My kids have got the giggles, and I'm on the verge of joining them. It's not easy to stay composed when you're bouncing up and down in an open Land Rover in the South African bush looking for elephants. And if the look on the face of the warthog we just passed is anything to go by, we look as silly as we feel.
We've just arrived at CC Africa's Kwandwe Private Game Reserve, an amazing wilderness in which you might spot a giraffe's neck or a kudu's ears poking out of the scrubland.
But Whipsnade this ain't. We're in 22,000 hectares of protected semi-desert where, under the relentless sun, some of the world's most endangered animals live and sleep and eat each other. Sakhi, one of our guides, is perched perilously on the bonnet, looking for wild things. He's escorting us to our lodge, and he reckons we're heading for a lion and his fresh kill on route.
A sudden unearthly noise has us sitting bolt upright and I see alarm in Sakhi's eyes. My stomach sinks. I recognise that sound. It's Patrick's mobile ("You can stand under my umber-ella, ella, ella ..."). Note to Patrick, age 12: the South African bush is a mobile-free zone.
But I'm half-relieved that we don't bump into that lion. Rhino, springbok and a troop of baboons will do me fine for now. And a zebra, who trots across in front of us ("Look! A zebra crossing!" whispers Stan, who's nine).
Finally, out of the wilderness, our lodge looms – a man is standing with a tray of cocktails to welcome us. And welcomed we are: the Melton Manor staff – "our" staff – appear singing, greeting us Xhosa-style, offering treats for us to nibble before showing us around our very own lodge. It's stunning: we have our own pool, and the four bedrooms are palatial, with enormous beds and floor-to-ceiling windows.
The boys are in their element. There are backpacks full of goodies, and there's a huge choice of activities, from fishing expeditions to "poo safaris" (I won't go into detail, but it kept Stan amused). And, to Patrick's joy, games and DVDs.
But there's no time for these now ... a quick feast on pancakes and we're off for an evening safari.
It's hard to choose the highlight of our first day: the buffalo stampede at dusk, perhaps, or the elephants crossing the Great Fish River, washing each other on the way. We return under a starry sky, stopping to "admire" a poisonous spider, and a lioness prowls up and gives us a good sniff. We try not to breathe. But there are apparently tastier things to hunt than Land Rovers, and she slips away.
Supper is waiting at the lodge. The poolside is ablaze with candles, and a crackling fire takes the edge off the night air. We feast on ostrich and wine and fall into bed – we'll be up at 5am. There are two safaris a day, at dawn and dusk – but we rarely see another vehicle, as visitor numbers are restricted here.
The evenings are particularly enjoyable: as the sun goes down, a trestle table laden with drinks appears. We sip lemonade and gin and tonic, and take in the smouldering African sunset. Bliss.
The best thing about our South African holiday? Well, we did see a cheetah and her new cubs, which was pretty darn special. But, for us, it was the company – CC Africa's staff: we have never been so well looked after. Add to that their total commitment to conservation and ecotourism, and the feeling of exhilaration you get when you arrive lasts long after you leave.
The boys are desperate to do it all again. Can you have two holidays of a lifetime?
How to get there
Katy Holland travelled with Bushbaby Travel (01252 792984; bushbabytravel.com), which offers seven nights in South Africa for £1,799 per adult and £1,149 per child under 12 this summer, based on eight sharing, including return flights, car hire, three nights at CC Africa's Melton Manor and four nights' at the Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa in Cape Town.Reuse content