Overall, Rattray’s wins our vote for one of the best, most comfortable, most appealing, eco-sensitive luxury Big Five properties we have visited.

Read about our more recent visit in 2008.

Overall Impression This small family owned luxury lodge in the heart of South Africa’s prime game viewing private reserve set a standard of excellence other properties should strive for. At Rattray’s the total was greater than the sum of the parts. In addition to elegant, comfortable, new and spacious suites, top notch facilities, remarkable Big Five game viewing and excellent service Rattray’s also offered modern conveniences. Service was personalized and attentive, head and shoulders above the norm.

Facing the Sand River, in the largest sector of the Sabi Sand Reserve fronting the enormous Kruger National Park, Rattray’s game viewing was extraordinary; especially for predators and Big Five sightings. Some of the many advantages that place Rattray’s at the top of our preferred list include outstanding personalized service; tasty and well prepared meals; beautiful new suites with two bathrooms; private plunge pools; Wi-Fi and laptop computers in the suites; a small number of guests; an adults only setting; fitness facilities and a full size swimming pool; in-room massages; nearly insect free rooms; and a maximum of four guests per game viewing vehicle.

It was obvious much thought had gone behind the myriad details that made Rattray’s so special. There were many little things that elevated our comfort level and made us feel welcome. Examples included the headset system the rangers used to communicate. It eliminated the constant radio chatter prevalent in game vehicles elsewhere. Our ranger and tracker team was careful to keep thorny branches out of the safari vehicle when we went off road in pursuit of game viewing opportunities. They coordinated efforts to maximize our comfort. Our tracker also had a forked stick he used to push branches away from guests during off-road drives.

On arrival at Rattray’s, guests were paired with a dedicated ranger and tracker team for the duration of their stay. Andrew, a young university graduate, and Collin, a local with years of bush experience, looked after us. It was Andrew who woke us up in the predawn hours for the game drives. He shared meals with us and coordinated special requests such as bush walks, in-room meals, and massages. This ensured our comfort and minimized snafus.

Overall, Rattray’s wins our vote for one of the best, most comfortable, most appealing, eco-sensitive luxury Big Five properties we have visited. Congratulations to the Rattray family and their staff!

Class Of Accommodation Luxury game viewing lodge

General Manager Bruce Archibald

Handicapped Access No

Internet Connectivity Although there was normally Wi-Fi Internet connectivity on the property and in the suites, the service was down during part of our visit .

Length Of Stay Four nights

Location In the Mala Mala Reserve within the Sabi Sand Reserve west of the Kruger National Park

Owned And Managed Michael and Norma Rattray. Michael Rattray, who was also the managing director of the MalaMala Game Reserve, has twice been the recipient of the Ossie Doyer Trophy for The Conservationist of the Year. He has also been the only person in South Africa to receive the State President’s Award for eco-tourism. The longest serving curator of the National Parks Board of South Africa, he was endorsed for the position by three presidents of South Africa, including President Nelson Mandela.

Size The lodge had eight rooms for up to 16 guests and up to 38 staff including four rangers. It was located on a 12,000 hectare private reserve it shared with two other properties (Mala Mala Main Camp and Sable Camp) owned by the same company.

Year Established-Renovated November 2005

Lobby And Common Areas The Lodge was decorated in earth tones in a British colonial style with lots of woods, safari mementos, animal skulls, and photos on the walls.

Bathroom Each suite had two bathrooms, one with a shower, sink, and separate water closet; and another almost identical bathroom area with a claw foot bathtub instead of a shower. There was a full length mirror in the shower room. The shower had dual shower heads with individual temperature controls. There was a make-up mirror, vanity and bidet in the bathtub bathroom. There were heated towel racks in both bathrooms and under floor heating kept the tiled the bathroom floors warm in winter. The bathrooms had framed prints on the walls and a khaki color scheme. The khaki towels were thick and clean smelling.

Room The suite was quiet and elegant, featuring comfortable and stylish furnishings in an open room design that took advantage of the bush setting. It was decorated in russets, khaki, and stone colors. Our 120 square meter (1,200 square foot) rooms (Khaya 3, 4 and 5) were almost identical. At the entrance foyer of our room there was a 4 foot long wood table with a large framed oil painting of giraffes hanging above it.

in the center of the suite there was a wooden four poster bed with mosquito netting and night tables on each side. At the foot of the bed there was a black leather bench. Wood and wicker furniture populated the room. On the walls there were sketches of primates, limited editions, a map of Mala Mala and a photo of a lion.

