By quite a way the smartest and most refined camp of the three owned by Mr. Rattray in the Sabi Sands, the eponymous lodge is a colonial style affair with wonderful décor and an elegance not found in too many other properties. An intimate, isolated camp, the spacious, excellently-appointed rooms, distinguished communal areas and fine wine cellar are perfect for couples looking for a both great game viewing and a high quality lodge experience behind it. The attention to detail assured by the superb staff makes this a destination of choice for discerning animal lovers and travellers but of course comes with a price tag to match.
The 33,000 acre reserve (the largest in South Africa) is located in the east of the Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve which shares an unfenced border with the Kruger National Park (19 miles of that border is in common with Mala Mala). Getting to the camp is easy and there are several options available to guests. Federal Air provides direct flights from O.R. Tambo Airport in Johannesburg to the Mala Mala air strip three times per day which is followed by a short transfer to the lodge. Alternatively you can fly from Jo'burg or Cape Town to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA) from where you can charter a plane to take you directly to Mala Mala. If you are coming by road, allow around six hours from Jo'burg, 10 hours from Durban, two hours from KMIA and one and a half hours from Hazyview. You should enter via the Paul Kruger gate.
The history of Mala Mala stretches back over a centur. After Sabi Sands was established in 1902, the Transvaal Consolidated Land and Exploration Company bought the Mala Mala land two decades later before selling it to the legendary William Campbell in the late 20s. It was bought by its current owner, Michael Rattray in 1964 and has since become a world-renowned reserve with excellent viewing and world-class photographic opportunities. In addition to Rattray's, the group also includes the Buffalo and Sable camps within the same reserve as well as the water conservancy Mount Anderson Ranch and the Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana. The group helps the communities surrounding the reserve not only by employing many locals but also by supporting their populations with self-help schemes and out-sourcing services such as construction, brick-making and road maintenance to them. Note that there is accommodation at the camp suitable for those guests who are confined to a wheelchair.
The columns fringing the pathway up to the entrance of Rattray's set the heavy colonial style of the property and lend some sort of VIP feeling to your arrival. The reception area come lounge is a wonderful symphony of period furniture (bureaux, studded armchairs, leather couches), watercolour bush scenes and various local decorative objects which catapults guests back in time to when the land was used for hunting. In fact you can imagine still today the gentlemen coming back from a day in the bush, rifles underarm and kills on the wagon. It is here where one of the excellent staff members will run through the formalities of the lodge while you sip on your welcome drink. You will probably not spend much more time in this part of the camp until you check out, unless you make a trip to the small curio shop that's just off the reception.
In our opinion the finest part of the lodge is the library, a true treasure trove of books (of course), colonial furniture and objets that bear witness to both the history of the place and the story of the Rattrays. The chesterfield couches and lamps emitting soft coloured light invite guests to retire here after a game drive and peruse the books and fascinating documents that are hidden in the desk to one side - it's just a shame that the fireplace is blocked up. Just outside is the deck where some meals and snacks are served and which has a fine view of the bush and Sabie River.
The lodge has its own heated communal infinity swimming pool surrounded by decking with sun loungers and parasols as well as tall trees giving extra shade for those especially warm days. Just behind, in a typically styled colonial outbuilding is the fitness room and massage room. Towels and water are provided and there are some very smart locker rooms for males and females with steam room.
Last but not least is the wonderful wine cellar which has some top wines from South Africa as well as champagne and vintage port (made all the more authentic but the dust layered upon them).
Needless to say that the lodge is well maintained and is run by some delightful members of staff who will so to your every need, Rattray's offering the most personalised service of the three Mala Mala properties. Note that children under 16 years of age are not permitted at Rattray's.
The eight accommodations that make up the inventory at Rattray's are known as khayas (a type of tree native to Africa whose wood is known as African mahogany). These isolated rooms are superbly furnished and offer space and luxury n equal measure. You enter the room at the centre behind the bedroom where there is a sidetable and giraffe painting above with a stand of umbrellas and to one side a walk-in closet where all you'll find the safe, robes and anti-mosquito products. The bedroom itself is divided into two parts with the sleeping quarters in one half and the salon in the other. The former has a king sized four-poster bed beautifully dressed in white linens, crushed velvet plaid and delicate curtain suspended around it. At its foot is a studded trunk while to either side are adjustable reading lamps and a telephone. There is a wonderfully colonial-style bureau just past the trunk with a lamp to go with it as well as your personal laptop computer and a folding leather chair. The seating area is composed of a couch (which doubles as a pull-out bed for 2) and two armchairs with a large foot rest at the centre which is placed on an intricately woven rug. Although there is a television concealed within the cabinet which also houses the minibar (empty, for you to choose what you wish it to be filled with), with a view such as the one through the picture windows, who needs one! There is also a DVD player for which you can borrow DVDs from reception as well as tea and coffee facilities and a hot plate for use when dining in-room. Watercolours and plants are dotted around the room as are other pieces of solid furniture.
To either side of the room are the his and hers bathrooms one of which has a claw-foot bath while the other has a walk-in shower. Each has a trolley with Molton Brown toiletries and towels with one of the bathrooms boasting a long coiffeuse. Outside is a wonderfully large deck with a private plunge pool complete with loungers and parasols with a long terrace next to it with table and chairs, more loungers and a bench, all facing the bush. Round the corner is the outdoor shower for those who wish to wash in the open.
It is slightly disappointing, given its superiority over its sister lodges, that the food at Rattray's is exactly the same as at Buffalo and Sable. That said, the service is more personal and the context more intimate. Breakfast and lunch are both taken on the camp's deck. The morning meal consists of a continental option followed by a hot breakfast if desired. If the weather is not up to much then guests will eat in the dining room which is in the same vain as the rest of the décor, watercolours lining the walls and some great elephant tusks either side of the fireplace. If there are only a few guests on site on any particular day the chef may ask what they would like to eat for lunch, rather than preparing a huge meal which will only go to waste if not eaten. Afternoon tea is also served on the deck between lunch and the evening game drive, while dinner alternates between the deck and dining room as there is no terrace. Being more of a couples camp though, it is not uncommon for guests to request in-room dining which can be set up on your private terrace and provides a romantic background for an evening meal.
The bar, which is also very similar to those at Buffalo and Sable with its preference for animal skin upholstery and dark wood counter, is remarkable for both the black and white photos recounting the history of the land and the colour photos of various animals that have graced the territory of Mala Mala. One of these, which has been on the cover of National Geographic, is a brilliant head-on shot of a leopard sadly no longer with us. Despite its fame and quality, it is actually disliked by Mr. Rattray as in order to take the shot the photographer was obliged to step out of the 4x4, which is absolutely not allowed during a game drive. The bar is a very comfortable and quiet place to enjoy one of the fine wines, champagnes or port held in the extensive wine cellar.
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