The Independent parent: Your questions answered

Where can we go for an adventurous and 'responsible' safari?
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The Independent Travel

Q I am a single parent, a mother of two girls, aged nine and 11. I would like to take them on safari in East Africa at Easter, followed by a stint on the beach. We are quite adventurous and would like a combination of roughing it and pampering, and money is not an issue. I'm very interested in "responsible" safaris, for example where companies use fairly paid local guides. I would also like my children to meet some of the locals, if possible.

A Gardener, Dorking

AThe good news is that by opting for this kind of safari, both you and your daughters will be in for a unique experience. The bad news is, "responsible tourism" doesn't come cheap and if you want to travel next year, this rules out the popular East African destinations of Kenya and Tanzania. Easter 2003 falls in mid-April, right in the middle of Kenya and Tanzania's wet seasons. Roads are frequently impassable and the possibility of good game watching diminishes significantly.

Outside the main rainy season (before March or after May) the best option would have been to take a safari including one of the Masai Mara National Park's many community-based tourism projects, followed by a stint on the beaches of Kenya or the nearby island of Zanzibar. Should you decide to change your plans, the tour operators mentioned below offer a combination of beach and safari holidays in both locations.

However, you should book as soon as possible, as this is a popular time for family holidays. As most African countries are high-risk malarial zones, you will also need to consult a doctor about the precautions you should take and have the appropriate vaccinations for these countries.

A good alternative at this time of year is Zambia. Still something of a well-kept secret, it has a high standard of accommodation and guiding. More importantly, it offers exceptional game viewing – you can expect to see elephant, lion, wildebeest, kudu and eland, with a very good chance of spotting the elusive leopard. Zambia's main rains fall in January and February, so by Easter, the bush should be lush and green, with plenty of migrant birds, too.

Wildlife Worldwide (020-8667 9158; www.wildlifeworldwide.com) suggests a two-week walking and jeep safari, beginning in Zambia's wildlife-rich Luangwa Valley. The itinerary begins with three nights at Kapani Lodge, followed by three nights at Nkwali camp. Both camps support school/community projects, with a proportion of the cost of your visit helping towards funding. Nkwali is one of three family-friendly camps in Zambia operated by Robin Pope Safaris ( www.robinpopesafaris.net), a well-respected specialist in this region of Africa. From Nkwali you will have the opportunity to spend a night in the local Kawaza village, staying in a banda (mud hut). This excursion will cost around an extra £65 per person and directly benefits the local community by £22 per tourist. The trip culminates with four nights at the plush Club Makakola on the sandy shores of Lake Malawi, with its excellent freshwater snorkelling, scuba diving and unique species of tropical fish.

Departing 16 April 2003, the trip costs £2,075 per adult and £1,575 per child (under 12), which is based on the three of you travelling and sharing a triple room. The price includes international flights from London Heathrow to Lusaka, all domestic flights, transfers, accommodation throughout with all meals plus some drinks, national park entry fees and the services of a naturalist guide in Zambia. In addition, for every booking, a donation of £50 is made to the UK-based David Shepherd Conservation Foundation, a registered charity that raises money for the protection of endangered mammals in Africa and Asia.

If money is no object, the Okavango Delta in Botswana is one of Africa's most exclusive and spectacular safari destinations. However, it will cost considerably more than the price of a similar holiday in Zambia or Kenya. Another drawback you may experience is that many of Botswana's lodges will not accept children under 12 for safety reasons (many camps are not enclosed and animals are free to wander in).

If this does not deter you, you will be in for a real treat. Aardvark Safaris (01980 849160; www.aardvarksafaris.com), a safari specialist with a dedicated family programme, recommends a safari in northern Botswana, followed by a beach break on the east coast of South Africa. The trip includes three nights at King's Pool camp ( www.wilderness-safaris.com/kings.asp) in the Chobe National Park followed by one night at the traditional Bukakhwe San Bushman Gudigwa Camp in the wetlands of the northern Okavango. The latter is a fully community-owned, cultural tourism venture that will open to visitors in April 2003, just in time for your trip. Activities include walking trips with the bushmen.

From there you will move to Vumbura Camp in the Okavango Delta, which will offer both wetland and savannah-based game viewing activities. Finally, your family will spend a nightin Johannesburg before flying east for five nights in a "treehouse" family suite at the luxurious Rocktail Bay Lodge. This is located overlooking a 40km stretch of pristine beach, on the east coast of South Africa. It is also home to one of the longest-running sea turtle protection projects in South Africa.

Travelling before 20 April 2003, the total price for your family will be £10,241. This includes non-stop, return flights from Heathrow to Johannesburg, all connecting flights and transfers, predominately all-inclusive accommodation, transfers, all safari activities, national park fees, taxes and guides.

Other safari specialists you might like to consider are, Sunvil Africa (020-8232 9777; www.sunvil.co.uk) and Tribes Travel (01728 685 971; www.tribes.co.uk). The latter won the tour operator category award at the British Airway's Tourism for Tomorrow Awards 2002, earlier this year.

QI have been told that parts of Northumbria are stunning. I would like to investigate the possibility of renting a largish, atmospheric house there for February half term with my wife and two children aged three and five. We would also like to invite another family with two children around the same ages. Can you make any suggestions?

B Lawrence, London

ACollectively known as Northumbria, the four counties of Tyne and Wear, Durham, the Tees Valley and Northumberland do offer some breathtaking scenery and are a great location for a half-term holiday.

One area to consider is the Northumberland National Park, which fills the north-eastern corner of Northumbria up to the Scottish borders. This is a vast, curlew-haunted landscape of moorland and fells and is also a government-designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

It is prime walking country, so base yourselves near the town of Rothbury in the centre of the park. It also has an Information Centre (01669 620887; www.nnpa.org.uk) which offers a range of pre-bookable guided walks – some of which are specifically aimed at families with toddlers. Call 01665 578248 for dates and prices. From here, you will also be within driving distance of the spectacular Alnwick Castle (01665 511100), home of the Duke of Northumberland. Although only the gardens will be open in February, the exterior will be familiar to eagle-eyed fans of the Harry Potter films, who will spot its resemblance to a certain school of witchcraft and wizardry.

For a magical place to stay, The Granary (01669 650219) is a five-star, four-bedroom barn conversion outside Sharperton village (seven miles from Rothbury). Despite its modern interior, this charming property has great views and caters fully for young children, with cots and high chairs already provided. A week's rental from 15 to 22 February costs £335, which includes central heating, duvets, linen and towels.

Northumberland's glorious coast has some of the UK's most unspoilt beaches. At the northernmost tip are Lindisfarne Priory and the wildfowl-reserves of Holy Island. Further south lies the village of Bamburgh, with its haunted 19th-century castle. Here, you could stay at The Glebe (01668 214456; www.secretkingdom.com/glebe), an 18th-century, four-bedroom vicarage with a large private garden on the outskirts of the village. A week's rental from 15 to 22 February will cost £575.

If neither of these appeal, the Northumbria Tourist Board (0191 375 3004; www.visitnorthumbria.com) can provide you with a comprehensive list of local holiday rentals. Alternatively, Northumbria Coast and Country Cottages (01665 830783; www.northumbriacottages.com) offers a selection of larger properties, including a converted Victorian railway station.

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