had seen those beautiful babies, but then I guess I just need to be going back until I do! Now I am also wishing to see those gorgeous baby lion cubs of the Eyrefield Pride. The lion cubs have had a shocking time in the last few years.

    Kind regards

    Kaye

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    Wonderful photos, Lynn! You sure were lucky with the leopard and wild dogs/pups. The leopard with the kill is great. Was that a baby kudu?

    I enjoyed your opinions of all the previous somewhat negative comments about MM. When I was planning my trip to MM in Jun06, Rocco told me I was a member of the MalaMala cult. I have to agree with him. I've been there twice, 6 nights and 5 nights and would love to go again.

    I'm happy to hear you saved everyone from the "tiredness" by locking it in the bathroom. What a great idea!

    Look forward to hearing more about your trip.

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    Hi Lynn

    The photos of those baby wild pups are fantastic, that poor mum feedings all of those mouths with teeth!

    The Split Rock Male leopard is not right as The Split Rock Male is a lion, so which male is it?

    Kind regards

    Kaye

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    Lynn, I was hoping this was your report when I saw the title...yippie :D!

    Awesome photos, all were great. You should add them to the MM cyberdiary (especially the pups). Is a litter of 14 normal? The leopard close ups are gorgeous, love the eyes.
    And hearing lions roar from inside your solid walled room, wow!

    If we can zoom in on the bar photo, Dennis can see the prices of the drinks :S-

    I am curious as to how many were in your Jeep on the drives. Being solo were you with other solo's or grouped with families? What was it like during dinner time? What happens (for example) if you encounter the lion cubs(I for one could sit and watch them all day)and no other vehicles are around. Can you stay as long as the group wants? Even if you had a private vehicle and others were waiting you would only have a 20 min limit, so no advantage having paid the extra $$$ in that case, right?

    I had never heard the term Big 5 until I started telling people I was going to Africa and they would say "oh, are you going to see the Big 5"? Not a big deal to me. I am happy seeing just about anything but do have my favorites
    like most people.

    I am also interested in the logistics of your trip. The route you flew, overnights in JNB, etc.

    You look really happy in your photos (good shot of the bino harness too!)

    More, more, more please!





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    Lynn

    BRAVO loved your report & photos

    At first i thought "how tame can MM leopards be?", then, seeing the (not easily approached) Ox-peckers (lovely) photo, i realized we are talking of a ~400mm lens + 1.5X digital on-screen magnification ???

    aby

    PS thanx - just learned a new word for me: humungou (or humungo as sometimes spelled)

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    So many times I have given out strategies for the best way to attempt to find wild dogs. I finally have a way to take all the chance out of it -- just go wherever Lynn is going at the exact same time and bingo, Dog pups! Looks like July '08 will be the season where Zambia's dogs decide to den in an accessible location instead of well hidden like they usually are.

    Tremendous puppy pictures, possibly the best I recall seeing. Thanks for the great start to the report, looking very forward to the rest.

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    Lynn the pictures are great and I am impressed you have gotten them posted so quickly.We have been back for about a month and work keeps getting in my way. Such a problem.

    We also had Bruce and John and they were amazing. They have such harmoney together that you hardly even know they are communicating.

    Regarding being on the radio I found that at MM it was less intrusive than at the other camps in Botswana because they wear a headset and thus you cannot hear the chatter from the other vehicles. We loved MM and appreciated the effecienty that was presented.

    We also had a chance to spend some quality time with the owners the Rattray's, and they are delightful people. They are very present, and invloved with the daily operation and it shows.

    When we were there the wild dogs were dening but after three tries to see them, and Bruce and John's disappointment we had to wait until Duma Tau, where we saw the Alpha female and pack and she had not given birth yet but was very pregnent.

    This is why it is tthe wilderness and not a zoo.

    I got some of the recipes of the food we really liked and am going to make some of them for my "Africa Film Party" as soon as the pictures are edited.

    Speaking of editing, have these been edited at all as far as color etc?

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    I'm also interested in the answer to CarlaM's questions. I'm planning a visit next year and love to just sit and watch animals rather than charge around looking for the next one. Are there limits as to how long you can hang around and watch something interesting? Your photos are amazing and I've just sent the link to a friend who will be coming with me on a first time visit to Africa!

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    Count me among those who enjoyed your comparison of myth and (at least your) reality at Mala Mala.

    I think Predator B has a point: Do you always see the dogs on your Africa trips? If so, I may be walking with you next July! :-)

    Very nice photos - The dogs (and all those pups!) and the leopard shots I think are my favorites but I'll need to look again more slowly. It looks like the leopard has taken a bush buck, rather than a young kudu - is that right?

    Thanks and looking forward to more!

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    Lynn, those pictures (especially the wild dog pups) are incredible. While I have an idea when I'm returning to Africa, I don't know when I'll next be in South Africa, but from everything I've read (and seen), I expect to include Mala Mala in that itinerary.

    Michael

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    Lynn,
    So glad to get the first of we hope many installments of your trip report that we have been anxiously awaiting. I love the pix, the info, your writing style, and your attitude. Keep all of them coming.

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    Excellent photos and trip report, Lynn. I've enjoyed my stays there (Harry's and Kirkman's) and wouldn't hesitate to return or recommend Mala Mala to anyone. It's one of only two places I've ever seen wild dogs.

    Carla, the listings in the bar don't have drink prices on them for Dennis(unfortunately!). They are "tote" boards for marking the animals seen and the "points" you get according to how rare the sighting is.

    Lynn, do you know if John's son is a ranger at Kirkman's? It seems like the father of our ranger there was the head tracker at MM.

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    Lynn--
    I've been looking forward to this posting. Thank you! I'm mainly a lurker on this site and don't often post because I don't have that much to offer (my first "real" trip to Africa is coming up very soon), but I always enjoy reading your posts because you are always so positive and bring a great perspective to this forum.

    The photos are great. I'm thinking of printing these and other wildlife photos, taking them with me on my flight, and pulling them out any time I get antsy and irritated on my 30-hour flight on Friday. It's going to be a difficult and long stretch for me, but I think I've found a way to make it manageable ;)

    Thanks!

    Africa Fodorites, I'm about to join your ranks!

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    Wow Lynn, I have to agree with the other posters, you really have a knack for being in the right place at the right time for Wild Dogs! Your photos are wonderful and it must have been amazing to see the pups all playing together and milling around their mother. The leopard shots are really beautiful also and would make anyone want to visit Mala Mala.

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    Dennis,
    Those 2 months will mean the pups are older and can spend more time out of the den so you’ll probably see more of them.

    Cybor,
    I actually struck out on the cheetahs at MM. But Phinda came to the rescue. That’s why I think those two are such a nice combo.

    Moremiles,
    That is just what I thought about the lioness. I deleted another dozen shots of “the act” and she is no more enthusiastic in any of them. I suppose if it has been going on continually for 3 days and you haven’t had a bite to eat, it would be hard to muster enthusiasm.

    Tom,
    I also enjoyed the tracker in the back because I was always in the middle seat. (My vehicle mates had trouble climbing in, so I took that one.) Tracker John would nudge me from his back seat and point out animals that might not merit a big announcement, but he knew I got a kick out of his spotting skills. Sometimes I’d do the same to him, though he probably had already seen most of the animals I proudly pointed out to him. I used a Sony DSC H9 for most and a DSC H2 for the rest. No DSLR.

    Divewop,
    I’m getting tired just thinking about those rooms. Ha Ha

    Momliz,
    Maybe MM for next time. You wouldn’t be the first to plan trip #2 before going on #1.

    Cw,
    I think 3 days should be the minimum. I was very happy with 4, but did not feel restless and eager to leave after 4. Another time, I’d go 4 or more if that were possible. And we know many who stay much longer than that. Interestingly the couple I shared the vehicle with and I discussed that if you just wanted a good safari experience, perhaps seeing the Big 5, and you did not have a lot of time or did not want to spend a sizeable sum, that 2 days at MM would give you a great experience. After 2 days we remarked that we had seen so much it could be considered a successful trip.

