My family and other animals: Taking children on safari

Can you really take young children on safari? Helen Truszkowski tried out a package that offered safety, excitement and luxury

Sitting on a plane bound for Johannesburg, I carefully read my holiday itinerary. It seemed almost too good to be true. Ultra-luxe bush camps, check. Big-game viewing, check. Comprehensive childcare, check. No risk of malaria, check. Reality, check.

I was heading into the heart of Big Five country with my sons Jack (14 months) and George (aged 10). You might not associate luxury safaris with family holidays, especially for those with younger children. It is commonly argued that youngsters need to be around 12 years old to appreciate the safari experience, and there are obvious dangers, tropical diseases to protect against, the dreaded pit lavatories and long 4x4 drives.

Turning these assumptions on their head, our host Bushbaby Travel, a specialist operator, promises imaginative, bespoke safari fare for families such as mine - keen to see wildlife in the raw but uneasy about sacrificing either personal safety or creature comforts.

Three hours' drive north-west of Johannesburg we reached our first camp, Ant's Nest, a private reserve teeming with wildlife, in South Africa's Waterberg region. Exclusivity is what this place is all about, taking just one group or family at a time. That means you get a chef, ranger and staff to yourself - not exactly roughing it. I gave George first choice of the farm's three intimate one-bedroom lodges. He rejected the romantic, oversize thatched suite and the cosy farmstead, plumping instead for an elevated, Tarzan-style affair, complete with an immense bed held up by tree trunks.

By the end of our first day George had tracked rhino from a dirt-bike, set up a footie friendly, trampolined, clocked the climbing wall and booked a game drive. Jack, meanwhile, paddled in the pool and played peek-a-boo among the bleached elephant skulls. Next morning we ditched the 4WD and went hiking with our guide, Peter, who pointed out fresh tracks and spore. Later we filed on horseback after an expert equestrian guide, Kara, for a tantalising glimpse of game up-close.

The ride ended with a thoroughly civilised lunch in the bush, at a table dressed with starched linen. I worried whether my children's manners were up to it, but I needn't have. At this and every meal we giggled and chatted our way through the delicious fare. It was the connoisseur's Africa.

Our next stop was Madikwe Game Reserve in the far north of the North West Province. Our elaborate faux-rustic suite oozed style, with an open fireplace, outdoor shower, private viewing decks and plunge pool. Outside it was raw Africa - mile upon mile of bush.

The absence of fences here meant we had our work cut out keeping an eye on wandering Jack. Thankfully, the indulgent staff kitted him out with an apron and diverted him with neon playdough. But we were generally pleased to have the chance of crossing paths with a wild animal just about anywhere. During one bathtime a family of elephants appeared a few inches from our deck, a mere wall of glass between us and them. For a toddler whose encounters with elephants had been confined to Barbar, this was a coup.

Our last stop was Jaci's Safari Lodge, also in the Madikwe Reserve, which offers eight elegant, open-fronted, canvas-walled cabanas spread out in a line. By day, the indoor-outdoor feel serves as a reminder that a safari is not just about fancy living, but about unrivalled quality time in the company of wildlife.

Sassy vervet monkeys scampered out of the thatch, stealing from the fruit bowls. Exotic crimson-breasted shrike cawed from their lofty perches. At night, when the candles were lit and the flap zipped into place, we gained a profound sense of solitude.

In Jaci's 4WD, the wind blowing in our faces, we were shown old-time hunting skills for stalking game, our guide pointing out fresh rhino dung and hyena territorial grass markings. Soon he had George deciphering animal footprints, and Jack ecstatic at a sighting of a lookalike of Zazu (the yellow-billed Hornbill from The Lion King).

I felt safe with all the guides. Back home doubting friends had tutted at our adventure, convinced that taking two youngsters on safari was a half-baked idea. But we came looking for an genuinely intimate encounter with the wild that compromised neither our level of comfort nor a feeling that my kids were safe and welcome. And we found it in South Africa.

THE COMPACT GUIDE

HOW TO GET THERE:

Helen Truszkowski travelled with Bushbaby Travel (0870-850 9103; bushbabytravel.com). Its Week in the Bush itinerary, from 1 May to 30 June, costs from £1,999 per adult and £1,149 per child under 12. The package includes return flights with Nationwide Airlines, car hire, three nights at Ant's Hill or Ant's Nest, two at Madikwe Safari Lodge, and two at Jaci's Tree or Safari Lodge.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Membership Administrator

    £23K: Guru Careers: We're seeking an experienced Membership Administrator, to ...

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Day In a Page

    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
    The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

    The ZX Spectrum is back

    The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
    Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

    Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

    The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

    If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
    The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

    The quirks of work perks

    From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
    Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

    Is bridge becoming hip?

    The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
    Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

    The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

    Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
    The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

    The rise of Lego Clubs

    How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
    5 best running glasses

    On your marks: 5 best running glasses

    Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
    Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada