With a car full of excited children, accompanying baggage and parents, great anticipation filled the air as we were finally heading to the airport for our trip to South Africa. Travelling with 4 children on a family wildlife holiday in South Africa was fun, rewarding and created happy memories for us all.
A personal recommendation to use Lawson’s – a family firm, based in South Africa – was fantastic as they proved invaluable in giving ideas and choices. Our first week was self drive in the Western Cape and our second week was spent in Mpumalanga accompanied by an amazing guide, Bert. We met Lawson’s at the British Birdfair and sitting down to discuss the trip, with the children present, gave them a really good idea of everybody’s wish list for the holiday.
At this point, we did not let our bird list fly to pole position. Remembering this is a family holiday, we mixed our own passion for travel and wildlife with the children’s discovery and most importantly, enjoyment of it. Our kids recorded their own holiday by arming them with suitable cameras – we were amazed at what they saw and chose to focus on. It might be different to what we might point out to them but they could then relive their own captured moments, not always those seen through the eyes of adults. Yes, we had great itinerary diaries with check lists, but expecting kids to sit down and fill this in was going to be too much like homework. Clicking a shutter button was, by far, the easier option.
Flying direct from London to Cape Town, picking up our hire vehicle and driving straight to Boulders Beach, we were greeted by an army of penguins. 4 cameras were grabbed at high speed to record the moment. A fantastic moment it was too. There is so much to do with children around the Western Cape; wildlife, scenic and culture related. In a week we managed to go Whale watching off Hermanus, enjoy the glory of Kirstenbosch Gardens with its multitude of bird life, visit the Cape of Good Hope and surrounding nature reserve, sample the delights of one of the many vineyards, take a cable car ride to the summit of Table Mountain, experience a close encounter with all things cheeky at Monkey World, visit the incredible aquarium at the V&A Waterfront, get tickets to see the biggest rugby match of the season (just experiencing the phenomena of the crowds there is worthwhile), take the rather rocky boat ride out to Robben Island, walk with penguins on the beach and wander along the riverbank in the stunningly beautiful Kogelberg Nature Reserve. That was week one. Everyone still happy? You bet.
On to week two. Plane ride to Johannesburg and the wildlife really started to get serious. For everyone, we were now heading for what we all regarded as the highlight of the trip, the safari. We had expert guides, Big Five plus plus plus and my goodness we got some serious ticks done on our provided list. Staying at a private lodge for the safari was simply amazing. We all loved the Rondel hut bedrooms – so much better than rooms in a big lodge and gave a ‘real feel’ edge to the whole safari experience. Whilst out on game drives the kids became very adept at spotting, much to the amusement and pleasure of our sharp eyed guide, Bert, as well as the camp guide. Getting up early for the morning game drive was never an issue as the kids were always excited by the prospects of what might be seen that day. Of course, being a competitive bunch, the added “I saw it first” occasionally came into play. We would have happily spent more days at the lodge but it was time to move on after a few nights. It makes the wish to return much stronger knowing there are certain things you didn’t get a chance to see. Bert shared his knowledge of the whole area and showed us other sights around, including Blyde River Canyon with the three Rondavels (a pre-sunrise walk up the path from our hotel to view these), Bourke’s Luck Potholes, God’s Window, Pilgrim’s Rest and Mac Mac Pools where the kids could swim, albeit in rather chilly water.
The final leg of the trip was a hotel based on the Limpopo river. We were in awe as we watched hippos walk across the riverbank while crocodiles basked on the shore – all this from the hotel room balcony. A fantastic pool and hammocks made for happy and safe kids while walks nearby and even around the hotel grounds allowed us to see some great wildlife. From here it was a very short drive to go horse riding one evening as well as go to Elephant Whispers; a fantastic chance for the whole family to experience these incredible animals at such close quarters having witnessed them in the wild. As adults, we may not always appreciate the value of what may be regarded as the tourist option of close encounters or experiences but children will relish the opportunity to touch and feed an elephant. They learnt much from these experiences as all staff involved are so knowledgeable. If you have kids who love asking questions, these guys will love being able to share their knowledge with them – adults will probably learn a thing or two as well.
The holiday, as all great times have a habit of doing, flew by. Savouring a final drive through some of the Kruger Park on the way to catch our flight home rounded off an incredible trip: Saying goodbye and thanking Bert at the airport was like leaving an old friend behind. He had shared his incredible surroundings and knowledge with us and contributed so much to giving the children a real taste of wildlife travel. South Africa inspired us. Bert, we will return!
Tales from a real wildlife experience
By Penny Robinson