Reflections of a family safari in South Africa

17th June 2013

“Daddy, didn’t you say that we were never to trust a man with a beard?”

Our 8 year old daughter is looking up at her father with a challenging expression. She is leading the way, small canvas bag slung over her green dress, ‘camouflage’ cap pulled down over her cropped, dark hair. This latest, provocative demand may have seems horribly linked to the fact that yesterday he and I were voted ‘most boring adults’ and the bearded man in front of us was resoundingly the ‘most interesting EVER’.

In fact, all of us have been eagerly trailing the bearded man for three days now, and he has achieved a near god-like status for our children, for whom every single experience of the African bush has been utterly thrilling. We have returned to Africa to appreciate the smaller nuances of the bush; finding porcupine quills, aardvark trails and trailing a mob of meerkats. Riding through herds of sable and stalking giraffe on foot has got us all in thrall.

We are finally here… after years of discussing, considering, investigating. This Christmas Family Holiday was always going to be a corker. We really had done our research, in earnest. I can’t say that we have not enjoyed our holidays with our children until now, but as little squiggly squawkers they did cramp our style. Now a gloriously grown up 8 and 6 years old, we are free to explore again. To develop an itinerary, hop from place to place, and fling loose the trappings of babyhood… Well, almost; we chose to avoid malarial zones for one more year.
Reflections of a family safari in South AfricaSo, with dreams of Africa, safaris and sunshine adventures, we looked south, beyond our favoured East and Southern African haunts, down to South Africa, to the Cape of Good Hope and beyond… We, the boring parents, love safaris and look forward to many more African adventures with our children. My preconceptions about stocked South African game parks and ‘Big Five’ focus worried me. We did not want to spoil the kids with too much too soon, and aimed to start slowly, on foot, learning to track. We needed a camp that welcomed, rather than simply tolerated the children, and having considered a number of worthy options, we chose Tswalu.

Tswalu is 100,000 hectares of glorious African landscape with one tiny camp at its centre. We were assigned a (quite bearded) safari guide and a brilliant tracker for the duration of our stay…as well as a family suite with two wonderful bedrooms, separated by a huge and civilised living area, with wonderful windows overlooking the waterhole, almost negating the need to ever leave the lodge. With Relais and Chateaux recognition for its glorious menus and an inspired conservation story behind it, we couldn’t go far wrong.

Reflections of a family safari in South AfricaThis slice of land south of Botswana, west of the hook of lower Namibia, is an extension of the Kalahari desert, once inhabited by the San people then plundered by hopeful farmers and miners. Now, with huge philanthropic investment and inspired passion, it is restored to a natural wilderness state. Much of the focus is on conservation and management of the land, preservation and education, rehabilitation and documentation.

But simply for a family holiday to treasure, it provided everything we could have hoped for, and more. The children were thrilled to ‘drive’ the vehicles, and threw themselves into earning their ‘Junior Ranger’ badges; to the point of staying up late at night self-educating. They made plaster casts of spores and filled their safari bags with found treasures. We were just as happy to discover that they would be whisked off in the afternoons to learn archery skills or decorate biscuits, leaving us to remember the real meaning of peace.

A safari is unlike any other holiday experience, as it is always an adventure and a chance to discover something new and wonderful in the natural world. It is a wonderful thing to have a family adventure, in which all are equally excited by the dawning of a new day, and to share the joy of sightings and discoveries, particularly when you are able to do so without worrying about the children upsetting or irritating other guests on a shared safari vehicle. There are a number of other options for child friendly safari lodges, but we have tried and tested, and highly recommend Tswalu as an excellent first choice.