Camera: Canon 5DmkIV
Lens: Canon 100-400mm II
Settings: Tv 1/4sec | f/25 | ISO 3200
“While on a Zali Photo photographic safari at Chitwa Chitwa early one morning, we came across a young leopardess called Langa right outside camp. The sun hadn’t even poked its head above the horizon yet, so we were getting extremely slow shutter speeds even at high ISO’s, making it impossible to get sharp photos of the active cat. So, I decided to take a few panning shots instead and because she was walking slowly, as opposed to trotting or running, I had to choose an extremely slow shutter speed – a fourth of a second in this case. The faster the animal is moving, the faster your shutter speed has to be, but it’s seldom faster than 1/50sec when you’re panning wildlife.
Panning shots are extremely difficult to get for various reasons: First of all, most animals we find on game drives either stand still or move erratically. For a panning shot to work, the subject needs to move at a constant speed, be it slow or fast. Secondly, the animal needs to walk perfectly parallel to you, which seldom happens out in the field. Another thing that’s important, is the light. Panning shots only work in dark or overcast conditions, otherwise your images will over-expose because of the slow shutter speeds. Lastly, even if you have all the right conditions, you still need to perfect the panning technique of moving the lens at the same speed as the animal while keeping it nicely composed and in focus. And don’t forget – you have to press the shutter while you’re doing all of this!
These are the kind of creative techniques I will teach you when you join me on a Zali Photo photographic safari.”
Villiers Steyn | The Safari Expert
Over the last couple of months I have been receiving a lot of messages from mums (and dads alike!) on tips on how to travel with your children on Safari. A lot of parents are afraid to take their kids on safari because of various reasons and I’m here to say, don’t be! It’s not any different to any other holiday that you would do with your kids. Travelling with my 1 year old and 3 year old has given me some experience and I’m here to pass on the holy grail of travelling with children on safari. Many parents ask me the dreaded malaria question. I personally have not given my children any malaria medication and neither have I taken it myself. If you are afraid of malaria it is best to take your children in the winter months when the risk of malaria is less.
#1 BE PREPARED
Prepare yourself mentally before you take your children on Safari. It is NOT a relaxing holiday and as a mum, you will bear the brunt of the majority of the tiredness. So take what you can to keep you sane, a multivitamin snacks and water are a must for you mum! Your kids will be tired and have body aches from the safari. Take something to massage them down and a little bit of panado if you need to give it to them. Magnesium bath salts are also a good idea, I like to use the Kiddy Calm bath salts, it helps the girls to relax after a long day and sleep better at night.
Routine will be out of the window. Prepare yourself to go with the flow and let your kids enjoy their safari. I promise you they will not die if they do not eat at exactly the time that you need them to. Going on safari is completely different to any other holiday that you will have ever been on, do not fret about keeping them in routine, just enjoy being out in the bush.
The key to taking your children on safari is to take EVERYTHING that your children will need as there is no where that you will be able to just pop out and get things for them. Remember that you will be in a very remote area and the closest town (either Hoedspruit or Hazyview) is out of the reserve and a good 2 hours away.
There is no doubt about it that your children will need constant entertainment, it is definitely a must to go prepared with toys, snacks and if you’re a parent that allows technology (iPads and phones) you will need to take them along as well as there will be no TV’s or computers for them to make use of. Zali and I aren’t parents who give our children technology, but we do allow them to get down and dirty in the sand so we take along toys that they can play in the sand with.
Snacks, snacks and more snacks for the little ones is the way to go. I try to limit my girls sugar intake as I have noticed that the sugar makes them very active and an active and jumpy child is not one you want on a safari vehicle. My go to snacks are Willards flings, Simba Fritos, Olli Oats bars, Bokomo rainbow puffs, fruit (provided by the lodge) Cerelac puffs for Zafeerah and Safari Dry fruit sticks and obviously the biltong! No safari is complete without Prime Cutz Biltong!
If the lodge has nanny services – most of the lodges we use do have nannies available for us – make use of it! If it means that our kids want to come on game drive and the lodge allows the nanny to come on drive with us, we take her with! It makes it so much easier for me to take photos and enjoy the drive as well.
#2 EDUCATE THE CHILDREN
It is vitally important that you educate your children before taking them on safari about the etiquettes of how to behave on the truck. We have to remember that this is not a zoo and your children will be encountering wild animals up close and it is important that they know not to tease the animals or jump around in their seats whilst at a sighting.