    Rickmck,
    You’ll probably come back with even more variety of photos. I’ve had the good fortune of visiting Africa quite a few times before so unless I can get a new angle on a giraffe, buffalo, vervet, zebra, etc. I don’t take a photo. The viewing was much more varied than my photos indicate.

    CiaoLeone,
    I’ll call your Mark and Elvis and raise you a John and Bruce. If they are all the best, as Tom and KayeN claim, good for us. We can’t go wrong then. If you found the 12 myths to be too detailed, wait until I post my 16 observations in a few moments.

    KayeN,
    Thanks for your insights. The lion situation is indeed shocking. You are right about my mislabeled leopard. I knew if I had made any errors that you would catch them. I have corrected the photo album after checking the MM leopard website to get my names straight. He is the Newington male.

    Sundowner,
    So you are part of the MM cult too? The leopard’s prey was a baby nyala. You gave me an idea. I’ll just lock all my future problems in the bathroom and forget about them.

    CarlaM,
    A litter of 14 pups is not that unusual. I think I heard up to 16 or 18. The sad part is that it's only about the 4-5 week point for the pups. They will not likely remain a litter of that size. They were down to 13 when I was there.

    The bar shot does not show drink prices. It has various animals and how many points they are worth. At the end of each day, all rangers report their sightings and the day is given a point total. The all time high was achieved just a week before I arrived.

    How many were in your Jeep on the drives—At MM I was lucky to have one other couple and me for the entire time. At Phinda I was also lucky with 8 of 14 activities solo. I did one drive with another couple, one rhino trek with a mother & son, and 4 drives with a family who had just finished a hunting safari. There will be more about the hunters in the Phinda report.

    Dinner—MM the ranger ate with his clients, so 4 of us dined together for each meal. At Phinda, I ate with my vehicle-mates both with and without the ranger, I ate alone, I ate with other people I met, I ate with just the ranger and tracker. It was a combo.

    How long can you stay? At MM and Phinda if there is no one else who wants to see that sighting, you (meaning the consensus in the vehicle) can stay as long as you want. But there may be others in the queue so that one vehicle cannot hog a sighting all day. At the dogs, about 20 minutes was the max. One morning we stayed about 30 because no one else was there or had been there. At the leopards we stayed about an hour each time and watched other vehicles come and go. Apparently, we were not taking anyone’s spot. At MM I never recall having to leave before I was ready to allow others to view, though we did see other vehicles come and go from sightings that we sat at. At Phinda, we never pulled out of a sighting due to jockeying in the queue.

    Even in a private vehicle, you might be limited to 20 minutes. There could even be a disadvantage to the private vehicle. I ran into that last year at Vumbura. I happened to be alone in a vehicle by chance, but it was not private. Four vehicles came upon stalking lions. Only three could follow the lions. If I had insisted on remaining alone, I would have not been allowed to go with the lions, since we were 4th on the scene. I opted to join one of the other 3 vehicles and head out with the lions. You are right that there is no advantage in the 20 minute rule if you are private.

    Those that have made MM their second home probably have more insight and strategies for hanging around a sighting.

    Logistics—you could improve what I did. I got the no-single-supplement Mala Mala dates first, then added Phinda. Phinda could not go before MM, due to my schedule. I think you can fly Phinda to Sabi Sands on a scheduled flight or charter. No need to overnight Joburg. I did Phinda second and had to overnight after MM.

    I went O’Hare-Heathrow-Joburg with morning arrival and a day room at Southern Sun. PM trip to Rhino & Lion Park (You could go straight to MM on the noon flight. If I were staying more than 4 days, I’d do that. With only 4 days, I didn’t want a flight delay to nix my first night in MM and reduce my trip 25%.)
    MM 4 nights and back to Joburg for 1 overnight at Southern Sun
    Fly Federal Air, which leaves by van from Joburg airport to another little airport to Phinda
    After 7 nights Phinda, fly Fed Air by to Joburg and get an eve flight back to Heathrow-O’Hare

    LynneB asks some similar questions, below.

    Aby,
    You may be talking 1.5 digital on screen magnification, 400mm. I talk point and shoot with built-in image stabilization, 12-15 x optical zoom, trying to hold the camera without much jiggle, get the sun in the right place, focus and click in Automatic mode, sometimes with continuous shoot so I get more pictures to choose from. The leopards are close, though. It’s hard to judge when they are up in a tree. When we sat next to one resting on the ground we were about 5 meters from it.
    (And Mala Mala has AC!)

    Predator,
    Thanks I have been very lucky with wild dogs. If you predict properly, maybe there will be wild dogs in North Luangwa, where I plan to spend 5 nights in 2008.

    Spiegelcjs,
    You are right about Bruce and John’s harmony. Glad you got to see wild dogs in Duma Tau. The family film party with MM recipes should be a hit. I cropped some of the photos but did not change any colors. Yes, I have my pictures posted, but have you seen my mess of a house and pile of unopened mail?

    GrannyJoan,
    I am pleased that I finally made it to Mala Mala so I can consider it “our” Africa.

    Queenof DaNile,
    I like that BOW wow.

    LynneB,
    I’m the one with no e. You can also see the answers to Carla’s questions above. The best bet for sitting and watching is to have a majority in the vehicle. So get likeminded friends to go. Of course, I never am able to accomplish that. Another strategy is to let your travel agent know that you like to sit and watch and ask that the info be passed on. I asked that the 2 lodges be told that I had been to Africa numerous times. I think that helped get me into a vehicle with the couple where the man was really into photography. That meant we sat, waited, and watched more than average.

    NapaMatt,
    Great leopard knowledge on your part. Newington it is! I had to go back and check my scribblings and the MM leopard website. John seems to have lots of nicknames, including Gahmma (sp?) which means Martial Eagle.

    Cooncat,
    I can’t guarantee dogs on foot, but I’d love to have you join me at Kutandala in July 2008. The leopard prey pictured is a baby nyala.

    Thit Cho,
    You can hit South Africa as you venture between Ushuaia and Sulawesi. No, wait, you’ve probably already been there.

    Hguy47,
    Thanks, I am about to paste in the next installment.

    ShayTay,
    I don’t know about John’s son. But if he is a ranger, he’d have a good mentor.

    Heather,
    And once you join us there is no turning back. The airlines might be providing another way to improve the long flight. If this has been going on for ages, I apologize for my ignorance, but on my last flight (Joburg-Heathrow-O’Hare) there were hundreds of movies to choose from in World Traveler (BA’s coach seats) and you had complete control of them. It was great.

    Brandywine,
    I have been at the right place at the right time for wild dogs. That extraordinary luck does not extend to other species, though. Nor to the stock market.

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    From myths to observations, all from a first time Mala Mala visitor.

    1. It is very easy to be vegetarian at Mala Mala because there is a veggie entrée at every meal and there are loads of veggie side dishes. You don’t have to make any special requests because veggie options are there anyway. Everything I ate was delicious. The cheese board alone is worth the trip. Come for the brie, stay for the leopards.

    2. For anyone who does not like small planes, the daily Johannesburg to Mala Mala departure is on an approximately 30-seat plane with two pilots. (not small by Africa charter standards) Even if there are far fewer passengers--and that was the case both ways--that’s the plane that flies. The rangers told me even if only one or two people are going, that’s still the plane that is scheduled and used.

    3. Drinking plain tap water instead of buying a beverage at meals, sundowners, or at the bar was no big deal. (It’s also my MO at home.) The tap water is safe to drink, unlike most places in Africa. There was also bottled water in the room. Speaking of beverages, I must mention the delightful (and complimentary) lemonade that accompanied each lunch.

