When planning your first South African family safari the Eastern Cape reserves are by far the best. Malaria-free they offer the safest option when travelling with children. We spent three wonderful days at the charming River Bend Lodge.
It was our final destination after driving the glorious Garden Route, which I highly recommend. You can read my favourite hotspots along the route here. It’s an hour’s drive from Port Elizabeth, so perfectly located.
River Bend is located in a private concession of the world-famous Addo Elephant National Park. For me, the converted farm dating back to 1911 offers the perfect beginners safari for families.
On arrival we were greeted by a warm friendly welcome from the General Manager which instantly made us feel at home.
With only eight suites you receive a very intimate and personal safari experience at the lodge. They’re all linked by a path which winds through beautiful, colourful gardens down to the common areas.
The roomy and tranquil suites are decorated in a colonial style with warm and earthy colours. Each one comes with a private veranda.
Perfect for lounging and viewing wildlife, we spotted many a warthog and a very cheeky monkey (erm trying to steal my camera!) whilst enjoying an al fresco cuppa.
We stayed in one of the two interconnecting rooms available, the girls were over the moon having a room which looked exactly like ours. Newlyweds can enjoy a honeymoon suite with its own plunge pool and outside shower. For a more exclusive feel, a kilometre from the main lodge is Long Hope Villa. The private three bedroom villa comes fully staffed with a private chef and game ranger – Oh how idyllic!
Days on the lodge revolve around the game drives. There are two a day, one very early in the morning and the other takes place late afternoon to early evening. It’s when the animals are at their most active. During the day, you take a leaf out of the animals books and basically laze around – utter bliss.
The common areas at River Bend lodge include a central lounge with a mezzanine library level, an adjoining bar, a formal dining room with a long terrace overlooking a waterhole – fantastic for breakfast and lunches.
The view of the endless plains with zebras, warthogs and elephants meandering across whilst you’re chomping on a croissant is pure magic. It’s everything I imagined when I use to dream about safari’s as a teenager.
I’m glad to say the day room, home to a large television and a selection of toys and DVDs hardly saw us. The girls were constantly out with their binoculars trying to spot the wildlife or bug hunting in the gardens which was wonderful to see.
Although the same can’t be said for me, I did make use of the spa. Personally, calling it a spa is a bit of stretch. It’s a treatment room where you can indulge in a massage, manicure or pedicure. Nevertheless, my masseuse certainly helped to sort out my knotted shoulders.
For those who like keep to their fitness regime running (erm mentioning no names – Mr S!) the swimming pool can help burn off all those yummy calories you’ll be consuming. Bringing me nicely onto…
The FOOD. It’s a huge part of the River Bend experience. Breakfasts are substantial – yoghurts with fresh berries, a large selection of pastries, jams, cheeses, fruit platters and fresh juices or a hot breakfast cooked just the way you like it. Mine was always two poached eggs on the tastiest, crispiest hash browns.
When on an early morning 6am game drive, breakfast is served on the plains. I’m talking Amarula spiked coffee, hot chocolates for the kids and delicious African cakes – Living the safari dream.
Classic French cuisine is served in the evening, complimented by some great South African wines. With a choice of three or four dishes for each course we always had plenty of choice. I loved the way the staff always checked with the girls what they’d prefer to eat for their next meal. It pleased them no end.
I was a huge fan of the afternoon tea too served in the lounge before the second game drive of the day. Delicious cake and a cup of steaming rooibos, the perfect way to prepare yourself for a 4WD safari.
The guides are brilliant with children and make them feel very special. On their first drive they received a goody backpack with an animal workbook, crayons and plenty of other things to entertain for those ‘we’ve been driving round for an hour and only seen a dung beetle’ moment. Thankfully we didn’t have many of those.
They also enjoyed their own adventures with the guide without the olds cramping their style. Such a brilliant way to capture their enthusiasm and excitement. For those with very young children the lodge can also provide babysitting so parents can still enjoy a drive.
River Bend Lodge is a great choice for an intro to a family safari. The incredibly personal service from the ever smiling, enthusiastic staff made this the perfect end to our ten-day South African adventure.
Where did you dream of travelling to as a youngster? Let me know in the comments box below.
River Bend Lodge| 27 Main Rd | Addo | 6105 | South Africa
If you’re planning a family safari you may want to read my 7 tips for an incredible family safari.
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