Worried about taking the kids on a South African safari? With the a bit of planning and preparation encountering the Big 5 as a family is within reach...
Thousands of zebras migrating across lush, vivid green grasslands, herds of elephants roaming scenic planes and lions stalking a potential kill. There’s nothing quite like a South African safari. Between off-roading in some of the most remote areas in the world and getting up close to these animals in their natural habitats, a safari is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
And for children, seeing the wildlife that they’ve thus far only encountered in storybooks or at their local zoo will be the ultimate eye-opener. Though the common perception is that kids and safaris don’t go together, with the right amount of planning and preparation, there’s no reason why you can’t turn your mini-me into a David Attenborough in the making. Here’s how:
Be Age Appropriate
You need to have children who are mature and old enough to be able to follow instructions - a lot of the rules on safari are there for your safety, so you have to abide by them. Will they stay quiet while on a drive? Will they realise that roaming around in the camp grounds - where wild animals roam - after dark is a major no-no? Most experts will say that seven or eight upwards is a safe age to consider a South African safari.
Remember also that many safari tours and lodges have age restrictions for children and travelling with kids often means that many activities will be prohibited, including walking safaris. If the lodge you opt for also has an age-limit on game drives you may end up stumping up extra cash for a private vehicle.
Location, Location, Location
When it comes to opting for the right lodge South Africa has plenty to choose from, but many of them won’t be child-friendly, so you really need to do your research way ahead of time.
Smaller wildlife parks and reserve offer the chance to see plenty of wildlife in a shorter timeframe with less driving, plus these private game reserves usually have great accommodation and facilities, though these come with a hefty price tag. The offering for kids varies widely - at one end of the spectrum a lodge may offer a range of activities specifically designed for children, including kids clubs, specially created activities (such as guided walks or bush craft courses) and childcare staff. At the other there may just be facilities that will keep tykes occupied, such as a swimming pool.
Speaking of, given that you’ll likely to spend more time in your accommodation, a swimming pool, tennis court or any other activity will be a godsend as children will be occupied between game drives.
Doing It DIY
If you want to go your own way, then self-drive offers the most freedom as you can tailor your own itinerary. It’s also a hell of a lot cheaper too. Kruger has good roads and large public camps with wallet-family friendly accommodation.
Empower The Kids
Rather than just arranging everything yourself, empower your children by asking for their input. Not only will the holiday be more enjoyable for them, they’ll also be more enthusiastic about it if they’ve been involved in the planning process.
Be Safe Not Sorry
Remember that parts of the country are high risk malaria zones, thankfully these are few and far between.
If you are considering an area where malaria is present, consult your doctor about the necessary anti-malarial drugs and be thorough with repellent. Children under five are most at risk, so it’s wise to opt for a malaria-free game park if you do have kids under that age. As an additional bonus, that will also mean forgoing taking any medication, which often has nasty side effects.
Get Your Timing Right
Regardless of whether you travel with kids or not, make sure you time your holiday right.
The drier winter months between May and October is the best time for game viewing as there isn’t much vegetation, which makes it more easy to see animals. However, this may also mean they’re less active. Ironically, this is also the low tourist season.
High season runs October to March and the best weather can be found between April and May and September to October with pleasant temperatures. In the wet season, there’s a lot more food around, which means you’ll see a lot more life however this means it’s harder to see the animals as the grass is longer.
You'll also want to consider the migration patterns of animals. These vary, so it's a good idea to research animal migration predictions for the season during which you plan to travel.
Keep Them Entertained
No one wants to hear the “I’m bored” or “are we nearly there yet?" whine from the back seat. However, game drives often mean long hours in a hot vehicle and sometimes - given the unpredictable nature of wildlife - critters could be thin on the ground. Make sure to curb any potential boredom by planning ahead.
Keep drives on the shorter side - no more than two hours, ideally. Play "I-spy”, stock up on emergency snacks and kit them out with a camera and binoculars. Get them to work on a project during the trip, such as writing a travel diary or even making a video of the journey. And as a last resort, have an iPad loaded with movies and games on hand. Do all of the above and boredom-induced tantrums will be non-existent.
Give Them Space
Especially true with teens and older children, make sure to avoid being in one another’s pockets 24/7. Everyone - young and old alike - needs time alone, so make sure to consider this. You’ll be glad of the breather too.