Ngala & MalaMala Private Game Reserves with Penny Robartes
Part 1: Ngala Private Game Reserve
It is March, and I get to welcome my regular private guests from Austria on a photo safari to two iconic wildlife areas in South Africa during a season that they have never experienced before.
Welcome to Ngala & MalaMala Private Game Reserves in South Africa during the beautiful and lush emerald season!
Ngala Private Game Reserve is situated in the Timbavati region that borders the famed Kruger National Park, and is a private concession within the Timbavati Game Reserve. This private photo safari took place in March 2023, and where my one guest is usually afraid of flying in small planes, this occasion was met with a lot of excitement and enthusiasm as this was a 2020 postponed tour! And now, we were finally all together on our plane taking us to our first safari destination.
This year was slightly different though. It was super lush and more thick and dense than what I’ve usually experienced, and this was due to hurricane Freddie that came through to our door step in February. This region received their annual rainfall all in the first 2 weeks of February. That’s 500mm -600mm per annum in two weeks. With the dominant soil type consisting of black cotton soil, we were limited to certain roads only and were not to drive allowed off-road at Ngala. While we still had some great sightings and some occurred beautifully close to the roads, it did make some sightings pretty difficult as we were unable to work the areas we needed to to seek certain wildlife species.
That did not stop us, and it never should, from thoroughly enjoying ourselves and learning and working the scenes nature gave us. Our local guide worked really hard to get us to specific sightings and together, we maneuvered and positioned the vehicle for the best photographic opportunities where possible.
This specific Private South Africa Photo Tour was crafted to both Ngala and MalaMala for certain wildlife goals and objectives. When I was at Ngala Tented Camp in 2019 as the dedicated photographer for YPO, a male white Lion cub was birthed on their property and was around 2-3 months old. A few months later, a female white Lion cub was born. As these guests of mine are massive cat lovers, I knew that this was an experience of a lifetime for them to see a wild white Lion. However, fast forward 4 years and our chances had dropped dramatically as the two white cubs were no longer cubs, and are now adults. The male had broken away from the pride with his brother as the dominant males had stopped tolerating them, and the female was seen traversing often between Ngala’s property and into Kruger National Park. This meant that our chances of seeing them were slim, and not as easy as when they were cubs and more area bound. One evening, we had a glimpse of the female as we watched her crossing over the boundary into Kruger. A true ghost in the dark, it wasn’t a photographic moment even with a spotlight in hand, but a very beautiful wildlife sighting nonetheless. As you well know, not all great wildlife sightings make great photographs! Sometime its all about breathing in the moment and just watching it unfold.
We had some lovely key wildlife moments at Ngala, one consisting of African Wild Dog sightings on two different occasions. The first sighting was in the morning while we were with some Elephant, or just leaving that sight. Our tracker and guide stopped the vehicle while we were driving and we sat in silence. “There, did you hear that? That is a Wild Dog calling for its pack”. No sooner than were those words spoken that we saw some painted patterned dogs trotting through bushes, like illusions. Did you see that? Was that one? Was there anything there to begin with? Yes, yes there was! And these dogs were on the hunt! We followed them as well as one can follow Wild Dogs on a hunt; it’s a task and a half as these swift and sure-footed dogs trot and run in all directions at times! When we caught up with the pack, they had started to settle down as the morning’s temperature called to a pending siesta. It was a very fun experience that yielded some great images, and it was a first time my guest had ever seen African Wild Dogs! The next sighting we had of the pack was also during a morning game drive. As dogs potentially don’t stay long in an area as they cover a lot of ground while hunting and their home ranges are very large, we made sure to spend time with them while the opportunity presented itself. These dogs found some water that was still lying off to the road where the ground was already fully saturated, and the pack had a whale of a time chasing and playing with one another! This is a test of speed and timing on our parts to get action shots that are more than just a blend of dogs. As the sun’s light became harsh and “washed” out the dogs, we said our farewells and proceeded on.
Other lovely wildlife photographic sightings included our tracker spotting an incredibly well-blended nightjar sleeping in a tree, we had beautiful encounters with Elephant bulls as well as a young calf that was at the age where they are still figuring out their trunk and just generally play around. We spent some constructive time with Ngala’s main Lion pride too.
From Ngala Private Reserve we flew to MalaMala Private Game Reserve in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. My guests goal for MalaMala were its Leopards. This, of course, wouldn’t stop us from photographing other species and learning under different situations, but Leopards were the goal, and this is why I chose MalaMala.
Part 2: MalaMala Game Reserve – coming next!