It has always been my dream to fly out of Kenya. It came true when I embarked on The Greatest Maasai Mara Photographer of the Year (TGMM) winning guides' trip to South Africa. I was finally going to use my passport, which was expiring in a few months without having any stamps. Steven Tyler said, ‘If you don't have a dream, there is no way to make one come true’. I had one and it came true.
I hosted freelance guide Jackson Sayialel, and Wild Eye Africa head guide Jimmy Githua as they won a trip to South Africa for guiding the winning TGMM photographers from 2021 and 2022. Our adventure began as we said goodbye to Kenya and I boarded a plane for the first time. As guides, we usually drive guests around in the Mara, but now it was our time to explore from the back of the vehicle.
Our first stop was Johannesburg where we explored the city aboard the Gautrain. We shopped at Nelson Mandela Square and were constantly amazed by the big buildings. Everything was a new experience. The next morning, we headed to one of the most renowned protected areas in the world, a South African national symbol, the Greater Kruger National Park.
After a five-hour drive, we arrived at our first lodge, MalaMala. Located within the Sabi Sand Game Reserve in the Mpumalanga province, it is the largest and the oldest private Big Five game reserve in South Africa. In Xitsonga, ‘malamala’ means kudu, in honour of their abundance in the area.
Even the drive to the lodge had some excitement as we had sightings of a leopard and a lioness on the way. Upon arrival, we were welcomed with beautiful smiles and pristine hospitality. We also met Steff, our enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide.
We set out for our first proper sunrise game drive early the next morning. Once again, luck was on our side as we saw a great deal of wildlife: nyalas, kudus, klipspringers, elephants, giraffes, leopards, a pride of lions and more. We even spotted the famous Kambula pride with the Ndzenga males. The leopards seemed to be everywhere — we saw one of the female leopards called Kapeen with two cubs a few months old.
They had a kill up a tree and the cubs were very playfully climbing up and down. We stayed with them for a while until it was time for her to start moving. She moved a few metres ahead when suddenly another female leopard popped out of the bush and hit one of the cubs on the back. It happened so quickly — we heard a lot of hissing, spitting, growling, snarling and finally rasping yowls. It was a sad ending to a beautiful sighting; we’re not sure what happened next as we left to avoid adding more stress to the little one that was hurt.
The next morning, we headed to Langa Langa Tented Safari Camp, located at Shaw’s gate. We met Ben, who was very experienced as he worked his way up from being a tracker to a guide. He took us on a safari into Kruger National Park which featured incredible sunrises and sunsets. I was expecting to see vast sweeping savannahs like in the Maasai Mara or Serengeti but that was not the case. The vegetation was thicker than in East Africa and much of the landscape is open woodland or denser acacia shrub. It is beautiful, studded with giant trees (perfect for leopards) and rocky hills known as ‘koppies’ that are often the territory of klipspringers — small antelope that mate for life.
Set on the lush banks of the Sand River, we checked in for the last two nights at Inyati Game Lodge. Here we met Gabriel who was our assigned guide. We were always meeting great people! We learned a lot from each other as we shared our different experiences, about the Great Migration in East Africa and the open plains of the Mara – Serengeti ecosystem and learning more about the wild dogs, steinboks, nyalas and kudus in their ecosystems.
The ecosystem is very unique and different compared to the Maasai Mara. South Africa is home to a rich botanical environment with the giant marula, leadwood, Kigelia africana (sausage tree), tamboti trees (toxic to humans!) and giant fig trees. The hospitality, the food and the accommodation in all the camps that we stayed in were amazing. I loved every moment of this trip. Thank you again to everyone who took care of us and we will do the same when you visit us in the Maasai Mara.
Special thank you to Sue van Winsen from the Angama Johannesburg office who organised the whole trip and was our guide through the city. She made us feel right at home as she embodied the ‘Angama Way’ showing joy, respect and ubuntu. Thank you to Klaus from Bell Transfers company who drove us from Johannesburg to Sabi Sands Private Reserve, as he proudly shared a lot about South Africa on the drive. Thank you Angama and TGMM for all the arrangements and to the lodges and people who hosted us. We love and appreciate all of you for this amazing trip — from the bottom of our hearts.
Filed under: Inside Angama
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