Read on to see how we managed to safari with children in South Africa.
We’re going on a lion hunt , we’re going to see a real one …
Safari with children in South Africa
We were so excited when my husband was offered the chance to attend a conference in South Africa. With the exchange rate one dollar to ten rand, it gave us the perfect opportunity to take advantage of a visit to this amazing country. And of course, what trip to South Africa wouldn’t be complete without a trip on safari?
Travelling with young children presents a myriad of concerns and considerations. South Africa of course has extra precautions and issues especially pertaining to safety and health.
Shall we go on a safari or not?
Our first issue was whether or not to go on safari.
My 2 year old was still in nappies, had afternoon sleeps, sat in a baby seat, could be unpredictable and we did not want to medicate her or my 5 year old with anti-malaria medication. However; how can you go to South Africa and not go on safari? It is a little bit like going to California and not going to Disneyland (see one of my earlier posts)! My job was to research and plan options that would cater for all the above. And so, my google search started….
Go Africa was a site I liked, offering advice on areas within South Africa for malaria free and child friendly safaris. From their reviews and recommendations as well as our intended travel route (Durban – Port Elizabeth – garden route – Cape Town), our search became narrowed to game reserves within the Eastern Cape. We could have looked at options closer to Johannesburg (such as the Pilanesberg National Park) but as we decided to transfer straight to Durban we looked at where we could get to from here. The Addo Elephant Park seemed a good option and we were able to book flights easily with South African Airlines from Durban into Port Elizabeth.
Durban to start
Below are some images of our three night stay at the Oyster Box Durban – WOW.
Where to stay?
Albeit the exchange rate to the Rand is fantastic for most foreigners travelling to South Africa, the price of private game reserves for overseas visitors is high.
Most private 4 and 5 star properties start their safari’s at approximately $1000 USD per night. In saying this, the experience is priceless.
If cost is a significant factor, my tip is to try and travel in shoulder or non-peak periods allowing you to negotiate great deals, often up to half what they are in summer and popular holiday periods. We travelled just after Easter and prior to the winter season so I negotiated with a few games parks to see who would offer us the best deal. As the old adage goes “if you don’t ask you won’t receive” (thankyou Dad for this skill you have passed down to me)!
I-escape and Mr and Mrs Smith are my primary go to accommodation sites and through the i-escape team I came across the River Bend Lodge, an easy 1.5 hour drive from Port Elizabeth. Our travel dates worked in our favour as my youngest was still under 2 (so she travelled at an infant rate throughout our holiday saving us some significant dollars on flights, accommodation and experiences) and as it was late April, the lodge allowed us to stay for 3 nights and pay for 2.
So with the safari booked and offline travel map downloaded, I was ready to start planning our wardrobe. Yee ha!
Clothing and footwear
Despite my weakness for fashion and my vanity, what to wear on safari is a very important part of planning your safari especially when you have children. It is not just a matter of looking good. You need to dress for the ever changing elements, to camouflage with the environment and also for practicality and protection.
Layers of clothing (as with all travel advice) is the way to go. Early morning and night drives are often extremely cold and when you are sitting in an open air vehicle with the wind against your face, we all needed to wear a vest, t-shirt, long sleeve top, jacket, beanie, scarf, trousers and closed shoes. However, your outfit needs to be versatile and easy to peel off. As that sun comes up, you start layering off into nothing more than a tank top, hat, sunglasses and of course make sure you have a tube of sun cream.
It has been researched and recommended that the best way to get close to the wildlife is to blend with your surroundings by dressing neutrally. Despite the odd ostrich feather there is no pink on a safari.
When packing our safari outfits I tried to choose colours such as greens, browns and khakis. Luckily for us “camouflage” was in fashion when we visited South Africa so all the Australian clothing retailers such as Country Road, Seed Heritage and Cotton On were bursting with leopard and zebra prints and loads of khaki. There is always plenty of this coloured gear at the army surplus stores and outdoor adventurer specialists such as Mountain Designs, Kathmandu and Anaconda and now with online shopping, the options for sourcing your safari clothes are limitless.
Comfortable sneakers are suitable for most safaris, even walking safaris.
On our game drives (which were at least two a day) we were frequently getting in and out of the vehicle, stepping down onto bush which was muddy, wet and slippery as well as sharp with thorns, twigs and branches.
My children wore Ugg boots which were perfect (light weight, easy to pack, warm and if dirty wiped clean easily). And for the unpredictable 2 year old we never forgot the dummy (or her Miffy)!
Note: remember to store your unworn shoes upside down. My daughter got the fright of her life when she put her foot into her shoe to find a frog had made her ugg boot its home!
Getting to your safari lodge
With most hire cars offering satellite navigation, self-driving to your accommodation should be as easy as 1, 2, 3. Our lodge provided coordinates for us to enter into our navigation system and I backed up with a free offline travel map which I had downloaded and pre-entered destinations prior to leaving home (SAR).
One significant point to remember when travelling in South Africa is your safety. Without becoming paranoid, use of common sense is imperative. Rules my husband and I agreed on were to:
- Only ever drive during daylight
- If needing to stop – only do so at petrol stations
- Not to display any signs of wealth in the vehicle (all our luggage was stored in the lockable boot)
- To always lock our doors
- Park in well-lit areas
- Pay a “Car Guard” to look after your car
- Not to stare at people
- Not to drive off the marked route
Our lodge: Riverbend Lodge
Tranquillity, luxury and exquisite cuisine describe the gracious living at River Bend Lodge. This place is for you to safari in style.
Flanked by the Zuurberg Mountains and situated on 14 000ha of private reserve, River Bend is the perfect balance between the Eastern Cape bush and the elegance of country life in Africa.
The park hosts an abundance of wildlife including 4 of the big 5: elephant, lion, buffalo, black rhino as well as antelope, zebra, ostrich, monkey, tortoise, wildebeest, impala, mongoose, kudu, hartebeest, springbok, bat eared fox, buffalo, baboon, duiker, eland and giraffe.
A highlight of our safari was walking with giraffes. We visited the game reserve across from River Bend which reportedly hosts no dangerous prey. Under the careful eye of your Guide you are given the opportunity to alight your vehicle and walk with these magnificent creatures. What a truly amazing adventure.
Our room and food
Each of the cottages at River Bend Lodge are linked by a pathway which take you up to the main lodge for Michelin star quality meals. This pathway became my running track, especially at night, when my ability to rationalise that there was a fence between us and the animals didn’t quite work!
Each of the suites opens up onto your private patio where you can sit and soak up the sight and smells of the bushveld. All the suites are air conditioned, have satellite TV, free wifi, hair dryer, have ensuite with separate bath and shower and inter leading doors to connect families.
Luxury, tranquil and private is how I would describe the suites.
River Bend is a gastronomic experience. From breakfast to late night nibbles, each plate is created from the finest locally grown ingredients. A foodie’s heaven. And yes I ate buffalo, warthog and kudo!
As the lodge caters to small numbers, your wish is their command. We experienced personalised game drives, walking with giraffes, bush picnics, pampering spa treatments, photography, swimming, bird watching, reading and most importantly your children will truly have a memorable safari experience they will never forget.
This holiday in the South African bush was truly one of the best I have been on. If you have the chance to go on a safari with your children, pack your bags and go.