    4. The trackers who sat at the back of the vehicle all carried a long wooden stick, which they would use to move aside low hanging branches or thorny brush as we drove. But at sightings they would also swish the stick in the grass to make noise and perhaps gain an animal’s attention. I saw many of the trackers do that. I must admit I was feeling uncomfortable about it. Then I made an observation and did a bit of analyzing.

    I observed the animals paying little or no attention to the stick moving in the grass, just as they paid no attention to our voices and the vehicle in general. In fact at one sighting of a leopard in the grass, the stick was going swish, swish swish, and the leopard was just lying there, ignoring us, with that typical look of disgust and disdain that all felines seem to have perfected. Suddenly, he became highly alert and sat up. The leopard had heard a sound that registered as meaningful—-the approach of a hyena. So the leopard was easily able to distinguish between background noise and important sounds.

    I analyzed my unease with the stick and compared it to my complete acceptance of pulling up next to an animal in a loud, emission spewing, several-ton vehicle, sometimes mowing down vegetation in the process. I recognized my faulty logic as: stick, bad; Land Cruiser, fine. After all I have to get a picture. That’s why I just accepted the stick routine, but I have not encountered its use elsewhere.

    But a stick on the ground is far different from snapping fingers in the air. When a member of our vehicle used this method to gain an animal’s attention, the ranger quickly put the kabosh on that in a stern manner, and rightfully so.

    5. The lodge where you can relax and warm yourself by the fireplace has many trophy animal heads and skins on the wall. I asked about them and was told they all came from the area, which used to be used for hunting. I also was told that not all of the animals were killed, some just died. Just thought I’d mention this fact and I have a lodge picture at the end of the photo album.

    6. The rangers really do all get up when you enter the room. I experienced the full effect of this often as I usually would be one of the first to lunch or to tea and I’d find them all sitting in a group.

    As someone who is not bold enough to ever try to start “The Wave” at a sports stadium, I felt quite empowered being able to get my own mini version of it going on a daily basis with the Mala Mala rangers. I even considered pulling some mischief by entering the room and going, “Oh, I forgot my camera,” then I could leave and re-enter the room a few seconds later claiming, “That’s ok, I don’t think I’ll need my camera.” Next, I’d state, “But I did forget my malaria pill,” and head out again only to return a moment later, “No, here’s my malaria pill in my pocket.”

    Of course, I didn’t resort to such juvenile behavior. In fact, quite the opposite. At lunch or tea when I’d see the rangers in a group on the veranda, I’d quietly creep past them on the path below the veranda that leads past the library. I’d emerge onto the veranda from the steps on far side in an unobtrusive manner. I told myself I was practicing the stealth that would be necessary for my upcoming rhino tracking at Phinda. One time my ranger, Bruce, asked me what I was doing as I slipped (apparently not unobtrusively) onto the veranda. I explained my humanitarian mission of keeping the rangers seated.

    7. Mala Mala is wheel chair accessible. My neighbor used one.

    8. Rangers eat every meal with the occupants of their vehicle. I liked spending every meal with the ranger, even though I realize it puts more of a time burden on him. Especially if you are traveling alone, it means you always have pleasant and good-natured mealtime company. I am assuming being pleasant and good-natured is something MM looks for in every ranger they hire and Bruce certainly met those qualifications. While my vehicle/meal companions during this stay were also pleasant and good-natured, that’s not a given. So at least the ranger is a winner at mealtime. I could understand how a family or a couple—especially a honeymoon couple—would like some meals alone. The information packet in the room offered other dining arrangements upon request.

    To me, more time with the ranger added another dimension to the safari experience and offered more of a bonding opportunity along with more reason to fight back tears upon departure.

    At one point I likened our ranger, Bruce, to the wild dog pups (and not because of his youth relative to his clients.) We had observed the members of the wild dog pack being so eager to meet their younger pack-mates. They’d wait at the den opening and beg for the babies to emerge so they could pounce on them, lick them, and play with them. (That would go on until the mother would charge in and scatter the dogs and give the pups a break.) I felt we guests were treating the ranger in a similar manner because whenever we’d see Bruce at lunch, tea, or for drinks at the bar, we’d surround him and pose all sorts of questions. Granted, we did not pounce or lick. Sometimes I’d notice the poor guy would be trying to down bites of his lunch between our battery of inquiries. Anyway, I appreciated his availability.

    9. Nice dinner attire is no more necessary, at least not at Mala Mala Main Camp (or Phinda) in the winter months, than anywhere else on safari. Somehow I thought in the Sabi Sands that eveningwear needed to be stepped up a notch. Maybe at the higher end properties or in warmer weather this is true. But the lovely lavender top and shoes I packed special for meals were a waste of my precious luggage space. No one knew I was wearing my lovely lavender top under the several layers of jackets and fleece vests and I doubt the bonfire in the dark boma illuminated my face enough for anyone to appreciate I had put on mascara.

    10. The record setting cold spells I had read about prompted me to bring my battery operated toe warming socks. There really is such a thing and they take one D-Battery per sock. I got them at Gander Mountain, a camping and hunting store. I used them twice and am not too embarrassed to admit it. Of course I did not wear them on the plane with the wires and everything. Many days I wore a wool hat and neck warmer along with mittens for most of the morning.

    11. The cold prompted warnings from the ranger to wear a “beanie.” I know this means a wool hat, just like bonnet means hood, kit means gear, and puncture means flat tire. But from my US viewpoint I had a hard time not laughing out loud whenever I heard the term beanie because I envisioned sitting in the vehicle wearing a little cap with a little propeller on top. If I got that propeller spinning, I bet it would get the leopard’s attention.

    12. The Zulu greeting in the singular form is uncannily similar to Sony Bono. It is Sah-knee Bon-ah.

    13. Gifts for the guide/ranger have been discussed on Fodors in the past. I gave three different gifts that I thought I’d share for future reference.

    Here’s the background on the first gift. A few years ago I was on a domestic Africa flight and someone behind me was coughing up a storm. A few days later I was sick with a cough, fever, sore throat, etc. So I vowed to always bring a few over-the-counter facemasks and if I felt the need, I’d just put one on. I know they are not 100% effective, but better than nothing. That explains why I had facemasks in my possession.

    I noticed John, the Mala Mala tracker, did a lot of coughing, sneezing, and hacking. I asked Ranger Bruce about it and he explained that after almost 40 years of breathing in dust, it had taken its toll on John. Plus he had a cold. I asked Bruce about giving a mask to John and he thought it would be a good idea so I did, along with some cough drops. John immediately put the mask on and wore it all the time, removing it only to communicate. I found a second mask in my luggage and gave him that one too. John said that he thought the mask helped.

    The second gift was given to Thulani, a ranger at Phinda. We were joking that it is the ranger who drives and intently spots game all day that needs a massage more than the passengers. Thulani mentioned that sometimes his neck and shoulders would be very tight by the end of the day. So I took the joke seriously and added a neck-back-shoulder massage coupon (pre-approved and printed up by the management) to his tip envelope. The massage was in addition to my normal tip. I spent a week with Thulani so a gift of this amount ($40) seemed reasonable. I realize that for a 2 or 3 night stay, that size of gift might be out of proportion.

    The last gift was a wool balaclava and socks given to SK, the Phinda ranger. One night it was especially cold and a little drizzly as we boarded the vehicle after sundowners and I noticed SK had no hat or gloves. His tracker seat was suspended in front of the vehicle so he also had no protection from the elements. I thought he had just forgotten his warm garments and I offered him a spare balaclava for his face and a pair of clean socks for his hands. I had extra socks in my pack from the morning rhino tracking in case the pair I wore got wet. I did not have any extra gloves/mittens to lend. Plus I figured it was just for that evening because he’d remember his own in the future. When SK returned the items to me I asked if he had his own and he did not so I gave them to him.

