The Do’s and Don’ts for a Family South African Wildlife Adventure
Two very different families have recently went on a South African safari with their children. Having been somewhat apprehensive of taking their tribe into the bush they have returned raving about it all – from the parents to their youngest.
South Africa is undoubtedly Africa’s leading family safari destination with a longstanding reputation for offering a variety of options to suit all budgets and preferences. As for the accommodation, South Africa also has many of Africa’s best family friendly lodges with oversized suites, delicious food catering for varied meal times and tastes (and paired with equally remarkable wines for the Mums and Dads), and a smiley, can-do service. Safari lodges are generally well equipped to welcome younger guests with family suites and specialised kiddie game drives and activities ensuring little ones are thoroughly entertained, enchanted and enriched throughout their wilderness experience. And there is also the growing trend of exclusive or sole-use options, otherwise known as safari villas which are ideal for families and multi-generational travellers in need of a bit more space.
With world renowned wildlife parks and private game reserves to pick from visitors young and old are guaranteed to experience some fabulous game viewing – from the famous Big 5 (Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino and Buffalo) and the smaller and rarer species (Aardwolf, Brown Hyena, Bat Eared foxes) to children favourites (Giraffe, Zebra, Warthog and Hippo). In contrast to many of the continent’s other destinations, the country’s transport infrastructure also makes it very easy to travel around the country, whether by air or road. Popular options are to combine one or two safari stays with a city visit (Cape Town in particular is very well set up for family travel). Many visitors choose to self-drive along the famed Garden Route from Cape Town to the game parks of the Eastern Cape whilst others opt for a beach and bush holiday, combining their safari with a relaxing beach stay (Kwazulu Natal’s sub-tropical temperatures make this a popular choice for South African’s and visitors alike).
The Kruger National Park is generally regarded as the safari destination in South Africa however, visited at the wrong time of year it can be wet and there is the risk of malaria. Those who are keen to explore the country further should also consider the private game reserves of KwaZulu Natal or the Eastern Cape – with low risk to no risk of malaria respectively. Not only do these destinations deliver consistently good game viewing but they also boast top quality guides who are allowed to drive off-road and at night to give you exceptional up-close sightings.
Both families enjoyed safaris at quite different game reserves and have collaborated to provide a check list of recommended DOs and DON’Ts of taking small kids on a big game safari. One family visited Kwandwe Private Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape with their 4 children aged 12, 10, 6 and 3 whilst the other stayed at Thanda Private Game Reserve in KwaZulu Natal with their two girls aged 3 & 5 years. Here is their advice:
1. Consider taking kids from the age of 5 and older (smaller is possible but can be a bit wearisome for all).
2. Make sure the lodges are child friendly – both Thanda and Kwandwe cater extremely well for children of all ages, especially at meal times where we had custom made menus. They also provide their smaller guests with colouring books, check lists and educational activities to keep them entertained in the lodge, whilst on a game drive or on a nature walk collecting feathers, old bones and looking at different animal droppings.
3. Let the kids explore and enjoy the smaller side of the safari – our little ones were more interested in dung throwing than rhino watching.
4. Make up a game that engages their interest – one family’s children had 5 birds and 5 trees (very easy ones) they had to spot to get a point for each correct identification. They loved the game – even though they did fight about who saw the Knob Thorn first!
5. Take the private villa option – Kwandwe offers Melton Manor and Uplands Homestead, Thanda has Villa iZulu; these are PERFECT as they offer great value at the luxury end of the safari options, a tailor-made experience and private 4×4 for games drives that fit around your family’s routine.
1. Feel it is a waste of money if the kids prefer to stay at the lodge and bake Big 5 shaped cookies rather than go out on a game drive – just being close to the bush is a good start for the smaller ones.
2. Chase the big sightings – kids are never going to sit still and keep quiet so let them have fun and realise you may not be able to sit at the lion kill for more than 6 minutes!
3. Wait until they are older – it is wonderful to experience wildlife through a child’s eyes! Between looking for the Gruffalo (buffalos are boring) and understanding why the daddy impala had so many wives and babies, we had many laughs.
4. Go on drives with guests who do not have kids – if a private villa is not an option we recommend a private vehicle. Thanda Safari Lodge and Kwandwe Ecca have strict policies in place to ensure children do not impact on other guests’ safari experiences.
5. Stress – rather relax and enjoy this very special family experience!!