seeing “the big 5” at mala mala

seeing “the big 5” at mala mala

mala mala is the full safari experience.
it was the 5th and last safari i did during my two visits
to south africa, and though each has been different and
had their own benefits, this is definitely the ultimate.
you will pay the high price here, but you will leave
this experience thrilled with your experience. it is
the only safari that i saw the big 5 on in one place
(and on one drive, nonetheless!) it is historic,
luxurious, and everything is considered here.
there are some safaris that may feel more “in the bush”
roughing it which i’ve liked … but it’s hard to complain
when you experience the authentic luxury offered here.
plus, the setting within sabi sands is unparalleled. this is the
traditional and classic south african safari area. (national
geographic comes here to film, if that gives you an idea.
nelson mandela has also visited if that gives an idea! ;)

IMG_2110currently, this area of the lowveld is actually known to have the
“greatest diversification of animal species on the african continent.”
that is pretty incredible – and something you’ll notice on arrival.
it’s another reason that the big 5 is very commonly seen here!
(including by us, as you can see in our cool certificates below :)
in case you don’t know, the “big 5” is a common phrase in africa
describing the five most difficult animals to hunt on foot..making
them some of the hardest to see on safari. they are: the african lion,
elephant, cape buffalo, leopard, and rhino. we couldn’t believe we
saw all of the BIG FIVE in our first evening drive, but we quickly
learned that this is much more common here at mala mala.
it has some of the best statistics (and near-guarantees) that
visitors will see the big 5. having been on other safaris where
it was much harder to see them, i wondered why mala mala
had it down so well. there are a few reasons for this on their site:

  • size and human habitation: 33,000 acres lie undisturbed but for two safaris which meander through the wild with no more than 6 silent observers per vehicle each day. human densities which have a direct impact on the environment have been kept to an absolute minimum. only guests staying at one of the malamala camps enjoy this privately-owned game land.
  • location: all camps and human habitation are kept to the small section of land on the western bank of the sand river. on the eastern side there are no camps, no power or telephone lines, no access roads for deliveries and transfer vehicles, no lights and no airstrips. all that lies between the sand river and kruger national park is a tract of wilderness land which, for the majority of the time, is the domain of the wildlife – uninterrupted and pristine.
  • exclusivity: game viewing at the malamala game reserve is exclusive to the camps and guests here. this means that no other travelers or safari camps may bring guests within the reserve, leaving higher likelihood that you will see game uninteruppted.
  • water supply: the perennial sand river runs north to south through the reserve, giving a plentiful supply of water especially during the dry winter months. this draws wildlife from all over the area.
  • responsibility: malamala has maintained all of this by practicing sound environmental management policies and ensuring that responsible tourism is applied.
  • variety: as mala mala covers such a vast area, there are a variety of habitats from bushveld, open grassland, dense forest, rocky terrain, and more. this enhances different viewing opportunities for differing species.