    14. There is indeed a very well equipped exercise room with several machines at Mala Mala. It is discretely tucked out of the way and it provides the same great view as you get from the veranda. I did not personally take advantage of this amenity.

    15. The winter hours of a 7:00 am breakfast give a late start for photographers looking for the best light. Fortunately the husband of the couple I was with was very interested in photography so they did not linger at breakfast and we could depart promptly. This is a later start than I have experienced elsewhere in the winter.

    16. Where do all the guests at lunch and at the evening meal in the boma go during the day? We rarely encountered other vehicles in the bush. Sometimes we’d share a sighting, but then they’d disappear again. It never felt crowded.

    Enough enumerated comments. It’s time to board the plane and start the trip.

    My only hiccup of the trip began at the O’Hare British Air ticket counter. Along with my e-ticket and passport, the agent requested the credit card I had used to book the flight. I had used FF miles and had paid the taxes with a credit that I had since cancelled. I offered 3 other credit cards, but those would not do. I was informed that the lack of my original credit card was a problem and I was removed from line and escorted to another counter.

    The next agent asked when I had booked the flight and I responded about 330 days earlier. She looked it up in my record and informed me that since the taxes had been paid so long ago there was no problem with credit card fraud and I was cleared. Whew! From now on I’ll bring the credit card I used to book the flight or the statement if I’ve cancelled the card. This lesson was reinforced a few days later, with much graver consequences.

    On my arrival day in Johannesburg, I spent the afternoon at Rhino and Lion Park through Wilro Tours with Len as my driver/guide. This was arranged at my request through my TA before leaving home. It is about 45 minutes from the airport. The last 5 photos in the album are from here, labeled Rhino and Lion Park. The predators all have their own enclosures of several acres. We were successful in finding numerous lions, one cheetah at a distance, but no wild dogs. The hooved species roam an even greater area. We saw ostrick, white rhino, sable, black wildebeest with lovely white tails, and oryx. There were frequent sightings of black backed jackals running about. Len was delightful and very knowledgeable. It’s a nice half-day excursion that I am glad I did, enjoyed thoroughly, and would recommend. Though my first choice was DeWildt, it was not open on my arrival day.

    The need for airline ticket proof of purchase surfaced again. A family of 8 and I were ready to board the noon-ish scheduled daily flight to Mala Mala from Johannesburg. We were delayed and managed overhear the reason for our delay. A local man bringing his family was asked to produce proof of purchase for the flight. He had only the tickets and no further proof. After half an hour of explanation and polite pleading on his part, our flight left without him and his family. Neither the family of 8 nor I was asked for proof of purchase, but I had booked through a TA and I think they did too from their comments.

    At the Mala Mala airstrip the family and I loaded up into a transport vehicle and made the short journey to the lodge. En route we saw a female kudu and some of the family members eagerly shouted, “What’s that?” I responded, “A female kudu,” and was about to mention the significance of the first sighting when they remarked, “Kudu, that was what was on the menu last night!” Perhaps I should have revised that to the significance of the first bite.

    They were a good-natured group and were apologizing in advance for me getting “stuck” with their family. They started explaining who in the group was known for being loud so that I’d be prepared. I assured them that their group would likely not be “stuck” with me as an add-on and I hoped Mala Mala would agree with my logic.

    It did and I ended up spending all four days with a lovely couple from Florida who had always wanted to go to Africa but could not manage the amount of time necessary during the husband’s working years. They were newly retired, on their first safari (MM was their 3rd destination) and they were having a ball. The husband was into photography and the wife had binocs at the ready to take it all in. Their cheerful attitudes were especially impressive given that they were chilled much of the time. Their travel agent, who was from Zimbabwe so should know Southern Africa’s weather, told them to bring only a safari hat and no gloves, wool hat, etc. I felt bad all bundled up in my winter gear when they had none. I even offered them some, but they declined.

    Anyway, our interests were entirely compatible in the bush and they were nice company at meals. Adding Bruce as the ranger and John as the tracker, it was a superb combination.

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    WOW! Lynn. Great report. Rich with detail. And trust you to come up with a new and engaging presentation format too. Good work :)
    You were so lucky with wild dogs and puppies. It must have been Lynn Africa Magic
    like Pred said. ;)
    All the photos just make me want to be there NOW but I 'specially liked the zebra with foal, the ele family and, of course, I can only dream about leopard snaps like yours. Zambia is on the 2008 itinerary just for the chance of leopard. ( I think you might be there just before I am so I guess I probably won't be able to see leopard for wild dog;) )
    more! More! More!

    Kaye

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    Such an interesting and compelling report -- thanks, Lynn!! I enjoyed every word, and your phrase "more reason to fight back tears upon departure" absolutely struck home.

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    Lynn,

    The analogy of the rangers standing was so cute. I will not be able to keep a straight face the next visit to MM without laughing when I think of "the wave" when the rangers stand up. Very entertaining and right on. I often felt like I might return to the states speaking with a heavy English accent after 12 days at MM.

    -Granny Joan

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    You should be doing some travel writing since you have such style and wit. I'm still laughing about the beanie and what a great phrase,especially for those who contemplate a trip to Africa with no animal viewing- "Come for the brie, stay for the leopards."

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    Your observations are so informative, especially to those of us who haven't (yet!) been on more than one safari.

    I love the image of your battery-powered socks causing problems if you attemped to wear them on the plane.

    What thoughtful gifts you left--the massage idea for Thulani is brilliant. He is such a good ranger.

    CW

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    It's such a pleasure reading your Trip Reports. I was especially interested in your photographs which I really enjoyed. I purchased a Sony H9 for my trip to Botswana in a few weeks but recently there have been some poor reviews. Did you bring any extra accessories? Can you share any hints for using it in Africa? Did you use the hood that comes with it? Did you have any trouble in low light? Your dog pictures are amazing. I’ve been practicing but any help will be sincerely appreciated. Thanks.

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    Beautiful photos! So many puppies! The hyenas look so sweet! Incredible leopard pictures! Asante sana, Lynn. On my next safari I’ll be as slim as you are and as good a photographer. I don’t know what’ll be most difficult.

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    Thanks for all the nice comments.

    Country Living,

    On the Sony H9, I don’t know what the reviews say. Usually they mention something about too much purple haze. Then there is talk about noise. I don’t shoot at extremes to have problems with those and neither do most people who use a point and shoot.

    I didn’t bring any accessories. I used the hood when it was bright. The H9 hood is curvy, unlike the H2. At a wide angle, meaning no zoom, sometimes the hood is visible in the photo depending on how the hood is turned. The result looks like a wavy frame around the picture. When I first noticed this I actually thought the camera was malfunctioning.

    My hints for H2 and H9 or any P&S with image stabilization & high optical zoom:

    1. Don’t worry about all the settings. I figure I paid a lot for those camera innards so I am going to get my money’s worth from them and use the green Automatic setting for the most part.

    2. Don’t be afraid to use the continuous shoot mode when amazing sightings occur. Then you can keep the very best shots of the very best sightings. Remember to hold still for the all the shots, not just the first one.

    3. In low light I take a few at the ISO setting.

    4. That graph thing on the display distracts me and I turn it off.

    5. Check your display often to be sure you didn’t accidentally put it in macro or something else. If you do find you’ve taken some macro shots, don’t despair. When I’ve discovered macro on by mistake, I couldn’t tell that my photos were impaired. Check your dial frequently also so that you aren’t accidentally in the wrong mode, like movie.

    6. I thought that big screen on the H9 would mean that I don’t squint into the little viewfinder anymore. I still prefer the viewfinder most of the time. But the big screen is great for editing and deleting. The way the H9 screen folds out is nice if you want to snap photos but don’t want people to know you are snapping photos. It also worked nicely when I did some timed shots and had check the focus and run into position.

