Cat House

Nancy Vandermey, Author
South Africa/Botswana Trip part 4 Mala Mala, Exeter Leadwood - 31 October- 3 November

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Mala Mala was a last-minute addition to our itinerary. I originally booked Kirkman's Kamp for 1-2 November, but they upgraded us to Leadwood as the rest of Kirkman's was taken up by one group. As a big fan of the Mala Mala cyberdiary, and former 2 time visitor to Harry's Camp, I decided to splurge on one night at Mala Mala main camp. Exiting Kruger you then enter the Sabi Sands game reserve. The room was nice, with a sitting area, bedroom, and deck with a view of a waterhole that attracted nyala, bushbusk, and impala. Our first drive started well, with a visit to the Styx pride of 7 lionesses, mostly still sleepy. Red-billed hornbill made an appearance. Then we went to a young female leopard, one of the Campbell Koppie's daughters. She went down a steep gulley and our driver attempted to follow - and burned out the clutch in our vehicle. He couldn't pop the clutch so we were stuck waiting for a replacement vehicle (whose driver got our vehicle into 1st gear, no problem!). No apologies for the lost safari time. We had previously tried to make clear that we DID NOT want one of their "big 5" certificates and to NOT go out of his way just to check off certain animals. This was disregarded completely, and we were duly shown elephants hiding in the reedbeds. A saddlebill stork nearby was more interesting. Then we went to the Kikilezi female leopard, who had a bushbuck kill. Photos - The night drive was disappointing, I think we saw maybe one hare. Dinner was tasty, but our guide spoiled the evening a bit by ranting about the other guides and his job. The next morning, we saw parrots and cuckoos and barbets and lilac breasted roller, found a buffalo herd, then drove a LONG time to go see a rhino. Which no one in our vehicle really cared to see, as the others had seen rhinos the previous day. Finally we went to a leopard sighting - there were two in the area - the Kirkman's Kamp vehicle followed the young female, while we alone followed an older male leopard for 35 minutes as he strolled through the bush. Unfortunately one of the other people in the vehicle was "bored" of leopards and off we went to see giraffes and zebra before returning to camp well before any other vehicles. One last sour note was receiving a bill for bottled water and a delayed sundowner drink, none of which should have been charged. I'm not sure I'll return here unless this inane big 5 policy and drink policy changes! I miss Harry's Camp. But, the leopard viewing was great. That's what I paid the $$$ for. We visited Rattray's on our way out, which looked very nice.

As we were self-driving we then went back to the Shaw's gate and over to Newington Gate and up to Exeter Leadwood. We were hopeful to have a really cool sighting while self-driving but a distant elephant and European bee eaters were about it. At Leadwood we were greeted by Thulani and shown the beautiful grounds and our room, well, our villa really, it was huge! Foyer, sitting room, bedroom, bathroom, plunge pool - it was all incredible. A tiny gecko on the door was cute, while the camp birds were noisy red-billed hoopoe. At 4 pm we headed out with guide Marcelino and tracker Isaac. I like how the tracker sits in front here, like at Phinda (and actually does something, unlike at Mala Mala). The drive started with water monitors and general game, then on to Maquela, a 13 year old female leopard. She is small but beautiful. On the airstrip we visited a male cheetah bedding down for the night, then after sundowners we came across two lionesses on the hunt. Dinner was served at private tables, very romantic. On the morning drive we headed to the south of the Western Sabi Sands GR to a known hyena den, one very cute 8 month old pup stayed out for us. On the way we saw a lizard, rhino a few times, and the adult daughter of last night's leopard. After breakfast we went for a short walk with Marcelino, then enjoyed our private plunge pool! Then they served lunch. I can't believe how many times a day they feed you here!

On the afternoon drive we (well, Isaac and Marcelino) searched for lion tracks in the riverbed, went to a dam to see hippos, then found the lions - the Sand River pride of 2 lionesses and 5 cubs (two 9 months old and three 4 months old). We spent over an hour with them as the sun set. Then off for sundowners. We saw a genet after dark, then when we were almost back to the lodge the call came in that the lions had killed an impala - and back we went! One impala doesn't last long with 7 lions but we saw some good feeding behavior. Dinner was an outdoor braai, only a few drops of rain threatened us. In the morning the birder in our vehicle was happy, we spent an hour listening to birds like white-fronted bee eaters among the sausage trees along river. We had a spectacular sighting of a giraffe drinking, and some fuzzy caterpillars, then went back to the dam where the Wellington Male leopard had been found. As we followed him through the bush, we punctured a tire - with a loud hissing noise that intrigued the cat. He didn't move off far, and rested on a termite mound waiting for us (Isaac and Marcelino) to change the tire. He posed, saw a wildebeest, and went towards it - but no luck. After another breakfast, we were off, driving north through Tzaneen to our overnight stop in Makhado.

Part 1 - South Africa/Botswana Trip
Part 2 - Hluhluwe/Umfolozi and St Lucia
Part 3 - Kruger
Part 4 - Mala Mala and Exeter Leadwood
Part 5 - Mashatu and Planet Baobab
Part 6 - Mobile Safari to Moremi, Kwai, Savuti
Part 7 - Vumbera Plains
Part 8 - Jwana Game Park, Cheetah Conservation Botswana