In the space between the bedroom and the sitting area, there was a wood desk, lamp and director’s chair facing the porch and bush. Locked in the desk drawer there was a new 15“ LG laptop computer for guest use.

In the sitting room, there was a wood armoire housing a remote controlled 26 X 16 PVision television, a Yamaha DVD player and satellite television. One of the two drawers had a heating tray which came in handy for in-room meals. There was also a sofa, two tables, a bench, two wicker armchairs, several lamps, a divan in the corner, and a side table.

The pale yellow room had wood floors, central air conditioning and two ceiling fans. Sliding glass doors led to a private porch with a view of the Sand River. A private plunge pool was located on the side of the building behind a walled enclosure. From the inside it could be reached via a side door from the shower side bathroom.

There were four lounge chairs in the open porch behind the room. Two of them and an umbrella were in front of the plunge pool and two more faced the river.

Food And Wine Lunch, served at 1:30 p.m., was buffet style. Our ranger shared a table with us or with a couple that went on the game drives with us. There were cold cuts such as smoked ostrich, roasted chicken, and game pie. Our first afternoon at Rattray’s, there were mixed greens, Caesar salad, a cheese platter, yellow rice, tagliatele with Neapolitan sauce and lamb curry with a number of sauces (onion and tomato, banana slices, dried and grated coconut). For dessert there was vanilla ice cream, pecan pie and fruit salad. The second day there was chicken in a barbeque sauce, vegetarian lasagna, white rice, potato salad, tossed salad, cheese, cold cuts including game meats and ham, fresh bread, and iced tea. For dessert there was milk tart and fresh fruit salad.

Our second day at Rattray’s it was raining so we requested dinner in our room. Although we greatly enjoyed group dinners and chatting with fellow guests in the boma; it was a treat to dine in the comfort of the room. One of the staff members brought our order, setting the main courses, guinea fowl (a favorite) and lamb, on a hot plate and the ice cream in the mini fridge. At the end of the meal, we called and she cleared the dishes.

There was a bar near the dining room. On its walls hung photos depicting the history of Mala Mala and Rattray’s. Behind the counter Michael Pilay, who had worked at Mala Mala for eight years, looked after guests. Always ready with a suggestion, he remembered guest preferences and favorite wines and was one of our favorite staff members.

Close to the bar there was a wine cellar housing 400 bottles of wine, champagne and port. Although house wines were included in the accommodation fees, sometimes guests wanted something special for a celebration. For those occasions they could choose wines ranging between 120 and 850 South African rand from the nearby wine cellar.

Amenities There were two types of cotton bathrobes (thinner for summer and thicker for winter), cotton slippers, and a hair dryer. There were Molton Brown toiletries: Ultra Smooth Coco de Mer body lotion, Cucumber Conditioning Shampoo, and Vitalising Vitamin AB&C bath and shower gel in 1.7 oz bottles. Complimentary scented bath salts were set in a bowl next to the bathtub. There was complimentary bottled water and fruit. An electronic safe was available in our room and another one was accessible at reception.

Facilities For meals, there was an indoor dining room, outdoor seating on the terrace, and boma enclosure. There was also a curio shop (behind reception desk), library, fitness center and massage room, cozy bar and Lodge pool.

Pool In addition to the private plunge pools in the suites, Rattray’s had a bush facing full size pool in front of the fitness center. There were lounge chairs and umbrellas around the navy blue tiled pool which was available for guest use during the day.

Game Viewing There were game viewing drives twice daily, in a topless Land Rover 4×4, for a maximum of four guests. Animal sightings were usually limited to three vehicles. Morning departures, while we were there, were at 6 a.m. with a return at 9:30 a.m. Afternoon departures were about 4 p.m. with a return about 7:30 p.m. Our ranger, Andrew, and our tracker, Collin, drove us for about three and one half hours, without interruptions, in search of game. Collin sat in the last row of the vehicle where he had the advantage of height. From there he guided Andrew into and out of the bush during off road excursions, and made sure we weren’t hit by thorny branches. We spotted interesting or major game on almost every outing.

Thanks to the well maintained roads our drives were fairly comfortable. They became bumpier when we went off road in pursuit of a thrilling sighting opportunity. When that happened we were so thrilled we didn’t mind the bumpy ride.