    7. Even with Image Stabilization, I still really concentrate on holding the camera still. That’s where pushing it up against your face and looking through the view finder helps. It gives more stability. I keep my elbows in too. There will be some instances in the future when I’ll use a monopod or tripod. But I can usually get extra stability in a safari vehicle from the vehicle frame, the metal bar in front of me, or I’ll bend my knee with my foot on the seat and make my own tripod out of body parts. I’ve been offered a bean bag, but I find that if I must restrict the camera angle to accommodate a bean bag or tripod, that I miss shots. I know the pros use a tripod and their quality shows it.

    8. When you turn your camera on, be sure you know how it “boots up” so that when you encounter a good sight, you are not fumbling with the take a picture mode vs. the view your photos mode. If you use the viewfinder, quickly get it to viewfinder and not screen or vice versa.

    9. If you are not sure about your photo being too dark or light, use the bracket feature so you get one setting above and one below the automatic exposure. I don’t think the Green Automatic feature works with bracket. I know bracket does not work with continuous shoot. I use this rarely and it is about as advanced as I get. I use it rather than just switch to +.3 or -.3 or +.7 or -.7 because I still want the automatic shot that the camera chooses. The bracketing gives you what the camera thinks is best, then goes up and down a setting and it does this all very quickly.

    10. Take your manual with you.

    11. Err on the side of not zoomed in enough and take the photo rather than zoom, zoom, zoom in some more, oops zoomed too much now I have to back up. By then you may have missed the shot. If the photo is fleeting, just take it because with digital and the number of megapixels you have, you can always enlarge and crop. Don’t dither trying for perfection and miss the whole thing. Same is true if there is something in the corner of the shot you don’t want. Just crop it out later but capture the fleeting image while you can.

    12. Try to catch the animals eye shine, that reflection in the eyes.

    13. Stay warm enough so you don’t shiver and of course shake the camera. Keep your fingers warm enough so they are dexterous.

    14. When taking pictures of the staff members in the shade or indoors, always use the flash even if it does not automatically go on.

    15. Unless the scenery is the star of the picture or particularly interesting, zoom in closer on the animal. This may seem to contradict #11. Of course, if you don’t have time to zoom, then just focus and snap.

    16. This one is expensive. Don’t rely on only one camera. It could malfunction, you could drop it and break it, it could get stolen, someone could spill something on it, or you could lose it. I bring more than one, which is always nice for convenience. Once my main camera stopped working and required repairs when I got home. I was glad I had a backup. This was a manual and not one of the Sony’s that stopped working.

    17. That nighttime no-flash feature with the switch on the side of the H9 worked pretty well, but produces almost a black and white. I think I’ll need it for an upcoming trip with more night action.

    18. Practice, as you are doing. At least digital gives immediate feedback.

    19. Be on time so you can depart promptly in the morning and catch the good light. If people are bouncing around in the vehicle at photo stops, ask them nicely to hold still for a moment, otherwise your shots will be blurry.

    20. Communicate with your driver/guide. Don’t be shy about asking to move forward, backward so you have a good angle without bushes in the way. Ask to stop so you can take a picture of something that interests you. If there are certain animals or scenes you’d like to see, tell the guide, so you have more subjects to photograph.

    21. Bring enough memory so you can keep a lot of your photos. It is hard to tell which ones to keep and which to delete on the little camera screen. You can make better decisions on a big computer screen so you don’t want to delete before you’ve had a chance to compare them on a big screen.

    22. Most drivers/guides are very adept at positioning you for good light. You want the light behind you usually. Here is Tom’s quote: A photographer who worries about equipment is an amateur, a photographer who worries about money is a professional, and a photographer who worries about light is a photographer.

    23. When the light is behind you, sometimes the vehicle, others in it or you can cast a shadow in the direction of your subject. Be aware of that so you don’t shade your subject or the area near it.

    24. Don’t fret over lost photo opportunities. It is those images you know you missed that you’ll remember the longest and in the most detail.

    I have become an enumerator.

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    Wow Lynn, if you had a "tip jar" I would be filling it up for sure!

    I am trying to keep up with ALL this great information. I adore you writing abilities and great sense of humor.

    Thanks for reminding me about Sonny Bono. I used that alot on my trip but had forgotten about it since.

    I can relate to the tears at departure... all good signs of a fabulous trip.

    I will wait until the end of your report to ask more questions. Great job so far, thank you so much!

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    Sightings are in 5-minute increments. Not all birds or antelope seen were recorded. For example, beautiful lilac breasted rollers often flitted from branch to branch near the vehicle or perched in the sun, but I didn’t include their frequent presence.

    Our weather was cool in the mornings and evenings with lows around 6. The highs would reach 27. Most days the wind would pick up from about 9 am to 4 pm. Cool and windy sends animals into thicker brush so our conditions were not always optimal but our sightings were still plentiful. Thanks to John and Bruce.

    23rd pm
    3:00 An elephant herd was in front of camp as we gathered for tea

    3:15 Trio of baby water monitor, Pied Kingfisher, Hammerkop hanging out together

    3:20 femal nyala—This was a first sighting of a new species for me so I was excited. I asked Bruce to find some nyala for me to photograph, but when he found out I was going to Phinda, he assured me that they would be more plentiful there; 2 bushbuck and some impala; baboon family that was having an internal scuffle; elephants in the river at a distance

    3:25 banded mongoose troop; juvenile Bateleur Eagle

    3:30 male bushbuck

    3:35-3:45 big male giraffe that we watched until he disappeared

    3:45 Gymongene; Crested Barbet; bachelor herd of impala

    4:00 flock of Grey Louries—Go Away birds

    4:15 elephants eating in thick brush; African Wood Hoopoo (my favorite bird)

    4:20-4:30 watched a kudu herd of males and females browse

    4:35-4:50 watched a mother and baby rhino until they slipped into the thick brush

    5:00-6:00 Leopard (Rollercoaster female’s daughter) in tree with a bushbuck carcass. She moved the carcass to a couple of locations in the tree. A hyena was lurking on the ground. We were able to sit at this sighting an hour. A couple of other vehicles came and went during that time. They were unobtrusive enough that I don’t recall anything about them. No posted pictures of this leopard.

    6:05 3 male buffalo

    Night drive begins
    6:55 an injured male buffalo sleeping in the road—The injury appeared to be from tangling with other buffalo according to John and Bruce.

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    Geez Lynn, what happened between 3:46 and 4 pm -- you hit a real dead patch. What is going on at Mala Mala? Fabulous, I love getting a feel for the drives in this manner. If you lived in Colorado I think you would have an offer to be a Field Biologist right now, I need some help with your attention to detail! Keep up the great report, I'm really enjoying it.

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    Thanks Lynn for those great suggestions for using the H9 (or any point&shoot) in Africa. I'm beginning to get more relaxed just reading them. I'll print them out for my camera bag to read over once in a while. I especially like the last one, don't fret over lost opportunities. What I need to work on most is keeping the camera steady. I do use the burst mode a lot. That really shows how much the camera jumps around when I hold it. I'll work more on steadying with the eye piece. I'll also try bracketing once in a while. I'm new to anything but Automatic but I'm learning. Luckily we will have four other people in our group taking photograhs with four other cameras.

    Two more weeks and I've never fretted over a trip as much as this one. Your report and the many others indicate to me that all this preparation and worry is worth it.

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    Lynn, it is great fun to read your trip report, but agonizing at the same time. ;-) The clock ticks seemingly slower and slower to my departure (5 months to go). Fantastic pics...especially the leopard and elees.

    Your love for this continent really shines through in your writing, as it does in each of your posts.