this list was helpful for me to understand why there was such
a difference in game viewing at mala mala. it’s clear that there
are no gimmicks, and it really is just the prime setting.
there are three different camps within mala mala: main camp,
sable camp, & rattray’s camp. we stayed at main camp in the
center of it all, where families (and kids!) are allowed. sable
camp is a smaller & calmer environment, and rattray’s is the
high end luxury camp with more privacy and adults only.
IMG_2040we arrived to a nice greeting of cold towels and drinks ^^
IMG_2094..and since we arrived later in the day, we decided to go straight
on the afternoon game drive. we just dropped our bags and went!IMG_2097^^ wearing my giraffe shirt of course ;)
IMG_2101^^ best safari crew!
IMG_2176chase had his binoculars all ready to go.
he became quite the safari nerd on this drive,
(in a good way :). mala mala gives gaming booklets
with a checklist of every animal in the bush – big and small –
to fill out and track what is seen. it’s a fun idea, but it was so
cute how chase got totally into it, pulling out his booklet and
pencil every time our guide listed a new animal…from tiny
birds to springboks to the rarest sightings. he had us covered!
i was being a safari nerd in my giraffe shirt + hat too i guess :)
this time of year there are lots of little ones
IMG_2116as we continued along, our guide started to show
us prints and talk us through tracking the bigger animals.
above you can see lion paw prints if you look close! ^^
^^ we were excited to spot the lilac-breasted roller,
our favorite african bird. look at those gorgeous colors!
it was actually chase who spotted this one – maybe he
has guiding in his future ;) he was being a great spotter.
our guide gareth got us right to the sleeping lions.
this guy was looking so comfy on the warm sand ^^
it is always so crazy to be right by wild lions
in an open-air jeep. no experience quite like it!
uh oh .. i think we got his attention!
we were riveted even just watching him wake up, yawn,
let the wind ruffle his mane, and look around. majestic.
straight after the lion, we spotted a rhino! that’s 2/5!
straight from there we came across these darling ellies!
the babies are always the best part. now we are 3/5!
this one had a little spring in its step :)
we said goodbye to the elephants, then ran straight into:
IMG_2169the cape buffalo. that is already 4/5! we were amazed
to be in the middle of this major herd. first we saw just
a few of them, then more and more came into view until
we realized we had hundreds of buffalo around our jeep.
it was a little scary (what if they stampede?!) but mostly
just so amazing to be out in the bush with the entire herd.
cape buffalo are amazing animals and they take care of
their own, like you can see in this craziest video ever.
getting more and more surrounded! ^^
after the herd moved on, we did too and found some …
zebra friends! (i love that they say it “zeh-brah” in south africa)
next we came upon this amazing giraffe silhouetted by the sunset..
IMG_2199we only had the leopard still to find of the big 5, and
our guide gareth was set on finding her that night. as the sun
set he was seeing signs that a leopard was hunting nearby. the
impala were acting skittish and nervous, and all spread out. we
had already been out on the drive for hours, but our guide would
not give up. honestly, we were getting a little hungry and not thinking
we would ever be able to find a leopard in the pitch dark –especially
when it was stalking and trying to stealthily hunt! we tried and tried,
and just as we were turning around to give up and head back to camp,
the headlights shined RIGHT on the leopard! we all gasped and could
not believe our eyes. she was so graceful lurking in the bush and
hunting her prey. she was so still and beautiful. such a highlight!
(i had never seen a leopard on any safari until this!!)
malamala is renowned internationally for the quality of its leopard viewing,
which we now believe! it was truly amazing to not only see a leopard,
but find it at night hunting. even cooler that it rounded out our big 5!
and in a flash, she was gone.
we got back to camp late, but had to take a (blurry)
photo with our hero guide for finding the leopard!
IMG_2060we grabbed dinner and headed to our amazing
rooms to get some sleep before an early wake-up
call for another game drive the next morning.
we grabbed our keys and opened up to…
this beautiful room! WOW.
not quite a safari tent, but not complaining about these
massive, traditional african rooms. so beautiful.
IMG_6939 IMG_2050we were up bright and early the next morning
(as in.. 4 AM type early) to go out early on the
drive. luckily it was beautiful out so we didn’t mind!
IMG_2045 we walked over to an early breakfast..
IMG_2063 IMG_2072
it’s always a good sign for the day when a herd of
elephants is visible from the breakfast table! ^^^
IMG_2077 IMG_2083
IMG_2257we set out on our morning drive…
IMG_2206…and chase’s tiredness caught up to him just a bit ^^
IMG_1477 ^^ everyone was tired that morning i guess ;)
IMG_2222^^ you can see our tired eyes! :)
luckily these guys helped wake us all up!

and, she perked up as we passed by ^^
we got out to stretch our legs –
– and spot some animal tracks.
my mom was becoming quite the expert!

IMG_2217 IMG_2218 IMG_2233
it was a quiet morning, so we focused on the smaller creatures.
IMG_2236 IMG_2238
did you know there is also a “little 5” ?
the dung beetle is one of them. they are fascinating to watch.

we took a little hot chocolate & croissant break because
rain was coming. my kind of break with my kind of guys!

IMG_2243 IMG_2248 IMG_2252
we got back to the safari (and chase back to his checklist)
IMG_2229 things got a little more exciting after the hot chocolate break! ^^
IMG_6930IMG_6927 IMG_2255IMG_6940after a relaxing morning drive we headed back to nap (which you
can see chase enjoyed ;) & relaxed before lunch and heading out.
IMG_2259 IMG_2262
i went for breakfast foods even though it was lunchtime.
always a good decision.
IMG_2265 IMG_2266 IMG_2268
one more meal in this beautiful setting!
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taking these home to be proudly saved ^^
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^^ a photo with the man who earned us these certificates!
i’m so happy to have made it to the famous sabi sands area..
and even better, the mala mala camp within it!
another perk of mala mala’s is the location…
we were able to head straight into kruger on
our own for some more animal viewing after.
IMG_2287i loved reading this quote on our way out from the malamala
booklet. you really do leave a safari with even more reverence &
respect for nature + the animal kingdom. i’m so glad there are still
ways to soak up the wilderness and observe it. there’s nothing better!