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48 hours in Mala Mala

After spending a fantastic few days in Cape Town, I headed to the next destination on my South African Adventure; the Mala Mala Game reserve.

A 2-hour flight from Cape Town we touched down at Skukuza Airport – a tiny building where our luggage was loaded straight from the plane onto a jeep for a 40 minute transfer to Mala Mala. Once we cleared the airport gates we were right in the park and we immediately saw Impala, Warthogs and Giraffes along the road!

We received a warm welcome at Mala Mala Sable Camp and were introduced to all the staff, including our ranger for our stay “Tabs”. We enjoyed a delicious buffet lunch on the terrace overlooking the vast wilderness. The camp is unfenced so you really feel at one with the surroundings.

Our accommodation comprised of beautiful traditional roundhouses with outdoor showers, copper bathrooms and a deck to enjoy the view across the reserve. The décor would not look out of place in a Ralph Lauren showroom! Sable Camp offers a smaller more intimate Safari experience than the main camp for those looking for seclusion and privacy during their stay, with a maximum of 20 guests in 7 suites at any one time.

We wasted no time in heading out on our first game drive in an open top jeep.  Mala Mala is one of South Africa’s largest and oldest game reserves, with 13,300 hectares of game filled plains, and provided the blue print for how many less established reserves are run today. We crossed the river that stretches along the front of the camp and within a few minutes came across a herd of a dozen Elephants grazing along the riverbank – what an incredible sight! We came so close we could hear them eating and stopped for a while just watch the way they interact.

The wildlife just kept coming; thanks to the beady eye of our ranger and during the afternoon we saw Rhino, Hyena, Kudu, monkeys, Baboons, plus many birds – in particular the beautiful Lilac Breasted Roller. Before sunset we headed to a high spot of the reserve to enjoy sundowners which were laid out at the front of the jeep and we watched the sun go down, gin and tonic in hand – an unforgettable experience.

On our return to the lodge we were treated to a wonderful fireside dinner in the “Boma” complete with traditional African song and dance.

A 5am wake-up call the next morning and fuelled by a strong coffee and flapjack we were straight out on the jeep again. The temperature was over 30 degrees by this time – a hat is essential! Our early morning was rewarded quickly with a sighting of a pride of lions – 21 in total!


Despite our proximity to these incredible cats it was a very calming experience to see them all move around looking for shade, and I felt incredibly safe even with the adult males staring right at us! 

This was a huge tick on our must-see list and shortly after we headed to a clearing, where a chef was waiting & rustling up a bush breakfast – complete with Champagne (a little early at 7am but when in Rome!) A fabulous experience which set us up for the rest of our drive with more sightings of wonderful animals including alligators, mongoose and giraffes. We headed back to camp and enjoyed some free time; for me a quick nap and then a wonderful swim in the camps infinity pool; nestled in the flood plain, followed by another excellent lunch. Later we hopped back on the jeep for the afternoon.


We visited another camp nearby; Rattrays. Very different in style to Mala Mala, with a more colonial feel and plunge pools for each room, complete with a beautiful drawing room and original game reports from years gone by. No sooner had we left Rattrays we spotted a lone female Leopard; my highlight of the trip! Just watching her move and track a group of Impala was incredible.

We did think we were going to witness a kill, but the “Bush Telegraph” (the birds!) alerted the herd to her presence and they quickly dispersed.  More highlights included a herd of Elephants playing at a waterhole and dung beetles zooming in on a Rhinos fresh “delivery”. Again as dusk fell we drove to another high spot for sunset and witnessed the most incredible storm around us; we made it back to camp just before the heavens opened!

We enjoyed another fantastic dinner – this time under the shelter of the lodges canopy and watched the lightning show around us before turning in for a sound nights sleep.

The following morning we headed out on our final game drive, and instead of factor 50 and hats we needed fleeces and blankets; the weather changes dramatically here!

We ticked off the “Big 5” with a sighting of Cape Buffalo (out of all the animals we saw these were the ones who made me the most uneasy due to their unpredictability!) and from a distance saw a group of Wildebeest with young – just hours old (and a jackal nearby looking to swipe the placentas for food!).

As well as seeking out the wildlife we also learnt so much from our guide about the way the animals hunt, survive and co-exist in this incredible reserve.

After a final breakfast overlooking the Sand River it was time to bid farewell to Mala Mala. What an incredible experience and one I will never forget. Since my return I don’t think there has been a day that has gone by where It hasn’t been in my thoughts!


Liz travelled to Mala Mala with Knighton Reeve. To find out more email