    Looking forward to reading the rest

    Shane

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    Lynn, thanks for such a warm, humorous, insightful report. Lovely to read, endlessly informative. The MM myths v. realities sounds exactly like Londolozi next door. Thankfully we didn't have any pressed safari suits there, but equally good cheese platters.
    Leslie

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    24th am
    7:25-7:35 2 males and a female rhino getting a drink

    7:35 Bateleur Eagle

    7:50-8:25 Mating lions with a giraffe watching from a distance. They mated 3 times. It was a Rollercoaster Male and a Styx female. With the Styx pride in disarray, the female will not encounter a problem from her own pride’s males when she gives birth I was told. I read that a Rollercoaster male was killed by a croc on approx June 30. If it was the lion I saw, his genes have been passed on. The turbulent nature of the lion prides at the moment at Mala Mala meant this pair would be our only lion sighting. We did see them again one evening.

    8:30 2 klipspringer on a high kopje

    8:35 herd of 6 kudu with 1 male

    8:45-9:15 After hearing several impala bark, hearing a leopard growl (which John and Bruce heard but I did not), and watching the impalas’ heightened alertness, we searched for the leopard or whatever predator, but did not find it.

    9:20 grey duiker

    9:30-10:00 watched wildebeest graze as we did the same (coffee, tea, snack time)

    10:15 small zebra herd—male, baby, 3 females

    10:20 4 male buffalos

    10:25-11:00 a breeding herd of about 15 elephant came to the river for a midday drink and the juveniles tussled in the tall grass near the river. The adults did a good job of shielding the tiniest baby much of the time.

    11:20 returned to the lodge

    At lunch we had Shelly’s Francolin and Guinea Flow (strutting around, not on the plate). A fish eagle was trying for his own lunch in the water in front of camp.

    I bought postcards and wrote them. Reception will affix the correct postage and mail them for the price of a stamp. I wished the postcards had Mala Mala printed on them instead of being generic South Africa animals and I wrote that suggestion on my evaluation. On the plus side, I had forgotten to bring the address for one card. No problem; I popped onto the Internet in the library and 10 minutes later I had the card properly addressed.

    24th pm
    3:10-3:20 big male rhino that grazed then headed to thick brush

    3:30 gray duiker

    3:50-4:00 My notes show “twins.” But I cannot recall twin whats. I think it was zebra, kudu or giraffe and am pretty certain it was a pair of juvenile giraffes. I know for sure it was not Mary Kate and Ashley. You’d think I’d have no doubt since we watched these twins for 10 minutes. I’m attributing the memory block to the excitement of the wild dogs that came up next.

    4:00-4:05 small herd of kudu with 1 male

    4:25-4:40 We made our way to the dog den for our turn at viewing. The rules are quite strict and only one vehicle at a time is allowed to leave the main path to venture in to the den area. We waited a few moments until the other vehicle emerged and was back on the road and then we slowly advanced for our turn. About six adults were milling around the den, interacting with each other. (I think there are about 8 adults total.) Before our allotted 20 minutes of viewing was up the dogs rudely decided to take leave of us and head off to hunt. We followed them for a few minutes and could see a couple of pack members at a distance and then they slipped out of sight. Unfortunately those behind us in the queue did not get to see the dogs that night, as we were the last to be entertained.

    4:45 African Hoopoo

    4:50 male kudu

    4:55 couple of male nyala

    5:00 gray duiker

    5:10-5:30 Sundowner and begin night drive

    6:05 hyena

    6:15 white tailed mongoose

    6:20-6:30 sat with a herd of buffalo

    6:30 small herd of nyala

    6:35 back at the lodge

    That evening the Rattrays were mingling with the guests during our appetizers and drinks before dinner.

    25th am
    7:40-7:50 herd of about 400 buffalo—We watched a few calves become tangled in vines and brush and then figure out how maneuver to free themselves.

    8:20-8:40 watched huge troop of baboons and herd of impala

    8:40 Black Collared Barbet

    8:55-9:05 watched a mother rhino and nearly grown calf plus a young calf until they trotted off

    9:10 2 steenbock

    9:20 several vervet monkeys and a large impala herd

    9:25-10:10 Leopard, the Rollercoaster female’s daughter with remains of the bushbuck carcass, trying desperately to find a comfortable sleeping position in the tree.

    10:15-10:40 Coffee, tea break at a small pond with turtles sunning themselves on the bank

    10:50 herd of running impala that I was able to photograph

    11:05 frisky bachelor herd of impala

    11:10 small flock of Brown-headed Parrots

    11:15 family of warthogs on a ridge in a beautifully picturesque setting that was captured only in my mind and not on a memory card because warthogs don’t pose long for family portraits

    11:20-11:30 buffalo herd and Redbilled Oxpeckers

    11:40 back to lodge

    Before lunch the buffalo herd came to the river in front of the lodge and drank then lingered on the banks, spending over an hour in sight of the lodge.

    The Rattrays were again circulating at lunch and it was a pleasure to share with them how much we were enjoying our stay and our time with Bruce and John.

    25th pm
    3:10 Trio of baby water monitor, Pied Kingfisher, Hammerkop hanging out together. I did not accidentally copy and paste from the pm of the 24th. This must be the group’s stomping grounds. There was also an active troop of vervets nearby.

    3:20 4 zebra

    3:25 John demonstrated his keen spotting skills by pointing out a tiny speck of a klipspringer on a rock about half a mile away. Binoculars proved him right.

    3:40 several dwarf mongoose

    3:45 steenbock

    3:50-4:00 3 zebra; a pair of black backed jackals

    4:10 zebra herd with an impala herd; flock of Red-billed Quelea

    4:30-5:25 Leopard (Newington male) was sitting on a termite mound then went to sleep at the mound’s base. We watched him nap and occasionally look up. To help keep us entertained, a Red Headed Woodpecker pecked on a dead tree nearby while the leopard slept. He took no notice of the woodpecker.

    5:25 The leopard suddenly became alert and sat up. A hyena was approaching. To avoid confrontation the leopard retreated up the nearby tree where his meal of impala was waiting. We occasionally got whiffs of that meal and it was not appetizing.

    5:30 lone rhino

    5:35-5:45 Sundowner and night drive began

    5:45-6:00 sat with buffalo herd

    6:30-6:50 heard the lion roars before we saw them—The mating pair were separated by a few hundred yards and were calling. The female was calling for her Styx pride mates and the male was calling either for his brother or just serenading his girlfriend. We stopped about 5 meters from the female and her roars made my breastbone vibrate. We could all feel it. The male was roaring from the bridge and delayed many of us from crossing for a while.

    7:00 back to the lodge

    Heard the lions during the night.

    26th am
    We left early and took a breakfast box.

    6:40 bushbuck

    6:45 Burchell’s Coucal; impala herd noticeably fluffed up as they do in the cold

    7:00 gray duiker

    7:05 2 gray duikers

    7:10-7:15 3 ground hornbills—mother, father, juvenile, a happy family unit. They even spent some time leaving the ground to perch in a tree. An article in a Federal Air magazine indicated that South Africa had only about 1500 of these unusual creatures left. So we had just observed .2% of that population.

    7:15 3 giraffe and a zebra herd

    7:30-7:45 We arrived at the wild dog den and were all thrilled to see the mother standing in front, nursing her pups. It was Ranger Bruce’s first wild dog pup sighting. She nursed 5 or 10 minutes before nudging the pups back into the den. Some went more willingly than others. We debated staying and waiting for the rest of the pack to return or moving on. There were no other vehicles in the queue for dog viewing. John gave his opinion that based on I’m not sure what he felt that the dogs had left very early to hunt far away and that they would not be back soon. We all trusted John’s judgment and headed out in search of another canine den—hyenas.

    8:00 Zebra, impala, kudu

    8:00-8:10 herd of about 15 kudu with males and females

    8:15 Gymnogene; lone male buffalo

    8:20 lone male elephant eating along the road

    8:35 Black Crake; Brown Hooded Kingfisher

    8:50-9:10 Kirkman’s—we were in their concession looking for the hyena den. Turns out the hyenas moved it but we did see one attractive hyena in the area and watched it. Then we saw another a few minutes away.