#3 WHAT TO PACK
I normally pack 3 outfits per day for the girls. Warm clothes for game drives as the open vehicle can get a bit cold, dresses or shorts and swimming costumes for in between drives. A good pair of takkkies is a must for the drives and also in case you decide to go on a bush walk. Sandals for in between drives as it can get very hot throughout the day. Blankets and wind-breakers (I have jackets from pick ‘n pay for the girls) are a must as well as beanies to cover those tiny ears. The bush is unpredictable all round and the weather can change very quickly and you don’t want your children to be cold on the truck.
As I mentioned above – toys and lots of snacks!
I take along a travel potty which makes stopping for toilet with Zaneerah all the easier. We take it with us on the truck as well and stop as we need to, we’re no longer afraid of letting her drink water on the truck!
#4 MAKE THE TRUCK COMFORTABLE FOR YOUR KIDS
Do what you can to make the truck comfortable for your kids. I always carry an extra set of clothes, nappies, water and snacks for the girls. I take along a ready meal for Zafeerah so that I can feed her on the truck if I need to. Zaneerah is quite ok with eating snacks and waiting for dinner. I personally like to use the Bumbles range for Zafeerah as it is SANHA approved and also easy to squeeze, I do not have to cart Tupperwares or teaspoons with. We put the car seats into the vehicle as it keeps our little ones safe and also its makes it easier for them if they want to sleep on the vehicle.
Taking your children on safari is an experience that will stay with them forever. They learn so much and the bush is always so unpredictable, you never know what to expect around the next corner. As South Africans we need to teach our children about wildlife, it is our heritage and we should be proud of it!
Once again we would like to wish our founder and expert photographic guide here at Zali Experience Extraordinary a hearty congratulations on the win of another photographic competition, this time hosted by Mala Mala Game Reserve. Zali hit this one out of the park, getting over 3000 likes on Instagram and approximately 500 likes on Facebook. From us here at Zali Experience Extraordinary we would like to thank all those that voted for the image on Mala Mala’s Social Media platforms.
This is what Zali had to say about the image and sighting:
“We went out on drive nice an early in search of Rhino, as we hadn’t seen Rhino thus far on the trip. We headed south of he reserve as the weather was great to be out as long as possible.
My guests were enjoying all the smaller things that we got to see along the way, until we got a call that there is a leopard close by. We made our way there slowly and another vehicle was at the sighting, they left and we had the leopard to ourselves. Close by to the leopard there was a small pan where this hyena was relaxing and looking quite chilled out. We joked on the vehicle among ourselves and said, imagine the leopard goes and drink. And lo and behold she got up and went to the water. There was silence on the vehicle as we all held our breath, the leopard snarled and growled at the hyena. The hyena literately wasn’t bothered and continued relaxing in the pan
Throughout this epic sighting we were positioned in the perfect angle and distance which made it an ultimate sighting to get epic photos
This is what you call a Classic MalaMala Moment ?!”
You too can experience the extraordinary like this. All you have to do is contact us for more information. Who knows, maybe we will be congratulating one of our guests next year!
Zaheer and I travel extensively to private lodges and we decided that this would be a great way of telling you all what we loved and what we didn’t love so much about the lodges we stay at and that way you can decide for yourself if it works for you and if it doesn’t.
We recently returned from Imbali River lodge, a concession within The Kruger National Park bordering the Manyeleti and The Sabi Sands.
What we loved about Imbali:
- The meals were amazing.
- We were able to self-drive into the Kruger if we wanted to
- Each room had a plunge pool
- The rooms were nice and spacious as well as the bathroom
- Upon request our guide Andrew took us to Satara to see the famous white lion that we had seen that morning on self drive.
What we didn’t love so much:
- We felt that the staff were a bit ‘helter-skelter’ – there were incidents where they did not know which rooms were for which guests etc.
- There was no wifi in the rooms as well as no telephones to communicate with anyone.
- The wifi was in the lounge area and it hardly worked
- We had no hot water throughout the stay
- The plunge pool motor stayed on right throughout the night and we were unable to hear any bush sounds.
- The game drives and guides were not enthusiastic at all and we found that we had seen more game on our self drive to Satara
- Our dietary requirements were not adhered to throughout our stay and we were offered meat and alcohol on drives and post-drive.
Every person will have their own experience so if you have had a different experience let us know we would be glad to have lodge reviews as a part of our website.
Born out of a shared passion and love for the bush, Zali is a brand built by husband and wife team, Zaheer Ali and Asma Bava.
