Friday, February 9, 2018

Safari experience for children and families at the Mala Mala Game Reserve in South Africa's largest Big Five private game reserve

Shortlisted as the Best Family Educational Holiday for 2015, MalaMala Game Reserve offers activities for young safari-goers and its rangers are trained to customize the experience. The main camp of the MalaMala Game Reserve is the grand dame of safari camps in South Africa, and it proudly wears the distinction of being South Africa’s oldest and most historical private game reserve.

At the Mala Mala Game Reserve in the Sabi Sands of South Africa

Michael Rattray, founder of MalaMala, begun the concept of a luxury safari experience ahead of everyone else by improving on a safari camp established in 1927 by his father’s friend. This was in the 1960s, at a time when most other camps were nothing but tents and bush; and little has changed at the Mala Mala Game Reserve in the Sabi Sands over the past decades.

Mala Mala Game Reserve in the Sabi Sands of South Africa

“We’ve kept this lounge pretty much as is,” explained Greg Baldwin, MalaMala’s head ranger and our host for our stay, as we walked past a cavernous room done up with leather chairs and animal skins

Each group of guests at the MalaMala Game Reserve is assigned a ranger who takes care of every detail of the stay, including menus, activities and transfers, and we were lucky to be assigned their best man. 

Mala Mala Game Reserve in the Sabi Sands of South Africa

Greg was a master planner and also a mean 4WD driver, a great storyteller and a walking encyclopedia on everything in the bush

Greg added, as we stopped to inspect faded black-and-white photos of the camp on the walls, “If you look at these, you’ll find that much of it is still very recognisable.”


Mala Mala Game Reserve in the Sabi Sands of South Africa

Indeed, the camp layout of the Mala Mala Game Reserve is almost the same, as are the original cone-shaped lodgings from the 1930s. The structures have been rebuilt and upgraded since then but the rooms and suites at MalaMala’s main camp nevertheless have simple native-inspired furniture and a comfortable old-fashioned atmosphere. 

Even the bougainvillea trees that line the pathways – providing a delightful shock of pink, when in bloom, to an otherwise typical green-and-brown safari landscape – were planted by an English aristocrat back in 1935.

Mala Mala Game Reserve in the Sabi Sands of South Africa

Meanwhile, adjacent to the lounge is what is perhaps the Mala Mala camp’s most famous room: MalaMala’s bar is cozy, lined with vintage photos and its centerpiece is a masculine wooden counter made shiny from use that has been there ever since anyone can remember. The venue of perhaps a thousand stories, it still has the old score board on the wall on which safari goers used to tally their animal sightings for the day over rounds of drinks before dinner.

The salad at dinner at the Mala Mala Game Reserve in South Africa


However MalaMala is not only big on history but also literally in size. With over 13,000 hectares to its name, it is South Africa’s largest Big Five private game reserve and it enjoys the enviable asset of having a major river (and watering hole) running across it – thus practically ensuring the significant presence of animals on its property.

The river that runs through the Mala Mala Game Reserve in South Africa



Each young guest at the Mala Mala Game Reserve becomes a junior ranger, and he or she receives a backpack with safari coloring booksan interactive animal checklistlip gloss and water. For game drives, there are also bags of sweets and candies.


Mala Mala Game Reserve in the Sabi Sands of South Africa


In South Africa for a family holiday, we’d thus chosen MalaMala because of its history, its size and for its tailor-made safari programs for children. MalaMala even prepares tuckboxes with chocolate chip cookies, candy and milk for the children to take on their game drives.

The Mala Mala Game Reserve in South Africa

Tutorials on following and identifying various animals in the wild via their spoor markings.

Hands-on lessons on basic survival skills including water sourcing, plant identification and food foraging.

Junior rangers are taught the warning signs of dangerous animals, and first aid skills for emergency situations in the bush.

Learning more about the different rocks, trees, birds and nests in the wild via walks around the camp escorted by an armed ranger.

The host ranger prepares a bush breakfast that enables children to learn how to make fire and how to prepare a meal outdoors.


Children are taught the skills and etiquette of radio communication, as practiced on drives and out in the bush by the MalaMala rangers.

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