PART TWO OF OUR HONEYMOON - FEB 10 TO FEB 14 - SAFARI AT MALAMALA
From the MalaMala website: "In existence since 1927, this massive thriving tract of land produces the most exciting wildlife experience this side of the equator. MalaMala Game Reserve is the largest private Big Five game reserve in South Africa. Comprising 13 300 ha (40,000 acres), MalaMala shares a 19 km (12 mile) unfenced border with the world-renowned Kruger National Park and lies sandwiched between the National Park and the Sabi Sand Reserve."
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
We had to once-again get up at the crack of dawn, this time to leave the Bay Hotel in Camps Bay (Cape Town) at 5:45am to get to the Cape Town airport by 6:15am. We had already found out from Phoebe via fax that our leg from Johannesburg to MalaMala had been canceled and that we would be rerouted to Nespruit airport, a 2+ hour drive away from MalaMala. We flew Cape Town to Jo'Burg and after a short delay, we flew from Jo'Burg to Nespruit.
Photo: the Nespruit airport
A very nice man (I have unfortunately forgotten his name) picked us and one other couple up from Nespruit airport and drove us to Rattray's. The other couple is Steve and Marsha Funk from Florida, who we will be on safari with for the duration of our stay. Fortunately they seem to be very nice people!
On the drive, we passed a few small towns and farms and countryside, which we would not have otherwise gotten to see.
Photos: Random photos taken on the drive from Nespruit to MalaMala
By the time we got to Rattray's, we had already seen saw many impalas, some elephant tracks, and a giraffe.
Because of the 2+ hour drive, we got to Rattray's later than originally expected. When we pulled up, we were greeted by Gareth, who turned out to be our ranger for the duration; Melissa, the office manager; and Wesley, the manager.
Photos: the entrance to the mail building at Rattray's
We got settled into our amazing khaya (Zulu for "home"). Each khaya has its own private plunge pool, his-and-hers bathrooms, a huge center bedroom and living room, heated floors for the winter, and an outdoor shower. The khayas are totally private in the back and are right along the Sand River.
Photo: the front of our khaya
Video: me giving a quick tour of our awesome khaya
Photo: Martin in the khaya
We dropped our stuff off at the khaya and headed back to the main lodge for sandwiches and cheesecake, then promptly jumped in the range rover for our first safari! One of the benefits to Rattray's is that there are only 4 people per vehicle (plus the ranger) while on game drives. So it was Martin & I, Steve and Marsha, and Gareth. (On a side note, we later traded pictures and videos with Steve, who's camera was far superior to ours - so I must give credit to him here, as many of the photos in this blog are from him. Also thanks to Martin for all the awesome videos he took!)
Before we left camp, Gareth listened on the radio for any interesting sightings. There was a reported sighting of a cheetah, apparently a rather rare sighting, so we headed directly there.
Photo: heading out on our first game drive
After a short drive, we approached the spot where the cheetah was sighted. He was lying in the grass under a tree a few meters away from the two vehicles already at the sighting (at MalaMala, there is a max of 3 vehicles at any sighting).
Photo: Approaching the cheetah sighting. The Kruger Park border to MalaMala is at the treeline in the distance.
Photo: the cheetah lounging in the grass
After watching the cheetah sleep and little else for awhile, we headed in the direction of where a pride of lions (later we found out it was the "Styx" pride) was reportedly seen. We got there in a few minutes, and as we turned a corner, we saw the back of a male lion strolling down the road. An amazing sight!
Video: coming upon the male lion
Gareth drove off-road for a bit to try to get ahead of the herd, which he did perfectly. We watched in amazement as one by one, the pride of lions walked past us, less than 2 meters away from our open-air vehicle.
Video: lionesses passing the vehicle (sorry for my lack of video-taking skills - trying to use my new tripod then move it at the last second ...didn't work too well)
Photos: the lionesses of the Styx pride; in the first photo, the lioness is calling for the cubs
Photo: gives you a sense of how close we were to the lions as they passed our vehicle
The male (called the “roller coaster male”) was trailing 3 or 4 lionesses who were calling for the rest of their pride, a total of 7 lionesses and 9 cubs. The animals at MalaMala have all grown up with the safari vehicles and barely acknowledge when they are around, but before we learned that, it was a little intimidating to be so close to these lions.
Video & photos: the roller coaster male passing our vehicle
After the male had passed, we drove off-road along the road far enough to see more lionesses with the cubs coming up the road from the other direction, toward the male and other lionesses. We stopped at a point in the middle, hoping to get a good view of the reunion. A few short minutes later, we saw an amazing, loving reunion of the lionesses with the cubs! The soft chirpy groans of the cubs and mothers as they rubbed up against each other were so touching!
Videos & photos: the awesome reunion!
We watched them walk on a bit, then drove off-road again to try to get ahead of them.
Suddenly, the vehicle stalled out and wouldn't restart. After multiple tries to restart it, Gareth called it in on the radio, but the radio wasn't working right either! So we were sitting in the back of the vehicle thinking, "Ok, we're in the middle of the bush, it's getting dark, our (open-air) vehicle is dead, we don't have a radio... oh yeah, and we're about 50 meters from a pride of lions."
Gareth finally was able to hold the cable to the headset just right, and it worked. He called for a standby ranger to bring us out a new vehicle. After 15-20 minutes, the ranger arrived and we departed in our new rover while the poor standby ranger had to stay with the broken-down vehicle and wait for the mechanic, who hadn't yet even been notified of the problem.
From there, we caught back up with the pride of lions again. By this time it was dark, so we could only see them well with the spotlight. We watched as they walked passed us on the road...
...first the lionesses...
...then the cubs...
...and finally the roller coaster male.
We followed them along the road for 50 meters or so, when they turned off the road into some thick bush. We quickly lost them. We tried to find them by off-roading into the bush, but we did not see them again that night. We found out later from Gareth that MalaMala is one of the last reserves that stills allows off-roading. The reserve is so large that off-roading does little damage to the bush, since they rarely drive over the same off-road path twice unless there is a specific sighting that stays in one place off the road. It really makes the game drives so much more interesting to be able to follow the animals into the brush.
We headed back toward the camp for dinner and on the way, drove smack dab into the middle of a herd of elephants. The baby elephant was directly in front of us on the road, and he trumpeted when our headlights surprised him. He moved off the road after a few seconds, and we drove past him. Immediately after passing him, we were staring at the face of his mother, and she did not look happy, as she flapped her ears at us agitatedly! At night, lights from the truck make the elephants nervous, so we had to be very careful not to startle them any further, and to move past them as quickly as possible. We passed through the herd and headed to camp for dinner...
Photos: in the bar at Rattray's, before dinner
For all of our photos & videos from this day, click here.