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South Africa’s BIG Family Five

Kids on Safari - Shamwari Game Reserve

More and more Australians are taking the plunge and taking the tribe on South African safari. Elisa Elwin shares her ‘Big Five’ family-friendly picks.

South Africa is a country of contrasts, culture, colour, and so much excitement and on most people’s bucket lists. The country continues its positive direction with each passing year with more safe and amazing family-friendly properties. Take the plunge now and thrill your family with a holiday to this incredible country.

Children's Dining Conservatory @ Kurland Hotel

Shamwari Game Reserve

Shamwari gets the Out & About With Kids big tick of approval for its family-friendly offerings. Found in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, close to Port Elizabeth the reserve is home to the coveted ‘big five’ and stretching over 25,000 hectares.

There is a specific family lodge on the reserve, Riverdene Lodge, with additional activities to entertain children of all ages.

Kids on Safari - Shamwari Game Reserve

Children can take part in the Kids on Safari program, visiting the animal rehabilitation and Born Free centres. The program, supervised by a specially trained ranger is totally engaging. Watching the tikes on our vehicle collecting rhino dung and noting its scent and stalk is hysterical and charming. Created specifically to learn more about wildlife and conservation the kids get to find out about plant life and bird species that can been seen on the reserve. They are also taught how to track the big five animals by hunting for footprints and at night they get to experience star-gazing first hand. Once done they are certified as a kids ranger. It’s a perfect family safari spot by a wonderful company.

Jaci’s Lodges

Situated in the extreme northwest corner of South Africa’s North West province, the 75,000-hectare Madikwe Game Reserve lies abutting the Botswana border close to the Kalahari Desert. It’s well worth the three and a half hour drive from Johannesburg for this fantastic five star family experience.

Jan and Jaci Van Heteren own and live at their family-run premises. They raised their own kids there and know what it takes to make a special South African bush experience for families.

 Jacis lodge kids on safari

Everything family is catered for, from kids’ meals, family safaris, and jungle drives for under fours. There is also the fab fun kids’ room fully equipped to keep all ages happy and in touch with the bush experience. Check out Symantha Perkins’ story of her family stay at Jaci’s.

Sabi Sabi

A favourite with Australian travellers Sabi Sabi’s Bush Lodge is a real a five star African safari experience.

While families with young children have always been very welcome at Sabi Sabi, last year’s opening of the EleFun Centre has kept improved their family-friendly status.

Not only is this free to all guests, it allows kids between four and 12 to have a ball and learn about the bush at the same time. Activities are broken in to age groups with qualified rangers taking the older children out for in the bush experiences they will never forget.

Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve is situated in the world-renowned 65,000-hectare Sabi Sand Wildtuin in the South-Western section of the Kruger National Park. Sabi Sabi is a one hour flight from O.R. Tambo International Airport (Johannesburg) directly to Sabi Sabi airstrip.

Kurland Hotel

For a different South African experience, come to the luxurious five-star Kurland Hotel, in the Crags near Plettenberg Bay on South Africa’s Garden Route.

This working polo pony property has excellent children’s facilities from extensive play areas, horse interaction activities and a dedicated children’s dining conservatory.

 Fun @ Kurland Hotel

Children also have the opportunity to learn more about organic herbs and vegetables from the executive chef with his Kids in the Kitchen classes.

Kurland arranges imaginative activities specifically tailored to children of all ages and a safe haven that allows children to have their own luxury adventure holiday in the glorious surrounds of the Garden Route.

Grootbos Nature Reserve

And saving the best for last, this five-star gem will take your breath away and have you and your children wishing you could stay longer. Only two hours drive along the Garden Route from Captetown, Grootbos is designed in the bushland overlooking the whale-watching haven of Walker Bay and Hermanus.

The views, accommodation, exquisite food (mostly sourced and grown organically on the premises) are just the start. Set in the middle of a nature reserve with abundant plant animal and bird species at every turn, you can stay and relax by the pool and make the most of the natural bounty here or venture down to the centre of Gansbaai to experience the marine big five in all their glory; whales, white pointers, African penguins, fur seals and dolphins that call this most southerly point of Africa their home.

This place is a family’s dream destination. Children are special guests too. A farm petting area complete with bunnies to hold, eggs to collect from the happy chickens, cats to pat and ponies to ride. There’s an activity room with fun and fantastic meals if kids want to eat separately, with heaps of learning and environmental activities run by trained guides.

Owned and managed by the wonderful Lutzeyer family, you’ll see Michael, Tertius or Jan chatting to guests, swooping up a child to entertain them and generally making this place a luxurious “all in the family” escape. The philosophy of the hospitable Lutzeyer family, nothing is too much trouble. And you can tell they mean it, children really are special guests here too.

Making the most of your family safari experience

Safari sounds exotic and fantastic. The first morning waking up before sunrise to see the animals in their natural environment will have you and your family pinching yourselves. Each game lodge has their own style of safari. However there are general guidelines for how these run:

Kids on Safari - Shamwari Game Reserve

  • You will board a purpose-built Range Rover with your guide and possibly a tracker, holding up to 10 in comfort to maximize viewing and minimize bumps over the dirt tracks and bush bashing you will do.
  • Safaris are long – around three to four hours. There are toilet stops if absolutely necessary. There might not be bushes around on a plain and even if there an animal or two could be lurking behind. Try and use the loo before, or just hold it.
  • Safaris are all about finding wild animals. So unlike a zoo where they sit and wait, these African animals are in their natural environment, on the plains in herds, hiding in bushes, sleeping during the day, being cautious and even territorial around people. You may not see many; you may be overwhelmed with herds and sightings. Patience is the key.
  • Some animals are, however, used to the vehicles. So the most important rule, stay inside your vehicle at all times unless given the all clear.
  • NO hand waving, standing up to get a better look, shrieking with delight or even talking too loudly. Getting out of the vehicle to get a close-up of a rhino or other beast, an absolute no no. This is for you safety, to prevent a charge by a frightened or aggressive beast, or more often to stop them running away and spoiling the moment of magnificent observation.
  • Animals are at their most visible early in the morning or at dusk and early evening. Safari’s start early!! So get to bed for a good nights sleep before your 5am wake up call. A quick wake-up refreshment then rug up against the early morning chill and watch the sunrise and the animals do their magical thing.

Safaris are ideally more suited for older kids who have patience and bladder control to cope. The truly family-friendly lodges offer all sorts of small child friendly options such as kid-only short safaris at more appropriate sleep times and adventure kits for ticking off the animals or collecting dung. And of course, don’t forget the activities back at the lodges for learning about the wildlife and the environment. If you are able, pay a little extra for a private safari vehicle and go for it!

More Information visit South African Tourism


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