I recently had the pleasure of spending a week in MalaMala photographing the three camps: MalaMala Main Camp, Sable Camp, and Rattray’s on MalaMala.
The timing could not have been better: the beginning of an African summer before the rains…
The magnificent camps at MalaMala are internationally acknowledged as the epitome of exclusive and gracious living – with luxurious accommodation, breath-taking surroundings and natural splendour teeming with wild life – including the Big Five…
I knew all of this and I was looking forward to the experience with eager anticipation; but I also knew that it was going to be hard work!
My days began with a 3.45am wake up call so that I would be able to capture the camps’ facades in the soft light of sunrise; and shooting continued right through the day until early evening when the light faded.
Professional photography also involves a certain element of ‘manual labour’ – moving the lighting equipment and lugging my camera, tripod and laptop from area to area, and also moving furniture, when necessary, for perfectly styled images. All this was made considerably easier with the full-time assistance of my dedicated ranger, Ross Forbes, to whom I give my grateful thanks!
Even though I was commissioned to do the photography for MalaMala Marketing, I was afforded the same generous hospitality as the guests with beautiful accommodation and my own private plunge pool. And, although the days were long and hot with temperatures reaching 39 degrees, the evenings were relatively cool and it was wonderful to relax in the tranquil ambience of MalaMala.
I thoroughly enjoyed the conversations I had with my clients after the day’s shoot over a glass of perfectly chilled wine. We’d discuss the next day’s shoot and sometimes we would have lively and interesting discussions – conversations that are comparable to the kind of conversations I would have with some of my life-long friends. I felt at home at MalaMala – almost embraced by it.
I’ve seen all of ‘the Big Five’ before – every time a friend comes back to South Africa for a holiday with their foreign partner, the first thing we do is head out to the Lion Park and Johannesburg Zoo – so, prior to arriving at MalaMala, I assumed that the wildlife would not be a big attraction for me. I could not have been more mistaken! On my last evening, Ross took me for an hour’s game drive… In less than 2km we saw a herd of about 50 elephant, a lazy pride of lions, and – the highlight of my trip – a leopard that literally brushed up against the side of the game vehicle! I was speechless… and trembling from the experience of being so close to a leopard in the wild!
On my last morning, we slept late (05h30!) and went on an early morning game drive. Ross asked me what I would like to see and, still in awe after the encounter with the leopard, I thought I’d make it tricky for him. “A herd of rhino, a cheetah (Africa’s elusive and rarely seen ‘cat’) and a porcupine!”
He nodded, ready to accept my challenge. Minutes after heading off, we were driving through bamboo in the riverbed, tracking rhino. We reached a clearing and there they were: Four magnificent rhino. It was poignant to see these misunderstood giants… and it was heart wrenching to consider the impact of rhino poaching on our environment. The reality of what poachers are doing to this country’s rhino population hit home and I could feel the emotion rising in me…
After I had taken several photos, Ross heard on his radio that there was a cheetah sighting on the other side of the property, and he set out to fulfill my wish list. Fifteen minutes later, we found two cheetah brothers, fat and lazy after a big meal, chilling under the shade of a solitary tree. It was truly an extraordinary experience and it was hard to tear myself away… but I had to get back to camp to catch the flight back to Johannesburg. I didn’t get to see my porcupine, though…!
This experience has made me throw aside my ‘city girl’ impressions of the Big Five. Seeing them in a zoo or an enclosed park is nothing compared to tracking them in the wild and seeing these majestic beauties up close and personal in their natural environment… it was a humbling and life-changing experience.
MalaMala’s tag line is, “It’s all about the wildlife” – and this is so true. MalaMala has the well-deserved reputation for having the best and most abundant wildlife in South Africa. And they are dedicated to protecting this natural heritage for the good of all and for future generations.
In retrospect, my MalaMala experience was multi-faceted: I experienced Africa’s wildness at its very best and took photographs of three unbelievably beautiful five-star camps; and I was privileged to share an unforgettable few days with the MalaMala ‘family’ who willingly shared their knowledge and their love for MalaMala with me. My time at MalaMala changed me and challenged me… and I returned home with memories that will last a lifetime.
“The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.” – John Ruskin