    9:20-9:40 Breakfast. While Tracker John stepped into the bushes (denser bushes than I ever use for that purpose) I heard a rustle that did not sound like John doing his business. I mentioned it to Bruce. When John emerged he told a tale of being confronted by a hyena and frightening it off. That explains the rustle. So while the hyena den had been vacated and empty, we succeeded with hyenas in an alternative manner. We decided to try the dog den on the way back, thinking they might have returned by then after their long hunt.

    10:00-10:30 Still no other vehicles present at the dogs and no one had called in their intention to see them. Lucky us, the dogs were back from the hunt. The mother was lying on the termite mound behind the den, nursing the black writhing and squealing mass.

    We saw dogs milling around and we watched the alpha female mother beg for regurgitated food from the alpha male, baring her teeth in a pleading smile and uttering a cry I had not heard before. We also saw one dog regurgitate food for another.

    When the alpha male and female wandered off together the other dogs immediately took the opportunity to run to the den and encourage the pups to come out. Their greetings started out as gentle nuzzling but quickly progressed to rough play. That’s when the alpha female came storming back to “rescue” her babies from their exuberant pack mates and send the little guys scurrying to the safety of the den. That only lasted so long before they’d venture out again to play with the big dogs.

    This whole scene was such a privilege to watch that I felt like we had all been through some secret initiation ritual and now all held membership in an elite club. We should have created a handshake. Maybe we could just use that bared teeth regurgitation-seeking grin and cry.

    10:30-11:15 We drove back to the lodge. Dog dens are often in areas that do not have lots of game around. They don’t need it close by because they have such stamina to run to where game is more plentiful. Plus less game means less predators nearby that could threaten the pups. As a result we did not see too much on the way back since we took a direct route and weren’t meandering in search of sightings. And the wind had really picked up, which does not help. But we were quite satisfied with the morning’s viewing.

    During our midday break I was determined to get a photo of me and the warthog statue that was artistically placed in a decorative pond. There was no foot traffic so I didn’t have people around that I could ask to photograph me. That’s ok, that’s why there’s the timer feature and using it would be more of a challenge anyway. I set up the timer and placed the camera on one side of the pond, then I raced to the opposite side in my allotted 10 seconds to pose with the warthog statues.

    The first few takes I was either absent from the photo altogether or just my foot or arm would jut out from the photo’s edge. So I knew I had to speed up my sprint to the warthogs. The next attempts I at least made it into the photo, but in weird, awkward poses. I had to move faster yet. All this running was making me hot. Though the temperature was still cool, I was removing a layer of clothing every few photo takes. I had read that Mala Mala advises “dressing to strip” to remain comfortable throughout the day, but I bet they never dreamed it would apply to stripping for the warthogs.

    Now my joints were warmed up, my muscles loose and I was sure the next photo would be a winner. Timer on, run around the pond, reach the warthog before the light flashes. I thought I got it until I looked at the result. I reached only the back end of the warthog and it looked like I was trying to mate. And I was assuming the male position! Although I’ve never seen warthogs mate, it is what I envision the male position to be. Not that I spend time envisioning mating warthogs!

    At last, stripped down to my T-shirt and sweating like a. . . warthog, the timer snapped a suitable photo. Exhausted, I retreated back to my room to recover from my grueling ordeal and to immediately delete that embarrassing photo. What happens in the warthog statue pond stays in the warthog statue pond.

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    Only the mating pair of lions. We did not hear about other lions in the area that we just missed. But it was only 4 days.

    By Sept. the prides may regroup and there are some cubs that may make a debut soon.

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    I sort of doubt about prides regrouping soon with that coalition of 6 males in control. Only one pride there now anyway, Eyrefield? Yeah, like I'm an expert on lion behavior :-)
    Sure hope some of those cubs survive.

    regards - tom

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    Hi everyone,

    I have been thinking about the lion situation at MM which has been in out of order for a while, which I am sure is a pattern to be expected over the years. The Styx Pride is on another property, now which I am not sure, as I read a few! So the single lioness is being smart mating with the Rollercoaster Male, hedging her bets in case he is around. I am not so sure that they will not regroup after the mating is complete as the Styx Pride is a very tough yet close pride of lionesses. Certainly I have seen Eyrefield Pride Lionesses split up when older bigger cubs were not allowing smaller cubs food, so two lionesses with their cubs went a separate path and they never really did seem to regroup after that, as now down to 4 lionesses.

    I have not seen those 6 males from the Eyrefield Pride for quite some time at MM, and in a way, as much as I would love to seem them again, I hope it stays that way as for sure those cubs will be killed! I am not greatly liking their chances now without the 6 males around! The current prides really need a male coalition of at least 3, and fairly youngish, to arrive in the area and be dominant for quite a few years to let some cubs reach maturity, like the West Street Males or the Golf Course Males before them.

    Fewer lions have certainly given the dogs and pups a far better start, so that is a good thing about seeing fewer lions. At the very end of last year, at MM and Lion Sands, lions were few and far between, and again we saw a lot of wild dogs which was wonderful.

    Hopefully things will calm down and there will be plenty of babies for me to see in December!

    Kind regards

    Kaye

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    Lynn

    I am assuming the Monitor, Kingfisher, Hamerkop trio were seen regularly on the causeway heading out at the start of drives.
    When heading back at night, if you stop at the same spot you can often see a Whitebacked Night Heron, which is a beautiful bird.

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    NapaMatt, I'll just have to go back to search for that Whitebacked Night Heron.

    26th pm
    3:05 Nyala, bushbuck, kudu all before we left the confines of Main Camp

    3:10-3:45 watched a one-tusked bull ele browse, reaching way up for the best leaves—I took a side shot of him so his lack of a second tusk was not evident in the photo.

    3:55-4:00 tree full of baboons and surprisingly they stayed in the tree eating and grooming and did not run out of it as is their custom—Baboons run out of the tree and vervets run into the tree when the motor stops. Either way photos are often foiled.

    4:00 Buffalo herd in thicket

    4:05 Elephant herd in thicket

    4:15 Gray duiker

    4:20 Bateleur Eagle flying right over our heads with rodent-like prey in its talons. Glad it maintained a good grip.

    4:40-5:15 The Newington male leopard was back on the ground underneath his treed impala, relaxing. The odor wafting from the tree had gotten worse. A mongoose had been alerted to the smell and approached the carcass. Then we lost track of the mongoose and the leopard never seemed to notice or care. But he did take notice of his hyena neighbor, just like the previous night. Only this time as the hyena approached the leopard was more aggressive. He shrunk into a crouched position and hissed menacingly at the hyena. Both circled each other warily in an uneasy truce. Eventually the leopard climbed to safety in the tree and returned to the impala carcass in the middle of the tree, out of view.

    5:20-5:30 We had just reached a water filled pan with another vehicle present. We saw Bruce pump his fist into the air as we approached. All three of us thought the other vehicle had gotten to this sundowner spot first and Bruce was feigning exaggerated anger at the other ranger because he wanted to claim the spot too. Wrong. There was a pair of rhino drinking at the pan with a beautiful reflection in the water. That’s what the other vehicle was looking at. The fist in the air was his Bruce’s enthusiastic response to finding us one more rhino sighting because we had one member in the vehicle who had been lamenting the fact we had not seen any rhino that day—and we had not yet gone a day without rhino. That spontaneous gesture showed how Bruce really took our wishes to heart. I found his reaction to be so genuine, even cute. It was getting late for decent pictures, but the rhino scene was a beautiful sight.

    5:30-5:35 Sundowners were at the pan after the rhino had trotted off. We were aware of another vehicle that was positioned in the direction the rhino had run. Bruce told us that it was not good for the other vehicle to hear any voices during their sighting, so we whispered during our sundowner until that vehicle drove off. It was ok for us to hear them because we were just having sundowners and not viewing animals. I was impressed with this policy that enhances the experience for everyone.