Jo’burg local, Zaheer, could be found with a camera in hand from a young age and, despite his long-standing reputation as a wildlife photographer, it was the city streets where he honed his craft, snapping locals, buildings, lightning storms and whatever else he set his sights on. Asma, by contrast, was enamoured with the wilderness from childhood, thanks to a legacy of weekends and holidays skipping back and forth between Polokwane and the Kruger. As such, when the couple met in 2015, it was Asma who first turned Zaheer’s lens to the wilderness and they never looked back.
Five years later, two children richer and both brimming with field experience and a clutch of qualifications, they began Zali Adventures & Experiences, intent on sharing the gift of Africa’s wild and beautiful places with the world.
In February 2021, our founder and amazing photographic guide, Zaheer Ali entered this award-winning(we think so!) photograph into the KRUGER MAGAZINE amateur photography competition.
“I was hosting a family of 4 – parents and their young children. It was an afternoon drive and on this particular afternoon the sightings had been quiet. There had been a call on the radio that lions had been sighted, but knowing that lions will not be active in the heat of the day we thought to leave the lions for the last part of the drive. We made our way in the direction of the lions and came across a lone rhino munching away on some tasty grasses.We use any opportunity on our child friendly safaris to make it an educational one so we stopped and gave the children an opportunity to learn about these phenomenal animals who also form part of the big five. We stopped at a safe distance and allowed the rhino to move in our direction as We chatted about commensalism – which highlights the relationship between the rhino and oxpecker and it was then that this oxpecker caught my eye. Up until then, this sighting didn’t stand out photographically. I watched as this tiny bird sharpened his beak on the horn of the rhino and it was something I had never seen before. As photographers we are always looking for something different to capture and this was definitely it! I picked up my camera and waited for the right moment and took the shot as the bird lay on the horn of the rhino. Feeling satisfied we left the rhino in peace and moved on to a great sighting of lions and elephants in one.”
Child friendly safaris!
We spent the morning travelling to Djuma – a road that we are all too familiar with.
Those with children will know how bored young children get on long trips and our Zaneerah was no different. I set up a nice little area for her near her seat where she could play with Lego’s eat her fruit and drink her milkshake. She was all too excited to be going back to Djuma and to go onto the safari vehicle – a trait she’s inherited from both her dad and I!
We reached the lodge at midday in the scorching heat of the day and settled ourselves in the beautiful Tumbeta house. It was straight to the pool for zaneerah followed by some lovely lunch of the famous “Kruger park chicken” – a chicken dish made with tomato sauce and worstershire sauce.
The afternoon was spent resting and getting ready for evening drive which we left for at 4:30pm
Our guests are avid Kruger goers and this is their first time in Djuma. Naturally we wanted to give them the full Djuma experience, and that is exactly what they got.
The radio this afternoon was extremely quiet with not many sightings being reported at all. Zali and I were worried. We really wanted to give our guests the full Zali experience. Having zaneerah on drive with us as well was not easy, we had to entertain her constantly and as toddlers usually are, was constantly asking for a snack!
We stopped for some lovely giraffe, a couple of day old impala lambs and tiny warthog piglets where zaneerah could use her “camera” to shoot.
We had one lone elephant bull who wasn’t interested in us and rudely walked away and we made our way to where William and Phunati knew that the lions were.
We found the Talamati pride with Avoca dark mane just as the sun was setting.
The other Djuma vehicle decided to leave the sighting for sundowners not long after we got there and we chose to wait, after all we had been snacking all drive!
We were so glad that we had waited as these lions all started to get up and slowly walk past the vehicle one by one.
Each of the females got up and followed each other in a single file. The males were taking their time and the young ones were so playful, what a sighting to see. We watched them and followed them for an entire hour in which we just enjoyed watching their behaviour listening to them.
Having a toddler on the vehicle at a sighting can become difficult but Zaneerah was a champ, she enjoyed watching the lions and eating her biltong! We watched them stalk one another and come from behind bushes outa nowhere and at the same time I tried to get some photography in. Since this isn’t a photographic safari and more a child friendly one I wasn’t too worried about what photos I was taking rather letting Zaneerah experience the bush and explain to her what the lions were doing. The knowledge that she will impart with from each of the trips she joins us on over the years will be valuable. Education important in all our children’s lives but practical experiences are ones that stay with us forever, which is why I choose to give my little ones the knowledge and An appreciation of the bush.
There’s always an opportunity to learn in anything you do in life!
At one point one of the youngsters came and sat right next to the tyre of the vehicle and refused to move. Looking directly into the eyes of a lion is a feeling that sends shivers down your spine. It’s so intense and so exhilarating but it’s the feeling that brings us bush addicts back time and time again.
