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!).
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.
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!
As the sun was setting we saw a group of vultures near the river. A sure sign that death is near...
... 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The four subadults played around with this calf for about 1,5h before the lioness finally came to kill it.
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.
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!
Look at the stare he's giving us!
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!
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..
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.
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...
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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)