MalaMala and Mashatu Safari | southern Africa’s Predator Haven

As a photographer you are always looking to put yourself in an opportunity rich environment in order to increase the chances of lady luck delivering something extraordinary. I can say with honesty and first hand experience that the MalaMala and Mashatu safari itinerary does exactly that.

Two iconic destinations, 8 nights, 2 photographic hide sessions, 8 night drives with opportunities to shoot side and backlit scenes, just 4 guests and 1 photographic host on hand to help you make the most of each and every opportunity.

“Not even Tanzania’s famed Serengeti Game Reserve or the awesome Ngorongoro Crater fills your camera viewfinder faster with Africa’s legendary Big Five – at MalaMala, lion, leopard, buffalo, rhinoceros and elephant appear magically, as if on cue"

Our MalaMala and Mashatu Safari begins at Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport as we board a commercial flight to Skukuza Airport, the gateway to the Lowveld. On arrival we will be met by our local guide and head north on a 45 minute transfer to MalaMala main camp. Our transfer will see us traversing the boundary line of some of the most iconic game reserves in the Sabi Sands including Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve and Londolozi before reaching camp.

MalaMala Camp, MalaMala Private Game Reserve, South Africa - 4 Nights

MalaMala Camp is the oldest and most historical private game reserve in South Africa and the first to make the transition from hunting to photographic safaris. It is the blueprint on which the South African safari industry was built. Every aspect of the MalaMala Camp is designed to appreciate and enjoy the view of the surrounding wilds.

Pathways wind their way along the perimeter of the camp to reveal individual ochre-colored units tucked into the greenery which flanks the Sand River. Massive trees and rolling green lawns are filled with birdsong, with the occasional antelope or elephant which seeks the succulence of greenery. The camp is unfenced – an oasis in the middle of the bushveld.

MalaMala have always been of the opinion that "It's all about the wildlife" and that is exactly why we begin our safari here. MalaMala’s river frontage running north to south is the lifeblood of the reserve, especially in the dry winter months. Wildlife moves from the 4 million acres east of the Sand River, through MalaMala to the river and back again resulting in two way traffic across the reserve where we conduct our safaris.

malamala and mashatu

In addition to the concentration of game along the Sand River, there is no time limit on sightings which is an ideal scenario for us photographers – no ‘queue to view’ as this enormous tract of land has a low density of vehicles traversing the area. In addition to this, we will enjoy night drives which, with the ethical use of a spotlight, will allow us to capture dramatic and dynamic images after dark. Our focus during these times will be to make the most of backlit and side-lit images using another vehicle to illuminate our subject.

malamala and mashatu

malamala and mashatu

After 4 nights exploring the region we will return from our morning drive, enjoy breakfast on the deck of camp before heading to the MalaMala airstrip for a private charter flight to Mashatu.

Given that Mashatu is ion Botswana this actually an international flight and will see us having to clear customs and immigration at Polokwane International Airport before the second leg of the flight into Botswana and Mashatu where we spend the next 4 nights on safari.

Mashatu Main Camp, Mashatu Private Game Reserve, Botswana - 4 Nights

Mashatu Game Reserve comprises 29,000 hectares (72000 acres) of privately owned land in the conserved wilderness area known as the Northern Tuli Game Reserve. The reserve lies in the eastern extremity of Botswana where the great Limpopo and Shashe Rivers converge. This exceptionally diverse landscape includes wide open plains, grassland, riverine forests, rocky hills, marshland and majestic sandstone ridges.

Mashatu, “Land of the Giants”, takes its name from the locally sacrosanct Mashatu or Nyala berry tree (Xanthrocercis zambesiaca) and the giants that roam its terrain. These magnificent dark green trees, which are found along the rivers in the reserve, provide refuge, shade and food to a myriad wildlife. Mashatu, which is one of the largest privately owned game reserves in southern Africa, avails a sanctuary to the largest herds of elephant on privately owned land on the continent. In addition to that, the world’s tallest mammal, the giraffe, the world’s largest antelope, the eland, the world’s largest bird, the ostrich, and the world’s heaviest flying bird, the kori bustard are all part of the game drive experience on Mashatu. Add the king of the beasts, the lion and the iconic baobab tree…and you have Africa’s big seven land based giants.

Because of the exceptional diversity of landscapes of the reserve, Mashatu enjoys an ecological biodiversity uncommon in other game reserves. Three members of the Big Five, namely the leopard, the lion and the elephant are complimented by some lesser well-known, but interesting, species, including the aardwolf (or “earth wolf”), the bat-eared fox, the African wildcat, the honey badger, the spotted hyena and the black-backed jackal.

malamala and mashatu

Mashatu Lodge is an oasis among the undulating and seemingly endless plains of the wild. Each of the air-conditioned suites at Mashatu Lodge is tastefully decorated and includes impressive black and white prints of Africa’s most beautiful animals. A double bed and an extra-large single bed, together with a seating area that includes a single day bed, comfortably accommodates families. The ample en-suite bathroom with both bath and shower facilities and a separate W.C. complete the well-appointed suites.

Underground Photographic Hide - The Matebole Hide

On two consecutive mornings we will depart from camp a bit earlier and sneak into the Matebole hide.

Inside, we are seated so that our heads are at ground level. Everything you see will be from the perspective of lying on your stomach looking upwards. The hide is a strong metal structure and totally elephant proof so you can watch and photograph in total ease as the animals go about their business.

The Matebole Hide is located in an Eco tone between mopane grasslands and the thicker central game-viewing region of Mashatu. This unique combination of these two habitat types creates a wide diversity of bird and mammal species, which reside this area. Elephants in this region migrate daily in the dryer season, heading north in the evenings to feed and south in the mornings. The Matebole Hide is situated along these main daily migratory routes, making their visits to the hide very frequent.

After our final morning game drive in Mashatu we will return to the lodge for breakfast and packing before heading to the airstrip for our return flight back to Lanseria International Airport, Johannesburg. From here, a complimentary shuttle service will take guests back to ORT International Airport for their onward international flights.

Some Notes on the MalaMala and Mashatu Safari

  • This safari has been specifically designed to combine two of the most productive game viewing areas in southern Africa
  • The MalaMala and Mashatu safari is fully inclusive of all meals, drinks, domestic and international flights as well as 2 hide sessions
  • If you're looking to expand your portfolio to include dramatic images captured after sunset with the ethical use of a spotlight, this trip will tick the boxes
  • The underground hide sessions will provide you with an incredibly unique opportunity to photograph a variety of wildlife from eye level

Whether you are a first time safari-goer or a seasoned addict, the MalaMala and Mashatu Safari is sure to provide you with an incredible safari experience with a serious dose of bit cat action along the way!

Andrew Beck

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