Independent Familes: 'Are there any safaris that are family-friendly?'
Saturday 15 December 2007
Q. We have decided to take our three children, aged four, seven and nine, to South Africa next summer. We'd like to visit Cape Town, and go on a family-friendly safari in perhaps the Kruger National Park and KwaZulu-Natal. Can you recommend itineraries, accommodation and companies that can organise such a trip?
D Jenkins, via email
A. South Africa used to be marketed very much to adult visitors, but it is increasingly seen as a family destination, particularly in the more accessible, non-malarial areas. Many safari companies put a lower age limit of between six and eight on their game drives, but there are lodges geared to young families, some parks allow self-drive (which is also cheaper), or, if you can afford it, you can take a sole-use safari villa, which comes with a dedicated ranger and vehicle, as well as a chef, giving complete flexibility.
The Kruger National Park (00 27 12 428 9111; www.sanparks.org), around the size of Wales, is one of the world's most biodiverse parks, and certainly one of the top places to see the so-called "Big Five" (lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards and buffaloes). It is however, malarial, as is the KwaZulu-Natal province, and vaccines against diseases such as typhoid and hepatitis may also be recommended. August is the best time to go to minimise the malaria danger; it is cooler and there are fewer mosquitoes as well as fewer visitors and lower prices but there is still a risk.
In Kruger, there are nearly 40 lodges and camps to choose from: Lukimbi (00 27 11 888 3713; www.lukimbi.com) is a particularly child-friendly option. Run by a couple with young children of their own, it offers short game outings, "bush Olympics" (while parents game-watch), and even children's beds in the shape of animals.
While the Kruger is teeming with wildlife within its bushveld and forest, KwaZulu is more varied. The province is a complex combination of subtropical coastline, grasslands, wetlands and mountains. Despite the topography, there are some top-class game reserves, such as Phinda (00 27 11 809 4300; www.phinda.com), which encompasses Indian Ocean coastline, forest and mountain, and diverse wildlife including big cats.
On the coast of KwaZulu-Natal, Rocktail Bay (00 27 11 807 1800; www.rocktailbay.com) has family rooms just a dune from the beach. From November to February, turtles lay eggs here. Even in August it should be warm enough to swim, and guides can take you to calm waters and teach the children to snorkel.
A good way to approach a safari holiday is to look for a package trip. To Escape To (0871 7115282; www.toescapeto.com), which specialises in family travel throughout South Africa, offers a 12-day August holiday combining full board at Lukimbi and Rocktail Bay with return South African Airways flights from Heathrow to Johannesburg and all internal flights and transfers, for 3,100 per adult and 1,900 per child.
Excellent holidays can also be had without entering the malarial zone, with safaris in the area north of Johannesburg or on the Eastern Cape near Port Elizabeth.
Pilanesberg National Park (00 27 14 55 55 35 47; www.pilanesberggamereserve.com), two hours' drive north of Johannesburg, is home to big cats, elephants and more; within it are the family-friendly Bakubung Lodge and Kwa Maritane (both 00 27 11 806 6888; www.legacyhotels.co.za). Both have reasonably priced family rooms, no lower age limits, and good facilities for children.
Further north and more pricey is Madikwe, a vast national park with plenty of wildlife and fewer people because it functions like a private reserve, with access only if staying on site. At Jaci's Safari Lodge (00 27 14 778 9900; www.madikwe.com) under-eights are not allowed on adult game drives, but have their own daytime drives (on which parents are welcome if they "don't behave like adults"), and other activities. Or you could splurge on the lodge's Nare Suite (two bedrooms, lounge, private plunge pool), which gives you your own vehicle, ranger and chef from about R16,000 (1,160) per night in August. Specialist family safari operator Bushbaby Travel (01252 792984; www.bushbabytravel. com) can tailor packages staying at these lodges, as well as other parts of South Africa. Two-week trips next summer start from 999 per adult and 649 for under-12s, including South African Airways flights from Heathrow to Johannesburg, car hire and full board at Bakubung Lodge and the nearby Sun City Resort.
One of the most popular itineraries for British families, though, is to spend time in Cape Town then fly (50 minutes) or drive (nine hours) up the coast along the Garden Route, taking in some beach time, to the Port Elizabeth area to go on safari. Cape Town is the most family-friendly of South Africa's big cities, with plenty to do from penguin- and whale-watching to the Two Oceans Aquarium (with over 3,000 sea creatures), the Monkey Forest, cable-cars up Table Mountain, and trips to Robben Island.
Family accommodation ranges from five-star luxury at the Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa in Camps Bay (00 27 21 437 9000; www.12apostles hotel.com; B&B from R4,895/354), set dramatically between sea and mountains just out of town, via the centrally located four-star Winchester Mansions (00 27 21 434 2351; www.winchester.co.za; B&B from R1,650/119), with two-bedroom family suites, to hundreds of self-catering properties, some with enclosed gardens and pools. Many of these are listed by Fleewinter (020-7112 0019; www.fleewinter.co.uk), which was set up by a British father, Alisdair Luxmoore, frustrated by his difficulty in finding accommodation suitable for his two young daughters.
For safaris with the very young, Luxmoore recommends the five-star River Bend Lodge (00 27 42 233 8000; www.riverbendlodge.co.za) in a private section of the Addo Elephant Park. Big cats are not plentiful here, but the area has possibly the best elephant-viewing in the world. River Bend has no age limits, plenty of activities, and there is a leopard-rehabilitation centre where you can get up close to the usually elusive cat.
As a guide, a bespoke Fleewinter two-week itinerary based in an apartment in Cape Town for nine nights, with a flight to River Bend, two nights at the River Bend Lodge and three nights at a guesthouse in Plettenberg Bay, and a drive back with a beach stop, for two adults and three children, would cost from 2,550 for your family next summer, excluding international flights. These can be arranged by Fleewinter and start from 700 return per adult, 500 per child.
For general tips on family safari holidays, contact South African Tourism (020-8971 9350; www.southafrica.net). And ensure that you visit your GP well in advance to get the latest advice on vaccinations and prophylaxis.
Send family travel queries to The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, 'The Independent', Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or email email@example.com
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