Three of our eight game drives were in light rain, at least part of the time. The game viewing was so good, and our team so enthusiastic, that we went out in the rain anyway. Collin provided us with waterproof pull on pants and jackets which kept us mostly.

During the evening game drives, there was a “bug drizzle” from the countless insects attracted by the light our tracker used to spot animals from the back seat. They sat on our heads, hands, and arms; one even crawled up the inside of my pant leg up to my knee.

On our first three game drives we saw four of the Big Five. During our visit we saw or heard: Bushbuck, chacma baboon, buffalo, duiker, dwarf mongoose, elephant, giraffe, hippo (with baby), impala, kudu, leopard, nyala, rhino, scrub hare, slender mongoose, small spotted genet, spotted hyena, steenbok, tree squirrel, vervet monkey, waterbuck, white-tailed mongoose, and zebra. We also saw leopard several times including a mother leopard and young son, two cheetahs, and the Selati Pride of adolescent lions (five females and three males).

Birds: African fish eagle, African hawk eagle nest, arrowmarked babbler, bateleur, blackbilled korhaan, blackeyed bulbul, blue waxbill, Cape turtle dove, crested barbet, crested francolin, Egyptian goose, forktailed drongo, glossy starling, grey lourie, hoopoe, Jacobin cuckoo, lilacbreasted roller, little bee-eater, longtailed shrike, pied kingfisher, rattling cisticola, redbilled hornbill, spotted dikkop, tawny eagle, and yellowbilled hornbill.

Activities Options available were game viewing drives, bush walks, working out in the fitness area, sun bathing, massages, and bathing in the lodge pool or the private suite plunge pool.

Curio Shop A small shop was open on request between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. There were branded Mala Mala clothes, jewelry, and safari sundries.

Other Only children 16 and older were welcome at Rattray’s. Massages of 30, 60 and 90 minutes were available by a locally trained masseuse between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. and from 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. in the massage room or in guest rooms. We requested massages in our room. Fortunate, the masseuse, brought a table and music player. She set up quickly and provided a relaxing massage.

Thanks to an electrified fence that surrounded the camp, it was possible for guests to walk about the property unescorted during the day and night.

In 1962, the MalaMala Game Reserve was the first privately owned game reserve in South Africa that chose eco-tourism as an alternative to hunting as a sustainable land use practice.

The Rattray Group practices a policy of empowerment of the local communities. The company has promoted deserving individuals from the local communities into positions in reservations, housekeeping, laundry and reception as well as management positions in the food and beverage, workshop, environmental departments. The Group also engages the communities to provide other services including construction, brick making, environmental management, road maintenance, entertainment groups, and curios.

Recyclables were sent to a nearby recycling plant. Other refuse was incinerated on-site.

Cleanliness Excellent

Date Of Last Visit 2006 2008

Reviewers Article and photographs by Elena del Valle

Service There was twice daily room service: Morning cleaning and evening turn down. Staff were attentive to guest needs, accommodating schedules, meals, game viewing times and anything else they could to make the stay special. Andrew accompanied us at check in, meals and during the game drives. He was our constant companion and our go-to person during our stay.

Would You Stay Again? Yes

Contact Information

  • Address:
    • PO Box Malamala 1353
    • Skukuza
    • South Africa
  • Phone:
    • +27 13 735 5531
  • Fax:
    • +27 13 735 5444
  • Email:
  • Reservations office:
    • PO Box 55514
    • Northlands
    • Johannesburg, South Africa
    • 2116
  • Phone:
    • +27 11 442 2267
  • Fax:
    • +27 11 442 2318
  • Website:
  • Email:
  • USA representative:
    • Tim Farrell & Associates
    • P O Box 7300,
    • Wilton, CT 06897-7300
    • USA
  • Phone:
    • +1 203 762-8050
  • Fax:
    • +1 203 762-7323
  • Email:
  • U.K. representative:
    • Nigel Crofton
    • Outposts Falkedon,
    • Spreyton, Crediton,
    • Devon, EX17 5EF
    • UK
  • Phone:
    • +44 (0) 1647 231 007
  • Fax:
    • +44 (0) 1647 231 008
  • Email:
  • Italian representative:
    • Fabiana Cannizero
    • Corat
    • Via R. Morandi,
    • 3/E, 20090 Buccinasco
    • Milan, Italy
  • Phone:
    • +39 (02) 4570 2999
  • Email: