Mala Mala, South Africa

In February this year, my sister, my father and I went on the best trip of my life; a safari adventure that started out in South Africa and ended in Botswana. It has taken me about a month to digest everything we experienced, but I finally feel like I'm ready to write about it (and I really need to before I forget everything!).


As most of my friends and family will tell you; I've never really been an adventurous person, or at least not for the past 5-6 years. I love my home and my life here and didn't really feel the need to challenge my comfort zone. I wouldn't say that I'm terrified of flying, but I'm definitely a nervous traveller. My biggest nightmare is (was?) losing my passport in a foreign country and not be able to get home. Also the possibility of a plane crash is quite intimidating. Sitting on a plane for 10 hours with these thoughts in my head just didn't seem manageable, so I just avoided situations like that entirely.


So when I got the opportunity to go on this adventure I initially said no. Crazy, I know!!! Then I considered it for a couple of months and decided to just do it (Nike has this one right, you know). The thought of all the amazing animals and the opportunity to take pictures of them was just too tempting. Buying new, fancy camera equipment and doing research on the places we were going (and you know, tons of school work) was what kept me distracted in the months leading up to the trip. Before I knew it I sat on a plane to South Africa, completely calm and only excited for what was coming. I think as soon as I stepped out of that comfort zone all of my fears went away, and I haven't seen them since. So lesson learnt... I need to keep challenging my comfort zone, expanding it little by little. Enough rambling from me! Lets get to the fun part; the actual trip. I'm going to do one post on Mala Mala in South Africa and another one on Mashatu in Botswana as the two experiences were quite different and also because this post would just be too long (I suspect this one will still be too long, so brace yourself)! So here we go. Prepare yourself! You're going to feel a desperate need to visit the most wonderful place on earth; Mala Mala game reserve in South Africa! Day one:

Male impala

This is the first picture I took after we landed at Skukuza airport and were picked up by our ranger Greg. The picture was taken about 1 minute into the drive, right outside the airport gates. I did ask Greg as we got into the car if we would se any animals on the way to the camp, and he said it was possible, but I guess I didn't quite believe him, because the sight of this Impala (a type of antelope) was so shocking to me. And I would get this feeling several times on the 1 hour drive to the camp where we spotted giraffes, more impalas, beautiful birds and our first of the big five; the buffalo.

When we arrived at the camp, Greg gave us a tour of our bungalow and the rest of the camp. After a quick change of clothes we had some tea and immediately went on our first game drive.

Sand river

They have been struggling with a drought this year, having had very little rain (I did hear a rumor that the situation is bit better now though, which is great!) as you can tell by this picture taken on our very first game drive. This is the sand river that runs through the Mala Mala game reserve and right next to the main camp and it's one of the biggest reasons that Mala Mala has such good game viewing.

Male nyala

If I'm remembering correctly, the river had been overflowing the past two years so the drought made for quite the contrast. This also affects the animals behaviour so everything was quite different to what the rangers were used to. That wasn't a bad thing (of course it was for some of the animals, but you know, it's the circle of life as they say), it just made for more interesting/different game viewing. But I will tell you more about that later.



Elephant by the camp

An elephant casually strolling by the camp. As you can see there is no fence around the camp which meant that sometimes animals would wander into the camp. During our stay two hippos came to visit whilst we were having our dinner one night, and Greg had to go chase them off! They actually lied down in a pool of water in the camp about 50m from our bungalow, so when we went back to our room after dinner we saw them lying there. But don't worry, we were completely safe as they have cameras and guards everywhere. I think it just adds to the whole experience of being close to the wildlife!

Mala mala


As the sun was setting we saw a group of vultures near the river. A sure sign that death is near...

Male lion chasing vulture

... and that it was. A group of 9 lions (2 male, 3 female and 4 cubs) where hanging out by this buffalo they had killed the day before. Here you can see a male lion chasing away the vultures. I find it very hard to describe what I was feeling, sitting there in the land rover, just a couple of meters away from the lions. Our entire first day just felt so surreal. The best way I can describe it is that I felt like I was in The Lion King movie, as childish as that may sound... Or perhaps a David Attenborough documentary.

Lioness and cubs

I suspect that Greg had saved the best for last so that we would see these beautiful creatures in the sunset. And boy was it beautiful!!! Just look at that light!



I could just stare at them for days on end. And lucky for us, we got to hang out with these three lionesses and 4 cubs several times over the next couple of days.


Male lion

A male lion in the sunset. These animals are incredibly beautiful and powerful, just as I'd imagined them, but they are equally (if not more!) as lazy, which I found surprising. They can sleep up to 18 hours a day, only using energy when they have to.

White rhino

While we were sitting there enjoying the lions this huge white rhino showed up!


We ended our first day with a lovely dinner out on the deck, discussing everything we'd seen and everything we would see during our stay. Greg also told us about the little score system they have. Every animal has a certain amount of points, the rarer they are, the more point you get for seeing them. Every night the rangers discuss what they've seen and put it all together, and the goal is to get the highest score of the month.

If you've ever met me, you will know that I'm quite competitive so I knew that we would just have to beat the score, which I think was around 1700 when we got there. Although we'd seen 4 out of the 5 big five on our first day, we only got a score of about 1500 or so, so we were all determined to try to beat that the next day.

Day two:


Our plan was working well: we started off our next day seeing the last of the big five, the leopard! Isn't he beautiful?? There's just something about those big cats. This leopard is on the older side of the scale and one of the ways you can tell that is by his big neck. They get this flap(?) of skin on their neck when they reach a certain age, and I think is does make him look a bit more intimidating, but not as beautiful as the younger leopard we would see the next day.



Velvet monkey


A really big white rhino with an unusually long back horn. This one is known to show agressive behaviour with the vehicles, likely from a bad experience in his past, so we kept our distance.

Amur falcon


Little sister in swimming pool with the sand river in the background. As she was enjoying the pool I noticed that the group of lions on the other riverbank were keeping an eye on a group of impalas not far away. I quickly ran back to our room and grabbed my 600mm lens to keep a lookout. I was really hoping to see the lions kill something! There's something really fascinating about seeing animals kill and consume meat in the same way the've always done and I guess in the way it's "supposed" to be done. A lot of us are so removed from the process of living animal to food on our table. Seeing lions kill and eat without human interference is just, for lack of a better word, so cool! And although it's quite gruesome to watch, it doesn't feel wrong or unnatural (at least to me). "The kill" as they called it at Mala Mala gives 200 points, so our chances of beating the high score would be greatly improved if we saw the lions kill something.

Lioness lurking

When I got back to our room I was disappointed to see that the group of impalas had left, and the lions were yet again sleeping. But I did not give up and kept watching the lions. Suddenly a small herd of buffalo came down to the river. They were all in really bad shape due to the drought and obviously needed a drink. They did not see the lions lying on the bank (I mean I can hardly see it in this picture) and soon chaos unfolded. The 5 lions (one lioness and four subadult lions named the Marthly pride) managed to capture one big buffalo and a calf.

A little warning: If you don't like seeing blood, quickly scroll past.

Lions killing buffalo calf

The four subadults played around with this calf for about 1,5h before the lioness finally came to kill it.

Bloody lion

Lion eating

Mmmm yum yum... As they did kill two buffaloes we got 400 points and were well on our way to beating the score!


Sister enjoying some breakfast.


Elephant baby

Southern Carmine Bee-eater

Next up is my favourite animal of the entire trip. A young male leopard that we nearly drove past due to his excellent camouflage. He was quite young and a bit nervous around the vehicle, but just soooo beautiful!

Young leopard

Look at the stare he's giving us!

Young leopard


We ended our second day with this cheetah in the dusk and even a serval in the dark, that I didn't get a picture of! The serval is really rare to see so it gave us another 200 points! At the end of the day we had 2037 points and the high score was beaten! Greg said this was the highest one they had had in a while, so I'm very happy with that!

Day three:

Greater blue-eared starling

We were on to lookout for hyenas and zebras this morning, but it was bit slow as it was raining. Despite the rain we saw another pride of lions, some water buck, these dung beetles..

Dung beetles

a herd of zebra..


and a warthog aka Pumba! As you can see it was still a great morning, even without the hyenas!