By the time the sun set we had a very hungry and tired toddler and since there had been no sightings over the radio we made our way back to camp for a delicious braai of flame-grilled prawns sided with rice and chips.
It was off to bed for our little zaneerah before 8 so that she’s well rested for the morning drive!
We headed out this morning at 5am.
We all were fully awake and optimistic that today’s drive would action packed. After some coffee tea and Rice Krispies for Zaneerah we were off in search of some epic game viewing.
As the sun rose in front of us the air was crisp and cold and if you’re anything like me, carrying an extra jacket is a must!
We headed north towards Khaya Manzi and as we stopped to photograph an impala lamb on the road and heard the call of a jackal. William had seen tracks of wild dog just as we had stopped so we assumed that the jackals were calling because of the dogs. We rushed in that direction, found the jackals but didn’t find anything else. Since the jackals were looking into manyaleti we did a quick search and made our way back to where we had first seen the tracks in hope of finding them. After some time we picked up more tracks on the road and Phunati and William decided it was best to jump of the vehicle and track on foot.
After a couple of minutes Phunati and William were running back to the truck!
They had found the dogs and they were heading in our direction.
The dogs had full bellies and the adults had blood on their faces which led us to assume that they had made a kill.
Zaneerah was oh so quick to take out her camera and shoot! Our mini photographer ?
The dogs came and sat on the road for a bit and the adults saw some impala in the distance. As they watched the impala a hyena came out of nowhere and ran towards the impala. Suddenly the impala scattered and from behind them came. Zebra and wildebeest at full force towards the impala chasing them. The dogs seemed totally confused as did we. There was Game in all directions and one of us even spotted a warthog running around in the mix.
And what happened to the hyena? He just disappeared without a trace! For next 20minutes or so the zebra chased off the wild dogs into all different directions. We were in the midst of all the commotion and there were other vehicles waiting to come into the sighting and so we chose to leave the sighting. We made our way back to torchwood where we assisted Rex who had found tracks of Thandi and cub. We stopped for some coffee while the guides went off on foot to track them.
We jumped back on the vehicle and we went to look in the direction in which we knew thandi and cub are usually. Once again we switched off and let Phunati and William to what they do best and they tried really hard to track them but it seems like the cub heard them coming and he was running off.
It was now getting hot and were tired being 4 hours on the vehicle and made our way back to camp for a scrumptious breakfast.
The elusiveness of the leopard..
Over the years of coming to the bush there is one thing I have learnt about these spotted beauties, they will not be seen if they don’t want to be seen. Period. Nothing you can do will make them come out of their hiding place for you to view them.
This afternoons drive was extremely frustrating. Our guides hadn’t seen leopards for 3 days and once again the comms were extremely quiet. We followed tracks up and down triple M for the female leopard Sibuye for most of the afternoon and ignored the radio when we heard that there were 4 lions at cruise camp drinking, choosing the leopard over lions.
We met another guide from another lodge who informed us that Sibuye had crossed over into a property that we couldn’t traverse in.
Already half way into the drive and feeling very frustrated due to not only seeing no leopard but no other general game as well, we headed north in hope of seeing something good.
Towards the end of the drive as we headed back towards camp we made a decision to stop for drinks and a short break. After chatting with us Phunati made the decision to not go to the lions at cruise and make our way back to camp still in search of leopard.
On the way back we bumped into a honey badger on the road. A lovely rare sighting!
Alas the drive didn’t produce much Game but this is proof that there is no guarantee in the bush. The truth is that there are drives that are quiet and you might drive and see no game but you also never know what’s behind the next corner or what the next morning will bring. That’s just how unpredictable the bush is.
When travelling with a toddler it’s no secret that on a drive like today they will be restless and frustrated and want to jump all over the show as there aren’t any animals to take their attention away from their busy minds.
Be prepared to take something to keep them occupied with and for me my salvation lay in the Hands of the new Omar and hana app. Zaneerah was able to freely watch videos and do as she pleased on the app which kept her busy.
After a delicious braai – no bush trip is complete without it, it was time for bed for Zaneerah who will be fresh and ready for the drive that awaits us in the morning!
The day of the cats
Despite the disappointment we felt the night before we woke up with a tinge of hopefulness that today being our last full day on safari it would be a good day.
We started off the drive with 2 hyenas with bloody faces. We tried to find where they had come from but didn’t pick up anything.
There were tracks upon tracks of various different kinds of leopards all over the show and all the vehicles were desperate for leopard as not a single vehicle within Djuma had seen any leopard for the last 3 drives.
Finally the call came in from Rex that he had found Tlalamba in a drainage line. Finally the streak of no leopard was broken!
