COVID-19 Travel Advisory: Stay up to date with the latest on the coronavirus pandemic.   Learn More >

Mala Mala Minute by Minute--Trip Report

Old Jul 15th, 2007, 02:09 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 14,440
Mala Mala Minute by Minute--Trip Report

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:

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.
atravelynn is offline  
Old Jul 15th, 2007, 02:37 PM
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 7,391
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.
matnikstym is offline  
Old Jul 15th, 2007, 02:58 PM
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 20,145
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.
cybor is offline  
Old Jul 15th, 2007, 03:00 PM
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 1,895
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."
moremiles is offline  
Old Jul 15th, 2007, 03:05 PM
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 5,215
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.
cary999 is offline  
Old Jul 15th, 2007, 03:06 PM
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 1,922
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...

divewop is offline  
Old Jul 15th, 2007, 04:37 PM
Join Date: Nov 2005
Posts: 1,669
Thanks for the format, but you've made all my decisions harder because now I want to go to MM along with all the other camps!!!
And, very well written report as well.
Momliz is offline  
Old Jul 15th, 2007, 05:00 PM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Posts: 3,648
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 is offline  
Old Jul 15th, 2007, 05:33 PM
Join Date: Jun 2007
Posts: 290
Great photos! I will be happy to come back with a fraction of that!
rickmck is offline  
Old Jul 15th, 2007, 06:26 PM
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 175
We thought Mark was the best guide. And Elvis the best tracker.

Too much detail.
CiaoLeone is offline  
Old Jul 15th, 2007, 06:33 PM
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 993
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

KayeN is offline  
Old Jul 15th, 2007, 06:36 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 3,668
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.
sundowner is online now  
Old Jul 15th, 2007, 06:45 PM
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 993
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

KayeN is offline  
Old Jul 15th, 2007, 08:00 PM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Posts: 1,558
Lynn, I was hoping this was your report when I saw the title...yippie !

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

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!

CarlaM is offline  
Old Jul 15th, 2007, 08:27 PM
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 1,493

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 ???


PS thanx - just learned a new word for me: humungou (or humungo as sometimes spelled)
aby is offline  
Old Jul 15th, 2007, 08:33 PM
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 1,715
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.
PredatorBiologist is offline  
Old Jul 15th, 2007, 08:34 PM
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 283

You have captured "our Africa". Very nice and enjoyable report with some of the best photos I've seen.

-Granny Joan
GrannyJoan is offline  
Old Jul 15th, 2007, 11:04 PM
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 5,215
Oh,and Lynn, what kind of camera did you use to get those super photos? A new big DSLR? You didn't use a P&S super zoom did you? ;-)

regards - tom
cary999 is offline  
Old Jul 15th, 2007, 11:05 PM
Join Date: Dec 2003
Posts: 382
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?
spiegelcjs is offline  
Old Jul 16th, 2007, 04:35 AM
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 199
Thanks for an intelligent, unvarnished report. And the terrific pictures of the painted puppies - bow WOW!
QueenofDaNile is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Do Not Sell My Personal Information