After some breakfast, a bit of relaxing by the pool, some lunch and a little tea (yes all we did was eat!) it was time to go back out again.
We started of by checking in on the Marthly pride and their kill from the previous day.

Again, if you don't like blood, scroll past the next picture.

Dead buffalo

As you can see the lions had almost finished the entire buffalo at this point! It's incredible how much they can eat! But we didn't stay for long as the smell was so bad!

From one pride of lions to the next...

Lioness and cub

These are the same lions that we saw on our first day. They were in the middle of their afternoon "nap" when we arrived and didn't even open their eyes when they heard us!

Cub yawning

I mean, come on!!!! I almost asked Greg if I could take one home. They are just the CUTEST little things!!! I think we sat there for like 30 minutes, just staring at them!

Young elephant


A hyena all on his own. Hyenas have a really bad reputation, mostly because of The Lion King. I for one really like them and find them both beautiful and fascinating. Did you for example know that their poop is white because they eat so much calcium? So strange! Their body is also quite unusual as they're taller in the front, making the back slant downwards. This is because they need all their strength in the front to chew through bones. One of the things from The Lion King that actually lives up to its reputation is the hyenas laugh! They have this strange, hysterical laugh that they do when they're nervous and we actually got to hear a group of them laughing the next day! Another thing that is a bit true from The Lion King is that they are quite aggressive but mostly to other hyenas in their group. Day four: We started off our last morning at Mala Mala with a wonderful leopard sighting as we watched this young female leopard walking around on her morning patrol.



I was really hoping she would climb up in a tree, giving me the opportunity to get that iconic shot of a leopard, lying on a branch with its legs hanging freely. Unfortunately that didn't happen, but I'm sure we'll get to see it when we go back, as Mala Mala is known for having really good leopard game viewing!


She did give us many other opportunities for pictures though, just look at her beautiful face!


From one big cat to the next. Mala Mala really spoiled us with the big cats! Especially with this pride of lions and their cubs. These are the same lions that we saw the day before with their four adorable cubs. Luckily we got to see them when they were awake and active as opposed to the previous day when they were sleeping.

Lionesses and cubs

The lionesses can often get impatient with the cubs, as the cubs have a much higher energy level and you will see them snarling at the cubs like this quite a lot.

Lioness yawning

I would not want to get bitten by those teeth!


A sleepy cub watching his/hers siblings.

After a while both us and the lions noticed a herd of zebras down by the river. Maybe we would get to see yet another kill? The lions got ready and brought their cubs down to the herd of zebras and tried to attack but actually failed. This was a little bit strange as the lioness attacking was older and quite experienced. Greg though it might be because the lions have gotten a bit over-confident during the drought, having had so many easy kills from the weak animals.

Lioness carrying cub

Although the lions didn't manage to kill a zebra this time, they rewarded us for our patience with this. A lioness picking up the smallest of the cubs (the runt of the litter) and carrying it to safety. This is not a common sight and I feel very lucky to have gotten such a good shot of it! Look at the little cutiepie screaming!



The only thing left on my list of things I wanted to see was a group of hyenas and I had kind of lost all hope as we were on our way back to camp at this point, about to fly to Botswana. But then we drove by the buffalo kill from two days ago and there they were! Snacking away at everything the lions had left behind. They are really so cool to look at as they are more, active, aware and nervous than lions, so they move around a lot more. This is also where we got to hear them laugh. What a way to end an amazing stay at Mala Mala!

Us and Greg

Sadly it was now time to leave and go to our next destination. Pictured above from left to right: our dad Christian, our ranger Greg, me and my sister Cirsten.

Tiny airplane

As we sat on the plane I couldn't help trying to come up with a plan to go back as soon as possible! I really cannot put into words what an incredible stay we had at Mala Mala! It's all thanks to the lovely staff, the beautiful location all the amazing animals and most of all our ranger Greg!

See you again soon Mala Mala!


(written with help from Cirsten)

Citona Marie Rygg

About Citona Marie Rygg

I don't really know who I am quite yet, but what I do know is that I love to bake, travel (newfound love) and spend hours upon hours on my beloved computer.