We made our way to her and found her mobile where she sat down in a drainage line in front of our vehicle providing Us with a great view and some epic photos.
We spent some time with her and eventually lost her location in the bush and chose to head off in search of something else.
We made our way towards torchwood where Rex had picked up tracks of another leopard to assist him in trying to track.
As we were driving we drove past one of the roads going to the right and suddenly saw the golden flick of a tail under the tree on the side of the road.
It was Nsele female leopard. What a spotting of the spotted cat!
She gave us quite a show and we called in the sighting which brought in other vehicles and so we pulled out of the sighting after a little while. As always, first in is always first out!
We made our way back to the airstrip where we stopped under a marula tree for some coffee.
Stomachs full and satisfied with our leopard sightings we returned back to camp for a scrumptious omelette breakfast.
After breakfast we put Zaneerah down for what we thought was a short nap, but being so exhausted ourselves and as always with a toddler, it’s impossible to stay awake when you have to lay down with them for a nap!
We awake at 3pm having missed lunch but feeling well rested.
After a quick lunch, dip in the pool to cool off and a shower we jumped on the vehicle ready for what the afternoon would bring.
This afternoons drive can be described as you get you wish for. It was as if the heavens were listening to us. We started off with phunati saying that we hadn’t seen rhino and within a few seconds we climbed over a hill onto the dam wall and lo and behold there were 2 rhinos wallowing in the mud.
We spent a good amount of time with them and got a call that Nsele had made a kill and was sleeping in the same area that we had seen her earlier. We decided that we would wait until later to make our way towards her and decided to go towards the lioness that was sighted near cruise camp as she was mobile.
On route there we sighted some elephants, a big herd of buffalo and other game.
As the orange setting sun as our backdrop we were spoiled with the sighting of the lioness in the open.
We heard the other vehicles were leaving the leopard sighting and opted to go back to see Nsele who now had a full tummy. We got her mobile with the last little bit of light and as the Princess of darkness stalked to try and catch some impala if the opportunity arose, we chose to leave her to hunt in the midst of darkness.
We just left her when suddenly William spotted another spotted cat. One that hasn’t seen before in the wild – a serval! A rare sighting once again!
As it ran off into the bush we went on and not far from there William spotted an African Wild cat! By now we were in awe. 2 rare sightings in one drive. We had already sighted the big 5 on one drive today and were were happy to have not seen more.
The last sighting of the night was a spotted genet and finally after all the action made our way back to camp for a steak dinner.
Tomorrow being the last drive we’re really hoping for Thandi and cub, but who knows what the bush will bring.
Day 4 Morning
The last Drive
Being the last morning we awoke tired from all the bundu bashing from the last few days and all the late nights. Our little Zaneerah refused to wake up but I knew how upset she would be if we didn’t take her with on the truck. So it was a morning where we had to be flexible and that meant changing her in her sleep and wrapping her up in a blanket and taking her with us on drive. Brushing teeth would have to wait until after drive.
We had a sighting of 3 Bateleur on a dead lead wood tree against a backdrop of the perfect sunrise with the rays penetrating through the clouds.
I remembered that I had seen the owlet on Safari Live last week and asked the guides if we could go there and see if the owlet was still around. We made our way there and the owlet was sleeping with mum in a nest which was nicely hidden in the bank of the empty riverbed.
It was incredibly cute!
We came out of the riverbed and bumped into a rhino which we chose not to stay with because this was the last drive and we were adamant that this was the drive we would look for Thandi.
As we were looking for tracks we heard the alarm call of a squirrel. We switched off the vehicle and suddenly heard the heartbreaking scream of an antelope in distress. Out of nowhere we saw the scuffle between hyena and cheetah and the hyena stole the alive grey duiker right out of the cheetahs clutches. There was a snap of bone followed by a chilling silence. The hyena killed the duiker right in front of us and began ripping it to pieces within seconds.
Suddenly behind us we heard a tiny voice at the back of the vehicle “I need my camera!”
Even Zaneerah knows when’s the right time to wake up and what’s important – photographing the perfect moment, just like her Dad!
We watched all the gruesomeness of the hyena eating away with fresh warm blood all over his face and watched the cheetah in the distance sitting under a tree obviously shaken by the presence of the hyena stealing his kill.
We tried to go nearer to the hyena for better photographs but the poor guy thought we were going to steal his prize and ran off into the bushes with it. The hyena left behind the fetus of the duiker, a heartbreakingly painful moment as we sat there watching this tiny unborn animal gasping for air not understanding what had just happened. As a mother I sat there itching to jump off the truck and assist this tiny animal that was still lying in its amniotic sac. It was incredibly hard to witness so We then went in search of the cheetahs but they were so restless after the incident that we lost their location very quickly. We decided to drive around trying to track them.
