In my time as a travel consultant, I could not have helped but become a bit of a safari name-dropper. Being a professional visitor of game farms and reserves I have been lucky enough to have been forced, with gnashing teeth, to visit an impressively glamorous array of African tourist destinations. Many of them are not known to the international traveller but there are some are iconic enough to enjoy a level of fame that spans the globe.

Mala Mala is perhaps one such destination. The name itself rolls rather glamorously off the tongue when casually mentioning to my fellow school run mums that I have the oh-so-exhausting burden to pack for a junket to this swanky and renowned reserve. Nobody cared, of course, but I was having too much fun saying “I’m off to Mala Mala” to be dampened by the indifferent smiles and glazed eyes that greeted my name dropping.

Mala Mala is one of South Africa’a oldest and most famous premier game reserves

Mala Mala has quite a rich history and an interesting story. Originally the land of the reserve and surrounds was occupied by the Tsonga people who were forcefully removed in the early 1900’s. It then went through various owners over the years each who had a hand in making it what it is today; from the very serious sounding Transvaal Consolidated Land and Exploration Company to the more amusing sounding Wac Campbell, who was instrumental in developing it into a photographic safari (as opposed to a hunting safari) and then not least the Rattray family who bought it in 1964. It was under the Rattray stewardship that Mala Mala started to take shape as one of the most glamorous bush destinations known around the world. Interestingly enough, in 2014 the N’wandlamhlarhi Community Property Association in Mpumalanga took ownership of the land that includes the Mala Mala game reserve in a ceremony in which President Jacob Zuma returned the land to the Tsonga people.

Mala Mala is the largest private concession adjoining the Kruger National Park. It is now owned by local comunity

Our experience at Mala Mala was made special by our outstanding ranger, Robin, who greatly enhanced the reputation of Mala Mala in my eyes. He was highly professional, listened intently to our interests and always gave great and valuable insight into the game. That he also provided us with daily sundowners in beautiful locations was cherry on the top stuff. In fact, the highlight of our stay was a lunch at an impossibly beautiful location in the bush, arranged by Robin, for my brother in law’s birthday for which he laid out a table with flowers and champagne and all things yummy and luxurious.

My special request for a bush lunch in a beautiful location came true and it was a highlight
Sable Camp at Mala Mala, where the emphasis is on the wildlife and not on safari chic decor

We stayed at the Sable Camp, which could be described at either charmingly retro or not having been renovated since the Nixon era, but the large and airy rooms were more than comfortable and the views from the deck over the Sand River everything you would wish for on a safari holiday.

The game viewing at Mala Mala, particularly the Big Five, is reputedly to be of the highest standard in the world. This would be especially so when there sufficient rain has fallen to bring the animals out and in full view. As mentioned earlier, this is a reserve that is all about the taking of priceless photographs of, not only the Big Five of lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard but also wild dogs and cheetah which make up the Mala Mala Seven! If you’re into shooting your Nikon then by reputation you’re unlikely to find a more sumptuous visual menu than here.

At Mala Mala photographers are guaranteed ring side seats for all the Big Five action

Because of this slant on photography, Mala Mala now has dedicated game viewing vehicles that are equipped with gizmos and goodygashes like sliding racks, riggy type things and bean bags – along with rangers who are highly knowledgeable – to make sure you get that perfect shot. Or at the very least, look very good trying to.

Off road, crossing river beds – all in a morning’s game drive as we tracked the pride of lions
Me on an armchair safari at Mala Mala. If you’d like help planning a safari, email me at