    We saw some Sand Grouse at the water’s edge and learned that they were wetting their wings to bring a drink to their chicks back at the nest. Similar to the wild dog regurgitation, but for beverages. Night drive began.

    6:00 Civet

    6:35 We were right in front of the lodge gate when John spotted a chameleon in the middle of a bushy tree. A chameleon, champion of camouflage, at night! I asked if he had spotted its eye or its body. The answer was body. Bruce joked, “This is just John showing off.” He certainly earned his nick name of Gah Mah (rhyming with llama) which means Martial Eagle. NapaMatt knows of some other nicknames too. I guess when you’ve been in the business almost 40 years, you acquire a variety of names.

    27th am
    7:15 bushbuck

    7:25 baboon family grooming

    7:30 Burchell’s Coucal fluffed up, fluffed up impala herd, (fluffing to combat the cold) juvenile Bateleur Eagle

    7:45 herd of buffalo--We were planning on sitting with the herd until a call came in that a leopard had been spotted.

    8:05-9:00 A baby nyala had been killed most likely by the Kapen Female Leopard. When we arrived we found the son (year and a half I believe) of the Kapen female dragging the nyala carcass along the ground. A hyena was not far away.

    Early in the trip I had asked Bruce about a nyala photo. These circumstances were not what I had expected, but here was my chance for that photo.

    We followed the leopard son through the brush until he disappeared briefly. We caught up with him again in a tree where he was practicing his technique for wedging the carcass between limbs. He was obviously just learning because he almost dropped his meal several times. It was like watching a high wire act and we all were gasping at his near misses.

    We weren’t the only ones observing his progress. All of a sudden the mother appeared in the grass but then disappeared just as quickly. No photos of her.

    Eventually he decided to grab the nyala by the neck, descend Tree #1 and find a different tree. The two leopards both disappeared into deep grass. I hope they enjoyed their meal.

    I remarked that we had seen bushbuck, impala, and nyal--all as leopard prey. Bruce told me that was 3 of the Little 5, which would also include duiker and steenbok. (Correct me if I have errors there.) So here is a goal for Kaye, NapaMatt, and other frequent visitors. Instead of viewing the Big 5, try to find prey examples of the Little 5. I suppose that’s a bit macabre and I wonder how you would score that on the chalkboard roster of sightings at the bar.

    9:25-9:45 returned to the buffalo herd and joined them

    9:45-9:50 lone male elephant--This bull was huge and we could tell he was in musth. Bruce immediately mentioned the potential danger of the situation and rightfully kept his distance. The keen photographer with us really wanted some shots of this big guy and made that request known. I was impressed with how Bruce accommodated his wishes as best he could, yet put safety first in keeping many meters between us, not upsetting this bull, and maintaining an escape route at all times. I took a couple of photos too and ironically because there is no real reference point beyond vegetation, the massive size of this elephant is not that evident.

    9:50 couple of bushbuck

    9:55 bachelor herd of impala that gave us some views before darting off

    9:55-10:15 We stretched our legs and walked up to a kopje with a nice lookout. It was peaceful and relaxing, a nice way to end.

    10:20 Back to lodge

    A delayed departure flight meant we could enjoy one last lunch. The delay was probably once again the result of some poor soul without additional proof of purchase beyond the plane ticket.

    My safari-mates and I agreed that the apple cobbler dessert was the best one yet. Would have been a pity to miss that. An elephant could be seen in front of the lodge and a woodpecker of some kind (my bird book was packed) was knocking about in the trees above our heads as we waited for the late flight. Bruce was conscientious in keeping us informed of our altered schedule. An attentive ranger right up until the end.

    Our departure plane, which also had incoming guests, landed. We said heartfelt goodbyes and gazed with envy at those coming off the plane. But at the same time we felt fortunate for the amazing sightings Mala Mala had produced for us.

    I noticed one of the new arrivals was being closely guided and carefully helped off the plane. He had a cane, the kind with a red tip, and he was tapping it in front of himself as he hesitantly moved forward while his wife grasped his elbow and provided direction. That put feeling fortunate and amazing sightings in a whole new light.


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    Hi Lynn

    I feel as if I am in the vehicle with you and Bruce. I have heard of the little 5, but I thought it was things like leopard tortoise, lion ant, things like that not antelope! As a rule, I am not overly keen on the dead antelope - certainly I shall take photos of cats eating from the carcass. With a group one time, who could not believe I would not take photos of a dead impala, no cat in sight, while I couldn't believe that they would take photos of a dead impala! Hardly something I want to remember!

    You must be very busy taking notes during the gamedrive, I keep some notes, certainly not a minute by minute account.

    Kind regards,

    Kaye

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    Lynn
    Your great reports have certainly made up my mind that I have to get to Mala Mala next year. Thanks so much for posting such comprehensive and interesting reports.

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    "Bruce told us that it was not good for the other vehicle to hear any voices during their sighting, so we whispered during our sundowner until that vehicle drove off. It was ok for us to hear them because we were just having sundowners and not viewing animals. I was impressed with this policy that enhances the experience for everyone."

    It was this level of sensitivity found in the Mala Mala very smart rangers that I valued so much there. The staff is always thinking! Much of this I credit to the excellent training done there.

    Lynn, your level of detail is just astonishing and helping to give a wonderful picture of how active the game rides are there. Just terrific.

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    Clematis, Thanks. Did I see that your husband did a report on your trip? If so, what was it?

    LynneB,
    I'd love to say, "I'll see you in Mala Mala next year," but it will be a while before I can return.

    NapaMatt,
    The Little 5 were described to me as the various antelope. It only came up because we saw 3 different antelope species as leopard prey. Now you have justification for your twice yearly Mala Mala trips. You are civet hunting.

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    Bat,
    I would have posted that R-rated photo, but didn't want to be banned or worse yet embarrassed!

    Cybor,
    Thanks for your request for more. But that's all there is, except maybe for a Cliff Notes summary of major Mala Mala sightings over 4 days:

    -About a dozen rhino, usually in 2s or 3s
    -One ele herd seen from the lodge and again drinking at the river, others less visible herds in brush
    -3 lone bull eles
    -4 sightings of 2 different buffalo herds, one numbering 400, one seen from the lodge; several lone male buffalo
    -pair of black backed jackals
    -civet at night
    - about 5 different hyena, usually interacting with various leopards
    -3 wild dog sightings at the den; 2 with pups visible
    -6 leopard sightings of 4 different leopards, both on the ground and in a tree with a kill
    -one pair of mating lions in day and night
    -no cheetah
    -no crocs or hippos, but we did not concentrate on the river

    After Mala Mala came Phinda and here is the link to that report.
    http://fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=4&tid=35037046

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    Lynn - it was great viewing the Mala Mala surroudings and ecosystem through your eyes and ears. The fact that it more than satisfied your need for an "Africa fix" speaks volumes.

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    Lynn,
    Thought there was more - although jam packed with some amazing sightings, the above trip seemed too short for you.
    See you over in Phinda.

    Off subject;
    What ever happened to the Southern Africa trip report index?

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    Another set of absolutely wonderful photos, especially the pups. Of course, the leopards are magnificent as well. Wants me to go to MM. I haven't read the trip report yet, but if it's even close to minute-by-minute, or even hour-by-hour, I know it will be fantastic.

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    Hey Lynn this minute by minute Mala Mala report had me there! Thanks and I loved the Batleur eagle sightings - my favorite (when i am looking at it) everything is a favourite - sounds like an amazingly rich and diverse reserve. Can understand why so many rave over it.

    Cheers and happy planning for the next trip!
    Jude

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    Lynn,
    I finally got around to reading your trip report, and I agree with the others: if your day job isn't writing for a travel magazine, it should be. Maybe you should call Africa Geographic!

    You obviously had a great trip. Thanks for all of the useful information. And, I just looked at your photos again. Second time around was as good as the first. My favorites are still the pups.

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