Mala Mala – October 2020

Day one 

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. 

Day 2 

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. 

Day 3 

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! 

Day 4 

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.