South Africa: Safari So Goody
“A week-long exploration into the luxe queer side of the Rainbow Nation.”
Day 1, MalaMala
It’s hard to exactly pinpoint that moment of “wow,” but somewhere between crashing through bushes and scrub and traversing tree-dotted grasslands, the earthy aroma of elephant dung hanging in the air, all to come within petting distance of a prostrate cheetah, it hits you. Those zebra and blue wildebeest a couple hundred feet away just may be dinner. And that rifle set on the hood of the Land Rover is definitely loaded. This ain’t a zoo. This is Africa. Wait for it… wow!
To think: Eighteen hours on South African Airways from New York City and a restful overnighter at the colonially grand Grace Hotel in the toney Rosebank area of Johannesburg, plus an easy puddle jump connection, and its afternoon tea time on the deck of Rattray’s on MalaMala. I grab another piece of marshmellowy chocolate cake, as elephants lazily nosh reeds on the banks of the Sand River. Thanks to the professionals at Philly-based Premier Tours, this is definitely how to safari.
The MalaMala Game Reserve comprises over 40,000 acres of bushveld in the northeast of South Africa, an hour’s puddle jump from Johannesburg. The largest privately owned big game land in the country, it shares twelve miles of un-fenced border with the Kruger National Park, which in turn shares open borders with Mozambique and Zimbabwe’s neighboring reservations.
This massive protected area allows for natural migration patterns and amps up viewing opportunities exponentially, not to mention re-balancing of the ecosystem. MalaMala is “Big Five” central and intimate gasps with Elephants, Lions, Leopard, Rhino and Cape Buffalo are all but guaranteed. Clicking shutters at the “Magnificent Seven” (adding Cheetah and African Wild Dogs to the mix) is trickier, but luck shines here more often than not.
Yet, however the game viewing coin lands, Kipling himself couldn’t complain given the all-encompassing luxe experience of Rattray’s itself. The upstart little sister of the nearby and bigger MalaMala main camp, Rattray’s eschews the trendy safari “lodge” (e.g. a spa-centered instead of animal-centered experience) without skimping on the in-room amenities.