While still recovering from all the adrenaline that had been pumping through our blood we were talking amongst ourselves while the guides tried to find the cheetahs. Zaheer joked that we could get something to eat and I bent down to get the cooler box from under my seat and took my eyes off the road for a second when William shouted out LEOPARD!
I got up quickly and looked straight into the face of Thandi who was sitting on the side of the road looking directly at me.
The sighting was amazing. We spent the rest of the drive with her which was about 2 hours long! She allowed us to follow her as she went from termite mound to termite mound and watched as she stalked impala. We spent a great deal of time with her with no pressure at all to leave the sighting. but sadly all good things must come to an end and our time was up. we had to leave the sighting as it was time for us to head back to pack up and get ready for check out.
Once again Djuma has left us wanting for more and each time we come it becomes harder and harder to leave.
We really enjoyed the educational part of the safari and having Zaneerah with us was difficult but oh so rewarding. She had a ball of a time and was so good on the drives. Mind you she has been coming to Djuma since I was pregnant with her!
A dose of calpol for her and Panados for me, we headed back on the familiar road home.
Looking forward to being back in Djuma on Friday with another set of guests!
The return of the chief
I awoke at 5am this morning with the gracious wake up call from our amazing guides. The epic part of going on safari to these amazing places is the personalised feel and the hospitality of the staff all round.
After a quick shower and change I made my way to the deck where not only tea and coffee awaited us but an entire pack of wild dogs and hyena were drinking water. Since we could see them perfectly from the deck there was no hurry to jump on to the vehicle and go out looking for game. One of the super 7 was already right in front of our lodge!
We enjoyed the morning coffee watching the dogs do their thing. The pups are so active and playful it’s always fun to watch these endangered animals in their natural habitat in an area where they’re appreciated.
The start to the morning was of the best I’ve had and the sunrise this morning was a typical African sunrise. The calls of all the birds who have returned for the summer paired with the perfect round orange sun with not a cloud in the turquoise sky gave me a sense of happiness to be in the place I loved the most.
After some time the dogs got up and started their morning hunt. They missed an impala and then we decided to follow the one half of the pack. As we followed them, there was suddenly a squeal and some commotion behind the bushes.
We turned the vehicle around and headed in that direction. We found the other half of the pack on a duiker. Within minutes the dogs had stripped that duiker apart and there was none left for the poor hyenas who were trailing behind them for a free breakfast.
After that quick meal they went off into a drainage line which was too thick for us to go into, and we had received news of a male leopard in the area. The male had been sighted on Robsons boundary in EP so we made our way in that direction.
There was a lot of confusion as to who this leopard was but immediately when I saw him I knew. This was our little chief, not so little anymore!
I suddenly became so emotional in that moment as I had been wishing to see him for so long. I don’t like to put names and personalities to these animals even though we visit here so often but Hosana, he’s a special leopard. He’s one of our favourite leopards in the sands and we had many opportunities to shoot him in Djuma when he was younger. To see him all grown up and no longer a cub was amazing. Words cannot describe how I felt in that moment but it was amazing to see him again.
We had a huge array of birds on drive and enough opportunities to shoot some wonderful bird life.
It’s action filled drives like these that make us coming back for more.
Mala Mala – October 2020
The drive from Polokwane to Mala Mala was a long and treacherous one. I was driving solo and forgot my ‘padkos’ for some munching along the way. It wasn’t only my stomach hunger that was needing a satisfaction but also the hunger of being back in Mala Mala. As I entered Shaws gate the hunger only increased. The wildlife hunger that is! The build up and anticipation to this trip was immense. As I drove along the oh so familiar road from Shaws Gate to Mala Mala I felt so privileged to be apart of the guides to host trips here. As I walked in to the reception and saw the deck and watched the river, I felt a sense of calmness and ease as I was finally here. Let the trip begin!
Our guests settled in and we had a short briefing followed by lunch. The service and accommodation at mala Mala is always great and as usual our guests were blown away by the hospitality of the guides and our services.
Drive 1 was an afternoon drive. Being summer it is extremely hot out in the bush and being on an open vehicle brings no relief, but for the wildlife and safari lover this is our moment. Stepping onto that open vehicle to go out and look for game is the anticipation and the hunger that we crave. Finally my hunger had been satisfied. The first drive brought us a lot of lions. We were lucky enough to have mating lions – an Avoca male and one of the kambula lionesses mated in front of our vehicle about 5 times. Great photographic opportunities as usual! I was lucky enough to be testing out the Nikon D6 and so a long sitting lion sighting is a great way to start off, as they are mostly sitting and lying down except when they are mating. Great way to engage with guests and assist with settings as I have ample time while we wait for our sleepy cats to do something.
