Family Safaris

If your children loved The Lion King, a well-planned family safari is guaranteed to be a hit. Although many safari camps don’t allow children, others positively welcome them and lay on special features, such as baby-sitting, kid’s food and guides for family groups. Some operators also offer family itineraries with a variety of activities aimed at children. As well as traditional game-viewing, there may be bush treasure hunts, local art and craft (bead-making, carving etc), visits to animal orphanages and even bedtime stories from traditional African storytellers!

If you are worried about your children taking anti-malaria pills, there are malaria-free game reserves in South Africa. Another excellent idea for a family safari is to drive your own hire car in Namibia or South Africa. The roads are excellent, you can travel at your own stress-free pace and combine game reserves and national parks with non-safari highlights, such as a whale-watching tour or a day on the beach.

It’s little wonder that safaris are such an instant hit with children. I always imagined it had something to do with the magic of seeing their first wild elephant or lion – or that some primeval stirring bonded their young minds to the wonders of the African bush. But when we took our twins, aged four, to South Africa’s Kwandwe Private Game Reserve, it struck me that it was the guide, not the wildlife, that was the focus of their fascination.
Turn your nose up if you like, but the simple, blatant truth is that the vast majority of young children and safari guides share a fascination with poo. Our ranger, Bruce, commanded instant awe in Joe and Ellie simply by probing the contents of a hyena pellet and scooping up a handful of giraffe faeces as if they were raisins. And when he proceeded to break open and sniff an elephantine offering as if it was a freshly baked loaf of bread, Joe and Ellie’s respect for the man immediately transcended anything I’d managed to drum into them since they were born.

But I suppose that wasn’t a bad thing. Safety is undeniably the single most important consideration for any parent planning a family safari. A guide who can command total authority over your tribe is essential, but there’s also a whole tick-list of other concerns that need to be weighed up. The risk of malaria is the first thing likely to put families off going on safari, but you can avoid the issue altogether by restricting your sights to the malaria-free game reserves of the Eastern Cape. A few days at Kwandwe can easily be tagged on to a family-friendly holiday exploring the Garden Route.

Don’t imagine, however, that this reserve is anything like the drive-thru safari parks back home. A sign at the entrance to Kwandwe’s Ecca Lodge reminds you that lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, buffalo and poisonous snakes abound and that there is ‘no physical impediment to them entering the residential area’. Bruce explained that he assessed all young children before allowing them on game drives in Kwandwe’s open Landcruisers. “To big cats a bored child crying or whingeing sounds like an animal in distress – easy prey.” You can imagine, then, our slight trepidation when we encountered a family of cheetah on our second drive. But we needn’t have worried. Joe and Ellie were totally absorbed by the Planet Manager activity packs that all CC Africa properties provide for their younger guests. We’d also given them each a pair of binoculars to eke out their attention span.

Inevitably, though, Bruce kept game drives to a maximum of three hours and interspersed them with fun treats. One morning he stopped to rustle up steaming mugs of hot chocolate and freshly-baked pancakes. On another occasion, he helped Joe and Ellie follow a mystery trail of footprints to the bird hide where Mr Aardvark had left them a stash of popcorn and chocolate. Bruce had a knack for intriguing and informing children – drip-feeding them nuggets of bushlore, like the reason woodpeckers don’t get headaches and why you should always wave at a giraffe (apparently their curiosity often brings them closer). There were also times when Joe and Ellie were enraptured by extraordinary sights like a herd of 200 springbok running and ‘pronking’ through the bushveld, or a three-week old giraffe standing like a perfect miniature replica of its mother. And if ever they showed the faintest trace of becoming jaded by it all there was usually a handy pile of dung lying nearby to restore their interest.

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>> Family Holidays in South Africa