An African safari has topped my bucket list dreams for as long as I can remember. Although as we all know life can somewhat get in the way of wanderlusting. At first I couldn’t afford to go, after marriage and buying a house, I still couldn’t afford it. When I could finally even think about booking my dream holiday my little bambinos arrived, bringing a big fat halt to dreams of gallivanting around wild African landscapes and chasing tantalising wildlife adventures.
So – Asha finally hit the magic age of five. Magical as it’s the age some lodges allow children to go on game drives. It was a done deal. Holiday booked!
We chose South Africa for our first family safari for a number of reasons. Firstly, it offers malaria free game reserves. A huge plus, even if the famous Kruger isn’t one of them. Secondly, travelling with children on a jam-packed schedule and limited time meant the minimal time difference and no jet lag was a winning combination.
Travelling on safari will go down as one of our most incredible experiences as a family. Mr S and I will never forget their little faces as they saw their first sightings of wild elephants and lions. A family holiday on safari could be one of your best trips too, but it does need some careful planning.
Here are my 7 top tips for a family adventure of a lifetime:
1. Know your child
This might sound a tad strange, of course you know your child. The one who always wakes you at the crack of dawn, leaves their smelly socks all over the place, kind of looks like you. I’m however talking about their personality particularly in the case of younger children. Two of the biggest concerns on safari is safety and noise level. A boisterous child will only frighten the animals away or worse still actually put you all in danger if they come across as a threat.
Make sure you triple check age limits at your safari lodge too, they all have different restrictions. Not all lodges allow small children to go on game drives. The standard age is seven upwards and some lower the limit if you’re in a private jeep for just your family or will offer specific drives for children.
2. Choose the right lodge
There are two types. The classic safari lodge, which accepts children seven and upwards but provides no real child friendly facilities bar board games. It’s perfect for families with teenagers.
The other being family-friendly lodges where children are able to join game drives (minimum age limit will apply) and the lodge will offer supervised wildlife related activities for the children once back from safari.
We stayed at River Bend Lodge in the Addo National Elephant Park for our three-day safari. They accept children of all ages, great family accommodation and child-friendly activities. They don’t forget the parents either and offer a complimentary child minding service for when you need to squeeze in that essential massage. A review of my stay will be on the blog soon.
3. Help them create their own memories
We gave the girls disposable cameras and when those ran out they moved on to taking videos on the iPhone. It really helped to keep them engaged with the happenings around them. The lodge also provided rusksacks with crayons and activity packs, all great to have on hand when you have the quieter moments on safari.
My girls were obsessed with taking snaps of bones too and made Darren our ranger stop at every pile they spotted.
4. Suitable clothing
Safari days are fairly structured with two game drives a day. The first at the crack of dawn and the second late afternoon to early evening. When the sun’s not around, morning drives in an open-topped jeep can get cold.
We were in the jeep for 6.30am sharp, so no time for breakfast. Instead you stopped during the safari for an Amarula spiked coffee, hot chocolates for the kids and delicious African cakes in the bush.
We travelled to South Africa in April, which is basically their Autumn. Temperatures fluctuated from the late teens to the mid 30’s. The blankets the lodge provided in the jeep helped keep the chill at bay.
Although I know the extra bag of leggings, hoodie tops and windproof jackets were also appreciated on the morning and early evening jaunts.
5. Manage expectations
This is the wild. There is no timetable or limited space where you’ll be able to easily spot the big game. You may have to wait for a very long time before anything really exciting happens (if at all). Although don’t underestimate the little creatures. We were all practically hanging out of the jeep at one point, fascinated by two dung beetles trying to roll whilst at the same time also commandeer the elephant poop. It’s where these protected critters eventually lay their eggs to hatch, so watching the tussle was quite entertaining.
We lucked out and spotted four of the ‘big five’. The term was coined by the big-game hunters and refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. This includes the lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, rhino and leopard. It was the later which remained elusive for us, and for the locals. We were always asked by the staff at the lodge if we saw one to radio the lodge so they could be there like a shot to see the majestic big cat too.
6. Stay sharp
Even though you’ll be with an experienced ranger, it’s still important to keep your wits about you at all times. Never forget to respect where you are. Oh and expect the unexpected. You’re in the wild after all.
On our first game drive we had an incident where I was forced to appear as cool as a cucumber in front of the kids but internally thinking we were about to become a lion’s lunch. Halfway through our drive we ended up stuck in a ditch with a burst tyre. And as our ranger Darren jumped out to fix it with his trusted jack and ratchet spanner. The words of the Lodge Manager on our arrival were on constant re-wind spinning in my head ‘Hopefully you’ll see the lions they’re roaming hungry today, as they haven’t eaten for days’ Every rustle, rumble and ripple had Mr S and I on tenterhooks. Trust me it was the longest 30 minutes of my life.
7. Re-engage your senses
I know what I said in tip three. The kids with their disposables, the adults sporting their latest SLR and a bag full of lenses. I’m all for re-living memories through snapshots and video footage once you’re back home. Hell, I’m a blogger a phone or camera is never too far away for life documentation on every social media platform imaginable. However, do remember to put the camera down and enjoy the moment.
There is so much to look at when out on a game drive. Using your ears will add a whole new dimension to your safari. Trust me the safari soundtrack is bloody awesome! In the distance you may just hear the grunting warthogs or barking zebras.
We were lucky to see a rare lion kill on our second game drive. And yes I have amazing photos of the lioness and her cubs chomping through a zebra whilst the lion watched on with his full belly, but my internal images will stay with me forever. Watching incredible wildlife moments in real-time is beyond magnificent. I felt so privileged to be there. Truly special moments.
Have you ever been on safari? Is it something you would consider with young children? Let me know in the comments box below?
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