As the sun set, we chose to leave them and followed the other Avoca male who had been calling in the distance. We sat with him with the setting sun as our backdrop and listened to the echo of his call. He was so close to our vehicle we could feel the vibrations of his roar through the vehicle. if any moment in life is hair-raising moment, this is it. To listen to the call of the male lion echo through every bone in our body as your heart skips a beat is something that you have to experience once in your life time. It is a moment that will last with you forever and that feeling never leaves.
It was now dark and our wildlife hunger satisfied leaving myself and my guests hungry for dinner.
It was back to the lodge where we went off to freshen up for dinner and met in the boma for a lovely kingkilp dish with lemon butter sauce, chips and seasonal fresh vegetables as a side. The air was warm and it was a perfectly starlit night with the fireflies as our friends and the nightjars as our music. Now its important that I have to emphasise that mala Mala goes out of their way to satisfy their guests. This dish was specially made for us, it was not something that was on their menu for the week but it had been prearranged with the kitchen staff and they willingly obliged to any requests that we have made so far.
Our decision for this morning was to skip coffee before drive – also something that we had prearranged, and we were wheels rolling before anyone else at 5am. Tea and coffee was packed for us onto the vehicle and we set off in search for our favourite spotted cats this morning. We headed off to the west side bridge, a famous bridge in the mala Mala reserve. As we crossed the bridge we heard the familiar ‘stop!” From behind us. One of our guests had spotted a male lion in the river bed. One of the Birmingham Boys. Precisely why its so important to have as many eyes as possible looking out for wildlife, you never know what you might miss! We stopped and positioned the vehicle so that they were walking towards us. We went down off the bridge and positioned ourselves so that we were eye-level with the lion walking towards us. We then moved back up the bridge and shot the lion from the top creating an aerial view of the sighting. Photographic opportunities are endless in the bush and its always great to get some creative shots in-between. We found 2 lionesses underneath the bridge and went down to spend some time with them.
The baboons were calling in the distance and after a brief discussion with the guide we chose to head off in the direction of the Island Female leopard’s den where she had been keeping her young cubs.
Found them! The cubs were active and playing around as they drank from their mother and enjoyed her presence with them. What a special sighting indeed! Our guests were extremely happy and claimed that this has been one of their favourite leopard sightings to date.
Its always great to stop and take in the sighting as it is unfolding in front of you and just enjoy the moment. That was one of those times. What a dream come true to see leopard cubs, Africa’s most elusive cat, out in the open playing and interacting with mum.
Most of our morning was spent with them and we made our way back for some tea and coffee and a short rest before lunch. We had pictures to edit!
Day 2 Afternoon drive
One of my favourite things about Mala Mala is that there are no fixed times as to when we can leave and come back to camp. We can stay at a sighting as long as we need to as well. Best way to view wildlife at its finest.
We left slightly after 4 as it was a hot afternoon out. Off we set into the warm afternoon breeze into the thicket to see what the afternoon would bring convinced that nothing could top the amazing sighting we had of the cubs playing this morning. And not to mention the lion from west street bridge – 2 things I had been dying to see!
But oh how wrong I was. This afternoons drive proved to be even better than the mornings.
We first found the fit foot female leopard who came in from Londolozi. We then found the plague rock female who came and drank from the river right in front of the vehicle. Seeing these elusive spotted cats are so special! Each sighting is different and to watch them in their natural habitat and up close the way we do is indeed priceless. Nothing in the world can change the way I feel about wildlife and the excitement each leopard brings!
She then moved off and placed herself on a xidulu(termite mound) with the orange sky behind her. A perfect photo opportunity!
As we watched her on the termite mound and took some amazing photos of her, she was approached by a hyena and the stare off between them began.
It’s always great to see the behind the scenes of what happens in reality in wildlife. I find it absolutely intriguing!
He went on his way and our beautiful spotted cat made her way up a marula tree as the sun set behind her. Something I have dreamed to shoot! I have often joked with guides that we should place a leopard in a tree with the perfect African sunset behind it and suddenly this was my moment. I’m still shaking from the experience and every second at that sighting was electrifying. Luckily the D6 is a super camera to handle the amazing sightings we have been getting! Back to camp and we were served with a scrumptious dinner to send us off to sleep with the sounds of roaring lions and nightjars in the distance.
