Magical place called MalaMala

By Pam Hobbs with Photography by Michael Algar

Ordinarily I wouldn't be too thrilled to find a pile of dung outside my back door, and four or five guineafowl playing tag on the lawn. But then this is no ordinary place.
It is MalaMala, recognized as South Africa's premier private game reserve on the fringe of Kruger National Park, and there are no fences or boundaries of any kind to keep the wildlife out.

We chose MalaMala, an hour's flight from Johannesburg, because statistics show more bird and animal sightings here than at other private preserves. We were not disappointed. On our first game run, an aged lion trudged past within a metre or so of our land rover. Walking purposefully in the direction of a cheetah we had just left relaxing on a termite hill, he barely looked our way. In our quest for the Big Five that afternoon, we saw elephants, buffalo, cheetah and two young leopards. No rhino on this run, but we came upon a family of three the following day.

MalaMala's three camps provide various levels of luxury for guests. The most opulent, Main Camp, attracts the rich and famous. While management is discreet about its celebrities, I did hear that Sir Richard Attenborough had left the day before we arrived. And I know that Premier Tours (the company that arranged our trip) recently brought Paul Newman here with his family and friends in a chartered jet.
All MalaMala guides have university degrees in the natural sciences. Our guide is Dale Geldenhuys who generously shares his huge wealth of knowledge as we sit watching animals at work and play. In constant radio contact with fellow guides, he takes his all-terrain vehicle across rivers and through the bush following paw tracks instead of roads. Our tracker is Johnson, a local man whose low whistle often alerts us to camouflaged creatures we may have otherwise missed. Every day we indulge in seven hours of gameviewing; that's three soon after dawn and four in early evening. We are astonished at how much wildlife we see, how close we get, and that the animals are unmindful of our presence. Actually, although they appear deceptively tame, they really are wild in that they fend for themselves without human interference. We are instructed not to leave the vehicle or even stand up because animals recognize us and our vehicle as one image. Should the picture change shape, they could consider us a threat. I should perhaps add that in the 40-year history of this preserve, no animal has been hurt by man, or vice versa.

On our second evening, I am torn with anxiety for the impala being stalked by a leopard determined to feed her two young daughters. With enviable patience she lies in wait, circles the bush, then prepares to run across open land as darkness falls. A wily hyena follows us as we follow the leopard. One impala cries a warning to the rest. Our hunter loses her prey and her youngsters go hungry that day. Back at camp, we dine royally on Karoo lamb. A campfire glows in the centre of the reed-fenced Boma. Stars above shine as brilliant diamonds studding a black velvet sky. Chatter is constant as guests share stories of their exciting day. In the distance, the old lion roars his goodnight.

IF YOU GO: MalaMala has its own air-strip for commercial and private aircraft. The Main Camp welcomes children of all ages, while the other two camps (Harry's and Kirkman's) accommodate children 12 and over. See their website at