Here’s to hoping that the morning brings more dreams true.
After a night long of listening to the infamous Birmingham Boys create a symphony as they moved off into Londolozi, we awoke early and ready to take on the day. Myself and guests were on the vehicle at 4:55am and wheels were rolling by 5AM.
We made a joint decision based on the epic sightings we have been having that today we would go and check out the south end of the reserve. But at always, one can never get to their destination at Mala Mala without a little detour first.
We received news on the radio that the Island female was out in the open with her cubs and they were active and playing with one another and walking on the road.
Off we went to view these cuties again. As we got there they were walking in the riverbed. We bundu bashed our way into the perfect photographic position so that our guests could shoot them walking towards us.
We were lucky to have them walk right next to the vehicle and our guests got some amazing shots! As we were shooting, we listened to the tiny roars of the cubs who were crying for their mum. What a cute sound!
We spent majority of the morning with them as our guests were in awe with the cuteness of this sighting.
We headed off south but as we made our way to the south of the reserve there was a call in on the radio that Emsegweni’s cub had been found. The area that he was walking in was lush and green and made the rosettes stand out even more in the thicket. It was an are full of combretum trees and because of that we managed to get the perfect dappled golden morning light on him. He went on to sit on not 1, not 2 but 3 termite mounds!
A sight for sore eyes!
Our guests have been having some amazing shots due to the amazing photographic opportunities mala mala has been producing.
Since we opted not to have brekkie again this morning at camp, we made our way to a spot for some tea and coffee in the bush. Our guide chose the perfect spot in the middle of the dry sand river bed and we enjoyed a lovely meal out under the warm sun.
Sightings cravings satisfied we headed back to camp for a full on breakfast and some needed rest after a spotted cat filled morning.
The afternoon brought some needed TLC at the mala mala spa where I enjoyed a rejuvenating massage.
Proof that the bush is so unexpected, I was walking back to the pool area from after the spa and as I looked up to the pool there were 3 lionesses hunting right across the pool. At first I thought I was imagining as I was so relaxed but their movements confirmed that they were really there! What luck!
We’ll be off in search of them on this evenings drive for sure!
We left for the evening drive with no expectations of seeing anything. With our sightings being so awesome we felt that we would go out and see whatever we see.
We were already aware if the lionesses that were near to camp so we made our way towards them. We opted to park our vehicle on the opposite side of the river in case they came down to drink. Another reason why having a photographic guide is important on these trips. We are able to judge animal behaviour and position the vehicle in order for our guests to produce world class shots.
Lo and behold after waiting for some time they came down to drink. Patience in the bush always pays off and we got perfect head on shots of them drinking from the river.
We followed them for a bit and as they went into the drainage line decided to call it a day and headed back to camp as our sightings have been awesome this far.
Supper tonight was served in the Boma under the full moon and a starlit sky with a very special guest. An African rock python!
We still have 3 drives left of this trip, and so much more to experience!
This morning we had a late start and decided to head on south in hope of sighting the Avoca Males or even the sand river pride.
We drove right to the most southern tip of the reserve and we were driving along the riverbed in search of these big cats.
Somewhere in the reeds there they lay with only the tip of their ears visible. The females of the sand river pride.
In the distance we saw the males sleeping. As we made our way to the males across the river to a small island. The males started the ritual of waking up by yawning and shaking their manes.
We positioned ourselves on the island in such a way that the water separated us and the males in hope that they might decide to cross the water.
In all honestly I was secretly praying that they do as seeing them cross the water has been something that has been playing on my mind for a while now. And funny enough we talked about the epicness of a sighting like that and that chances of actually seeing it happen.
Yet once again I was in a position that I never dreamed will actually come true. They crossed the river and we were in the perfect position to video and photograph it all! I’ve said it once and il say it again, always be careful what you wish for out there in the bush!
The afternoon drive brought more lions for us!
What better way to see lions out in the open?
The Birmingham males on the Airstrip. When we got to the sighting they were lying down and we positioned ourselves to get perfect silhouettes Of the boys with the sun peaking out through the clouds.
After some time we left the old boys and made our way to the Island female and her cubs as we knew that she had made a kill. As we got there, we saw the little cubs on the ground close to where the mother had stashed the kill.
A tense sighting as a hyena appeared and we were filled with dread as we thought this was the end for the little ones but luckily today was not the day for sadness and the cubs made it through another day in the African Wilderness. This was our last full day in Mala Mala and with Great Sadness we departed for camp for our last night under a full moonlit sky and the symphony of lions.